The Difference Between Plain, Quarter and Rift Sawn Lumber

A common request we get here at Osborne is for our products to be made with quarter sawn or rift sawn lumber (usually white oak) instead of plain (also known as flat) sawn. The difference between plain sawn, quarter sawn, and rift sawn is in how the lumber is cut out of the log. This will give each piece of lumber a slightly different look because the growth rings of the log will intersect the various faces of the board in a different way.

Plain Quarter and Rift Sawn

Plain sawn (also known as flat sawn) is the most common method of harvesting lumber. In this method, boards are cut from a log all in the same parallel direction. This method yields decently strong boards with the least amount of waste, however plain sawn boards are the most prone to warping, twisting, and cupping.

As for the lumber’s appearance, this cutting method yields an inconsistent grain pattern since the pattern is determined by where on the log the cuts are made. A cutout from the center of the log would have an appearance closer to that of quarter sawn, while a cutout from close to the outer edge of the log would yield a curved or cathedral effect. As this method is the most common and easiest to produce, this is the cheapest option.

Quarter sawn lumber differs from plain sawn in that the log is first cut into quarters lengthwise before the boards are cut out. From there, the boards are plain sawn, such as in the visual. This method yields stronger boards than standard plain sawn, however the amount of waste increases. In this case, the lumber’s appearance is more consistent as the growth rings run parallel to the larger faces of the board. However, the growth rings on the long edge of the board may still be inconsistent and not parallel.

Due to the higher amount of waste, quarter sawn lumber tends to be more expensive than plain sawn. In respect to our white oak specifically, a custom leg in quarter sawn white oak can be double the price of plain sawn white oak. There are also fewer mills that produce quarter sawn lumber, which also contributes to a higher price.

Rift sawn lumber is very similar to quarter sawn, but with a key difference. As with quarter sawn lumber, logs are first cut into quarters. However, for rift sawn lumber, the quarters are then cut in a spiral pattern. This unique cutting method results in boards where the growth rings run parallel to all faces of the board, making it an ideal option for furniture makers who need a straight grain on all sides of their project. Rift sawn lumber is also the most dimensionally stable option.

Unfortunately, due to the unique cutting method and low number of mills that produce it, there is a lot of work involved and a lot of waste generated, which makes this the most expensive option of the three.

While we don’t stock any of our products in quarter sawn or rift sawn woods, we are happy to make them as custom items. If you are interested in a quarter sawn or rift sawn product, you can request a custom quote by filling out our online form, emailing [email protected], or calling 800-849-8876.

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