Ever wonder what defines quarter sawn, plain (flat) sawn, or rift sawn lumber? Professional sawyer and fine-hardwood dealer Rick Hearne dissects a sample flitch-cut log to demonstrate the variety of grain orientations that can be milled from any log. It’s more than an academic exercise because each type of cut offers the woodworker specific characteristics not found in the alternate orientations. Grain patterns, figure, medullary ray, and board stability are just some of the variables that make up the mix.

In this short video, Rick briefly explains how each type of cut is defined by the relationship of growth rings to a board’s face. Quarter sawn boards have a grain orientation that is largely vertical (60-90 degrees) to each face. Rift sawn lumber is cut with the grain oriented 30-60 degrees to the boards face. And the most common cut is plain (or flat) sawn lumber with the grain running mostly parallel to the boards face. Most importantly, Rick explains why it matters. (2.5 Minute Woodworking Video)

Rick Hearne is President of Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA

(7) Comments   


Hello sir… It was pleasant to see all your videos. sir deal in teak wood and my imorters need 60mm X 15 mm quarter saw, pls if you have any video regarding quarter saw than it will be helpful for me to understand easier, we need to supply material from teak wood. Please, send me some videos or text with photo can make me understand easier.




I’ve been watching your videos closely since I found them, trying to learn all I can about wood, tools and how to handle them, mainly becouse I’m interested in guitar making. I’m in the very early stages of my learning process, especially when it comes to wood.

I saw the videos about raw timber and found them inspiring to say the least, but I can’t find info on how to tell different wood types apart, and which is best for what (instruments, cabinets, etc.). I think it would be very helpful, as is the rest of the information already posted.

Now, for a personal question. I have a guitar, a Fender Stratocaster with an unusually dark neck, Strats use maple necks, with or without a rosewood fretboard (mine has the rosewood fretboard). People say it’s maple, but I’ve never seen (in my very limited experience) such dark maple, and it’s not a tint, I’ve drilled into it and the shavings come out the same color as the surface. Can you help me? Here’s a link to a picture.

(link no longer valid)

I regard your opinion highly, please help me out.

Great site, great videos, great info, great work!


Keith’s Note: … I’ve taken note of your ideas for future videos on wood identification. It’s a subject that I’ve wanted to do… It’s on the list.

Regarding your wood identification question. I looked at your photo and at first glance, it looks like a variety of maple, but I should make a disclaimer. In general, it’s difficult to identify many species of wood precisely. Common woods are usually easy to pick out —and for experienced North American woodworkers, maple is pretty easy to identify in general terms. But when we get to specifics, the task is more challenging. Many wood species have numerous varieties (with varying colors, density, etc.), and in these cases it becomes hard to say exactly which species a sample might be. Expert woodworkers will identify a species by it’s weight, color, smell, and how it “works” (how his/her tools interact with the wood). Experts especially like to inspect the end grain, because it provides additional visual clues. In general, an in-person examination of a sample is best.

For an even more accurate picture, most experts prefer to have a live tree to do identification, because they can use the bark, leaves, and even habitat, to help identify the specimen. But by the time a log is sawn and incorporated into a product, the “provenance” is often lost and we are left with fewer clues. Even the pros have a hard time. I’ve taken processed wood samples to expert collectors, and I’ve learned that even these specialist can be stymied. Depending on one’s needs, it might require microscopic analysis by scientists to confirm a sample.

As a side note, the fact that wood is often hard to precisely identify makes it easy for manufacturers to mis-represent a wood as another, or to name an obscure or perhaps inferior wood with the name that sounds similar to a more desirable wood or common/well known wood. For example, Brazilian Cherry (Hymenaea courbaril) bears no relationship to the common North American Black Cherry (Prunus seratona).

For additional information on wood collecting and identification, I’d suggest you visit the The International Wood Collectors Society website. The organization publishes a number of books on wood species and collecting. You can also purchase a “Wood Specimen Kit”. I purchased his kit a few years back and it has served me well. (IWCS says: “Prepared specimens measuring 0.5 x 3 x 6 inches are available in kits containing 40 specimens. Whether used for studying wood structure or identification, these specimens will prove to be a valuable resource of information to collector, tradesman, craftsman, teacher, or hobbyist alike. ” Order Kit Here)


I’m not sure how old your article is, but your definition of “quarter-sawn = 60/90 degrees” vs “rift-sawn = 30/60 degrees” goes against my understanding of how a log is cut, and is not helping me in a dispute with a client (who found your site). Do you want to post or email your confirmation , perhaps citing your source? If you are right, then I lose the debate (and the cost of correcting the project). But I want the facts. Thanks: DB

Keith’s Note: According to the National Hardwood Lumber Association’s (NHLA.com) definitions contained in their 2011 grading rules guide (RULES for the MEASUREMENT & INSPECTION of HARDWOOD & CYPRESS Plus HLA Sales Code & Inspection Regulations), the definition for Quartered Lumber is:

“35. In species where figure is not required, pieces shall be considered quartered when 80% of the surface of the required cuttings in the aggregate shows the radial grain at an angle of 45° or less with one face.”

For specific species, the NHLA uses more refined definitions. For instance the guide defines oak cuts as follows:

” Quartered Oak Strips shall have the radial grain running 45-1/4 or less with one face of the piece.”

The NHLA rules book includes no definition for Rift sawn lumber and so generally we are left to consider the popular interpretation of the term. Almost universally, experts will say that riftsawn lumber has grain running at approximately 45 degrees to the face of the board. Graf Brothers, who claim to be the “world’s largest manufacturer of rift and quartersawn products,” has a nice visual explanation of the terms in their online catalog found here. Or for one more take on the subject, here is the explaination provided at http://archtoolbox.com/materials-systems/wood-plastic-composites/86-woodlumbercuts.html

To get a better idea of how these terms are commonly used, I would suggest a search using the keywords “rift and “quarter”. You will see many links to sites online that discuss this issue. Given the confusion within the industry, The best advice I can offer to buyers and sellers is to make sure a clear definition for these terms is agreed upon before you sign on the bottom line.

Finally, based on your question here, I contacted the NHLA’s Chief Inspector who told me that the increased use of the term “riftsawn” is prompting the NHLA to consider including a definition for the term in the next release of the organizations’s grading guide due out in 2015. He did confirm that the ranges and definitions that we have used here on this site (60 to 60 degrees – quartered and 30 to 60 degrees rift) are the accepted standard industrywide.

Gwen Emery

Do you have images of what a quarter sawn maple looks like as compared to a rift sawn? We are using this for ceiling panels and want a quiet grain + direction. Thank you, Gwen Emery

Keith’s Note: Gee, I’m sorry I don’t have anything on hand. Best bet is to go to a lumber supplier who carries this cut. Good Luck

Which wood has the harder wood durability, the plane sawn or quarter sawn? In the same species like shorea contorta spp.

Keith’s Note: The quarter sawn wood will typically be a more durable cut. I refer to some of the other videos on this site which discuss this issue.


I believe you stated that quarter sawn lumber will only change dimension (due to changes in moisture content) in thickness, not width. If so, then it seems you are considering only tangential grain movement, and not the 2nd highest reactive axis of wood movement: radial. I believe changes in moisture content along the radial axis will result in dimensional changes in width for quarter sawn lumber. Granted, this may not be as proportionally as much as in tangential, but it can be a measurable difference to consider for certain projects.

Keith’s Note: LENGTH is the dimension least effected by moisture changes. Width and Thickness are equally effected by moisture changes. If you can point out where Rick or I might have said otherwise, please let me know. (edit – see correction/clarification to Keith’s answer here on followup comments below)

Yes. Actually it was Rick who made this statement at 2:06 of his video. I understand that longitudinal shrinkage is always negligible in any species. However, I do not believe radial movement is proportionally equal to tangential as you stated in your follow up.

Keith’s Note: Sonny – Opps, my bad. I think that earlier I missed the nuance of the point you were making. So now I went back to that spot in the video that you referenced and indeed, Rick points out that a quartersawn board “will only shrink in thickness and not in width”. I’m guessing that if pressed, Rick would say the width of the board will change too, but this movement would be much less than flat sawn lumber. Your point, however, is well taken. In some applications, it might and probably will matter. So it’s a good idea to have a thorough working knowledge of this subject when designing and building anything from wood.

Quartersawn wood is a wonderful cut for a variety of projects because it’s more stable especially along the width of the board. For this reason, quartersawn boards, move less and are less prone to warping, twisting, cupping and cracking. These boards are also, typically, much more expensive, but for some projects it’s the superior choice. For instance, in outside applications, quartersawn wood is a fantastic option. Outdoor furniture, doors, or fences or decks – if made from this cut and if you could afford it – would last longer and weather better — as I’m sure you are already well aware. Anyway, thanks for bringing focus again to a very interesting and important aspect of wood craft.

In closing, in my view (since Rick isn’t here to pipe in), you are correct in pointing out the nuances of wood movement in quartersawn lumber. I don’t think there can be any debate that, when subject to moisture changes, wood moves in all directions, just not equally. Thanks. This has been an interesting discussion.