This blog post is dedicated to the lumber nerds out there. That is because we are going to be talking about lumber cut styles. That means the differences between live sawn, plain or flat sawn, quarter sawn, and rift sawn lumber.
These are all styles of lumber cuts that you can make when milling a log into usable building materials. Each different cut style has it’s own pros and cons.
Before we get into those pros and cons, it is important to visualize how a log is cut into dimensional lumber. Most modern dimensional lumber is cut on a sawmill that is made up of a large horizontal band saw which moves through the material while the log is locked into position. In the old days (you know we had to go there, we are the reclaimed wood people!), a.k.a. the late 19th and early 20th centuries, logs were milled by moving the log over a very large circular saw blade. Regardless of which of these two styles is used, the lumber comes out the same.
So, if you can imagine a log on a sawmill, looking from the bottom where the end grain is showing; you have to cut said log in different fashions in order to come out with each respective cut style. This graphic should help you visualize it.
The important thing to notice in this graphic is the grain pattern in each of these cut styles. This is the main factor in distinguishing the cut styles from one another. Live sawn is how you produce live edge slabs, each of these boards contains different sections that fall into each category, this is the simplest way to cut a log. The plain sawn, because it is just a cross section of the log, has a varying grain pattern but is known for it’s characteristic “cathedral” grain on the surface. Quarter sawn boards are cut in a way that gives them a vertical grain pattern on both the top and bottom of the board. Rift sawn boards are cut so that all four sides of the board have a vertical grain pattern.
As the graphic shows, some of these styles have a much higher waste factor than others. The live sawn material has the least amount of waste, as the boards are cut in cross sections all the way through the log, plain sawn has just a tad bit more, quarter sawn has a bit more waste involved, and rift sawn has the highest waste factor. This is important in determining which style of cut to use. The price of each of these cut styles is directly related to the amount of waste involved in cutting them. This means that plain sawn is the generally the least expensive, while rift sawn is generally the most expensive.
The durability and stability of the lumber is determined by how it is cut from the log. Plain sawn material, because of how the grain runs through it, is the least stable of the three, and the most likely to cup or crown as it dries. Quarter sawn material is much more resistant to movement, and is a common choice for hardwood flooring material. Rift Sawn has a similar stability to quarter sawn, but gives the material more strength, so this style is often used in furniture building, namely table and chair legs.
So next time you are looking for new hardwood floors, or wood for your new kitchen countertops, you will know what the different lumber cut styles are, and how they will affect your price, and the longevity of your product.