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Thread: Quarter Sawn vs. Rift Sawn Lumber

  1. #1
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    Quarter Sawn vs. Rift Sawn Lumber

    I'm really confused about this. I apologize if this is a stupid question. Can someone straighten me out. I have read about this and looked at diagrams over and over. What I keep reading is that quarter-sawn boards have the rings or grain at 90 deg from the board surface (if you look at the edge) and rift sawn boards have the rings or grain at like 30 deg (diagonal) from the board surface.

    Here's a typical picture I found. I don't understand why it's not the opposite. If every rift-sawn board is cut like the spokes of a wheel, why isn't every single board with the grain perpendicular to the board face? and the quarter-sawn boards diagonal?

    And which kind is more stable. I've read in some place is QS and in other places it's RS. ???
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  2. #2
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    But, Cynthia, they aren't cut like spokes of a wheel!
    They typically cut like this (image from wikipedia)

    In which case the quarter sawn boards are the two middle (less the pith) where the grain is a 90 degrees. Then the riftsawn would be the next (approx) two boards outward, where the grain is approx 30 degrees from perpendicular. (again, less the section by the pith)


    Sorry, couldn't find a better diagram out there. I know there are some!
    There's usually more than one way to do it...
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  3. #3
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    Here's an explanation and drawing from WiseGeek:




    There are a variety of ways that lumber can be cut out of a log. These include plainsawing, riftsawing and quartersawing. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Quartersawn wood is created by cutting a log lengthwise into quarters, then creating a series of parallel cuts, with the middle cut being perpendicular to the tree's rings.

    The grain patterns of wooden boards can affect the way that they expand and contract. In quartersawn wood, the grain patterns are relatively consistent, so the end product is stable, which makes it preferred by many woodworkers and furniture-makers. Quartersawn wood might include medullary rays and wavy grain patterns that some people prefer over the patterns that are revealed through the other sawing methods. Oak is the most common quartersawn wood, although builders might also be able to find quartersawn walnut, cherry and maple.


    Quartersawn wood's stability makes it highly sought after for making musical instrument parts such as string instrument necks and fret boards. In most cases, it is best for a wooden part of a musical instrument, such as the neck of guitar, bass or violin, to remain stable throughout the instrument's life. Using quartersawn wood helps ensure that the instrument's sound will remain as invariable as possible.

    One disadvantage of quartersawing wood is that it leaves some scrap. This typically makes quartersawn wood more expensive than plainsawn wood, because plainsawing produces little to no scrap. Quartersawing's yield, however, is greater than in riftsawing, so quartersawn wood typically is cheaper than riftsawn wood.

    Plainsawing is perhaps the most straightforward way to cut rectangular-profiled boards out of a round log. Sawmills create plainsawn lumber by cutting a log lengthwise with a series of parallel cuts. This system provides excellent yield because it minimizes scrap, but plainsawn lumber has some disadvantages. Depending on where they were cut out of the log, plainsawn boards can have substantially different grain patterns, which can cause it to expand and contract in different ways. Plainsawn wood, however, often has interesting grain patterns, sometimes called cathedrals, that are not created by other types of cutting.


    Riftsawn lumber is much more stable than plainsawn lumber. Each board is cut perpendicular to the log's rings, so each board has essentially the same grain pattern. Furniture made of riftsawn wood has more of a uniform appearance because of the similarity of grain patterns in the boards. Rift-sawing provides very poor yield, however, leaving lots of wedge-shaped scraps. Its low yield is why riftsawn wood is rarely produced by lumber yards, which typically makes it more expensive than quartersawn or plainsawn wood.
    Bill Arnold
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  4. #4
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    If you are looking for medullary rays (such as oak used in Arts and Crafts furniture) you need to buy quartersawn wood. But most of the time lumber yards carry flat sawn.

    Here is a trick... if making a door (floating panel) start with a wide board. The outer edges of a flat sawn wide board are basically quarter sawn, and can be cut off for the rails and stiles where you want stability, and which are narrow enough that interesting grain is lost. Then use the center of the board, with the cathedral grain patterns, for the floating panel.

    Another place where flat sawn is a disadvantage is in legs. One side of a leg has cathedrals with very wide grain pattern. The adjacent side is quartersawn with very narrow grain patterns. The overall appearance of the legs is a "mismatch." Therefore I sometimes cut a thin veneer off the quartersawn side and glue it to the flat sawn side of a leg. Since it is off the same board, the color is identical and the veneer "disappears," making a very attractive leg. If by the luck of selecting boards you have diagonal grain (from the end) you have rift cut grain on all sides of the leg, and no veneer is required.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
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  5. #5
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    The WiseGeek diagram is confusing because it is wrong. Quartersawn, riftsawn, and flatsawn refer to the lumber, which may be obtained by various sawing patterns. (If we consider the average angle between growth rings and the surface of the board, perfect flatsawn has an angle of 0 degrees, quartersawn 90 degrees, and riftsawn 45 degrees.)

    Plainsawing is as shown in the diagram, and yields quartersawn stock (from the middle of the tree after the pith is removed), flatsawn stock (the sides of the tree as drawn) and riftsawn stock (in between). Plainsawing gives a high yield of boards from a tree, but a smaller fraction of these are the more stable quartersawn type.

    The diagram incorrectly labelled "riftsawn" shows a way to get a high yield of perfectly quartersawn lumber. Some trees are actually sawn into pie shaped wedges to make it perfectly quartersawn. Since this wastes a lot of wood and takes much more time to do, it is used when only the very highest quality will suffice, for instance in making violins.

    The diagram labelled "quartersawn" is one of the sawing patterns used to get more quartersawn and riftsawn stock than plainsawing. Notice that the larger boards are nicely quartersawn, and the smaller ones trend to riftsawn.

    Those who saw lumber from logs can say a lot more about sawing patterns. But the reason this was confusing is that it was mistaken.

    Incidentally, if you don't want to go to the trouble of veneering or piecing a leg together, you can use riftsawn stock to show a similar grain pattern on each face.

    I am not an expert, but you can look this up in any of a large number of books. Hoadley's "Understanding Wood" is a good one. The problem with the internet is that it's easy to copy things, sometimes before inevitable mistakes get weeded out.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Schwabacher View Post
    The WiseGeek diagram is confusing because it is wrong. Quartersawn, riftsawn, and flatsawn refer to the lumber, which may be obtained by various sawing patterns. ...
    If it's wrong, so are many other sites that describe ways to get plain, quarter and rift lumber. Do a search for "flat plain quarter rift sawn" and you'll see what I mean.

    Flat sawn logs can yield all three types of lumber. If the desire is to get quarter or rift, the log can be cut to yield a majority of that type of lumber, but there is more waste.

    I'm no expert, but I yield to the experts that have put together information on many websites.
    Bill Arnold
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  7. #7
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    i have cut some lumber and i was always under the idea that gtr was as a 90 degree growth ring and the rift was 30 to 45 degree growth ring but after going to google and doing a search they seem to call rift as 90 degrees and gtr too but rift is premium gtr??

    like it shows here in another site???
    Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by larry merlau View Post
    i have cut some lumber and i was always under the idea that gtr was as a 90 degree growth ring and the rift was 30 to 45 degree growth ring but after going to google and doing a search they seem to call rift as 90 degrees and gtr too but rift is premium gtr??

    like it shows here in another site???
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Larry, as I understand, grain direction in quarter can range from 60* to 90*; rift from 30* to 60*; flat from 0* to 30*. In the drawing you attached, it looks like the log diagrams are correct, but the insets below are wrong for rift.
    Bill Arnold
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by larry merlau View Post
    i have cut some lumber and i was always under the idea that gtr was as a 90 degree growth ring and the rift was 30 to 45 degree growth ring but after going to google and doing a search they seem to call rift as 90 degrees and gtr too but rift is premium gtr??

    like it shows here in another site???
    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	61530
    That's exactly why I don't understand it. I keep seeing drawings that show something different than it is described.
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  10. #10
    If I under stand correctly rift sawn wood looks the same on all 4 sides due to the growth rings being at about a 45 degree angle to the face of the board. It's desireable for things like table legs. Plain sawn wood basically has the growth rings parallel to the face of the board and quarter sawn has the growth rings 90 degrees or perpendicular to the face of the board.

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