What is Quartersawn Wood?

L. S. Wynn
L. S. Wynn

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.

Quartersawn oak boards.
Quartersawn oak boards.

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. It 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 walnut, cherry and maple cut in this way.

Quartersawn compared to plainsawn and riftsawn wood.
Quartersawn compared to plainsawn and riftsawn wood.

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.

Quartersawn wood is often used in guitar necks.
Quartersawn wood is often used in guitar necks.

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.

Quartersawn wood's stability makes it ideal for guitar necks and fret boards.
Quartersawn wood's stability makes it ideal for guitar necks and fret boards.

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Discussion Comments


What type of sawing will best highlight the beautiful grain of most woods? And what is your opinion of the use of "reclaimed" wood in furniture making? It is a fast growing trend from what I've seen.


I prefer the appearance of quartersawn lumber, even in walnut where the medullary rays are not as obvious as the oak's. You are probably correct that we are in the minority, however, so to each his own.


I doubt those who love quartersawn wood are a minority.


You can cut wood two ways: radially or tangentially. Tangential cuts run straight through the board producing through and through (plain) sawn. Quarter sawn timber means the log is quartered before being cut. There are different methods or quarter sawing. The two diagrams on the right above are two methods using radial cuts. There is also a method using tangential cuts. Rift sawn and quarter sawn are one in the same.


There seems to be overlap in the the grain orientation for some boards in the rift and quarter sawn methods. Both methods produce some boards with 90 degree grain referenced from the face plane. With these methods, the rift method seems to produce more of the 90 degree grain (which is what *I* call quarter sawn wood).

So, maybe the method is being defined here - and not the final "look" of the boards.

I expect most people are talking about the final look that they want, and not the method that was used. When I want "quarter sawn" wood, I want 90 degree grain. When I want "rift sawn" wood, I am looking for 30 -60 degree grain. -rick


anon, I think you hit the nail on the head. If the diagram here is an accurate representation of rift sawing, then the growth rings will pass through the face of rift-sawn wood at an angle of 90 degrees, give or take a degree or so.

Official definitions of rift sawn wood as having the growth rings passing through the fact at 30 - 60 degrees must be talking about some other way of cutting wood than what's described in the diagram here.


@Frank: Are you implying that "Rift Sawn" lumber produces perfectly QS boards and "Quarter Sawn" lumber produces both rift sawn and quarter sawn boards? Or are you implying that the terms rift sawn and quarter sawn boards are widely mistaken as each other? (considering that the perfectly vertical annual ring pattern [70-90 degrees] is widely interpreted as quarter sawn and a more angled annual ring pattern [45-70 degrees] is commonly known as rift sawn).


Quarter sawn and rift sawn timber is a perfectionist requirement as it making the most of the unique sheen that is available and the most stable timber, the fact that it produces a lower yield is really of no consequence. The beauty is in the final result. Should we not eat prawns because they yield so little?


>I know some people who prefer the appearance of quartersawn wood, but I would guess that they are in the minority.

Or they are musical instrument makers. Vertical-grained wood is ideal for soundboards on lutes and guitars, and the bodies of violins and cellos.

I have made dulcimers with randomly sawn wood and achieved great results, but a dulcimer (with it's small soundboard) isn't really a precision sound generator.

For anything bigger than that, both sound quality and instrument stability demand vertical grain.


I think the definition of plainsawn wood is undisputed. But the definitions for quartersawn and riftsawn seem to be the subject of some dispute. I think that might be because in the 1930s someone came up with a superior method to cutting wood and that method was called quartersawn. But sometime after that, someone developed another, even better, method -- riftsawn. This wasted even more material but it produced a stronger plank of wood. But, since quartersawn had developed a meaning of superiority in the woodworking world, I think some people confused riftsawn and quartersawn, essentially giving the term quartersawn the properties of actual riftsawn. Regardless of the names ascribed, cutting wood in the manner labeled "riftsawn" above (i.e., where the grain is always perpendicular to the surface of the board) produced the strongest result even though it wastes the most material.


Although the properties of quartersawn wood make it highly desirable by furniture makers, in my opinion the "cathedrals" in plainsawn wood are very beautiful. I think its worth it for craftspeople to learn to deal with the wood-movement present in plainsawn wood.

I know some people who prefer the appearance of quartersawn wood, but I would guess that they are in the minority.

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