Plain Sawn, Rift Sawn and Quarter Sawn Explained:

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Raw timber logs are most commonly cut in three different ways, each method depends on how long and wide the timber log is and the facilities available at the sawmill. Different cuts of timber provide different finishes in the grain and usability of the final finished timber and more importantly different prices. Below we explain the differences.

Plain Sawn Rift Sawn Quarter Sawn
Plain Sawn timber Rift Sawn timber Quarter Sawn timber

Plain Sawn Timber (Flat Sawn)

Plain sawn timber is the most common cut of timber and it is the least expensive. The technique consists of cutting parallel cuts through the log, resulting in wider boards with minimal waste. This process is fast and efficient and exposes the grain well.

Plain sawn timber is the most common type of wood cut. The annular rings are generally 30 degrees or less to the face of the board, this is often referred to as 'tangential grain'.

Advantages of Plain Sawn Timber:

  • Fast to produce with little waste
  • More affordable due to less labour needed to produce
  • Displays varied grain patterns and the cathedral grain appearance
  • Readily available from almost all timber merchants

Rift Sawn Wood

Rift sawn timber is typically narrow with a very straight grain pattern on the face of the board. Rift sawn Timber is usually used with oak to avoid the flecks that are common in the species. Rift Sawn Timber is the most expensive cut and the least common.

Rift Sawn timber is the least common method of cutting raw timber logs. It is a method that is time and labour intensive and also requires a lot of care to ensure the quality of the final timber boards produced.

To Rift saw timber you first need to Quarter Saw the log and then from the centre of the quarter, saw out the wood. The resulting timber has a uniquely even grain that is perfect for woodworking projects such as construction and furniture making or fine wooden flooring installations.

Advantages of Rift Sawn Timber:

  • Rift sawn timber has minimum, or no, variance in terms of expansion or contraction, therefore is good in all humidity's and great for flooring
  • Rift sawing results in perfect even grain pattern on the smooth final boards
  • Strength and durability, you will not find stinger timber boards than rift sawn, there are no weak points.

Disadvantages of Rift Sawn Timber:

  • The cost is often prohibitive due to the large about of labour time to produce
  • Rift Sawn timber creates more waste, adding to the cost
  • It is hard to source Rift sawn timber as not many saw mills produce it.

Quarter Sawn Timber

Quarter sawn wood has an amazing straight grain pattern that is often used for flooring and furniture. Quartersawn wood is literally cut into quarters before it is run through the mill.

There are a number of benefits of using Quarter Sawn Timber, such as structural integrating when used for building and construction that requires load baring support.

Benefits of Quarter Sawn Timber:

  • The less distinct grain means a smoother surface finish
  • Less movement on board sizes (expansion and shrinkage) due to the large width of the boards
  • Less Prone to warping or twisting due to the board size
  • Very resistant to water penetration
  • Ability to retain stain and paint better.

Timber that has been quarter Sawn is generally regarded as more dimensionally stable that the traditional plain sawn timber. Although quarter sawn timber is more expensive due to the labour required to cut the tree into four quarters, the end results is a piece of timber that has a far better finish, as outlined in the advantages above.

Conclusion on the different timber cuts:

Generally you will not need to choose the way your timber is cut, the majority will be plain sawn timber. If you are looking for special piece of timber for a woodworking project then speak to your supplier as they can advise on the best way to source it for you.

Useful Links:
Buy Planed All Round Timber
Buy Sawn Timber Boards
How to plane rough sawn timber
How To Measure Sawn Timber and PSE
What is the difference between PSE and PAR?

Published: 28/01/2023

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