Most lumber is plain sawn, meaning that a series of parallel vertical cuts are made completely through the log. As the cuts near the sides of the log, the grain crosses the lumber at an increasingly acute angle, yielding boards that will cup toward the sapwood side while drying. Quarter sawn lumber is cut so that the wood grain crosses the plank at nearly 90 degrees to the width of the board, yielding lumber that is exceptionally stable.
When plain sawn lumber is exposed to moisture on one side of the board, that side swells and causes the plank to cup. Quarter sawn wood reacts with less distortion, because of the vertical orientation of the grain. Where stability is critical--as in fine cabinetry or flooring where one surface will see more humidity than another--quarter sawn lumber is the best choice.
Plain sawing is the most efficient way to rip lumber. Quarter sawing requires literally ripping the log into four nearly equal quarters and then sawing each quarter section into planks. Two different ripping layouts are commonly used, with some trade off between ease of production and amount of waste, but both methods require more time and labor than plain sawing and increase the cost of the product.
Oak grain includes rays of wood that extend outward from the center through the annual rings. In plain sawn oak only a few of the center boards will show this pattern, but with quarter sawn oak, each plank exhibits the special flecking and sheen of this cut. Quarter sawing adds to the beauty of natural oak flooring by showing off the best features of this fine wood.
In addition to its dimensional stability, quarter sawn oak flooring exposes less of the softer summerwood of the grain to wear. Trees grow more slowly in the winter than in the summer, and the resulting alternating rings of hard and soft wood wear at different rates. In plain sawn wood much of the summer growth may be exposed, but in quarter sawn wood the hard winter ridges take most of the abuse.
High-quality quarter sawn lumber requires large diameter straight-grained trees typical of old growth forests, and trees of this type are in short supply today. Entrepreneurs have turned to salvage instead, reclaiming large timbers from old barns and even dock pilings, and resawing these posts and beams into beautiful lumber. Salvage quarter sawn flooring shows the marks of its history, but many homeowners prefer the color and character of distressed lumber to any other type.
- Photo Credit Photo by Ronnieb at http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/189845
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