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Saw Cuts

Saw Cuts

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Plain Sawn

Rift & Quarter Sawn

Live Sawn





Understanding Saw Cuts

FlooringHardwood flooring is the obvious choice for any home due to its timeless beauty. There are many elements that go into creating a unique hardwood floor, all hardwood flooring comes from trees, but this is where the similarities end. The region in which the tree grows, how the log is sawn, and how it is dried all come together to create a truly one of a kind floor. Starting with where the trees grow, Hardwoods of Wisconsin mills wood from the northern forests, which with their cold winters slows the growth of the trees. This causes a great difference from woods grown in warmer climates as northern timber yields tighter growth rings, better color consistency, and a more desirable end result; so colder equals better. The next step in the hardwood flooring process is how the wood is cut at the sawmill.


The three main saw cuts are plain sawn (flat sawn), quarter sawn, and rift sawn - rift & quartered (R&Q) are typically sold together in present times. As of late, live sawn and French cut have crept on the radar of the American consumer. Those familiar with antique furniture may know about rift or quarter sawn, the reason it was popular with furniture makers is the same reason is was popular in the 1900’s for flooring; stability. In the 1900’s quarter sawn was the most popular saw cut due of its pronounced grains and stability.  Producing only quartered flooring is terribly inefficient, for this reason rift & quartered is what is predominately sold in modern times. Today plain sawn is the most common due to its classic look and utilization of most of the log. Live sawn graining combines the look of plain sawn, rift & quartered, while French cut is live sawn with less plain sawn. To better understand this, let’s take a closer look at these saw cuts.


Saw CutsWhen cutting for plain sawn (aka flat sawn) which is the most common method today, a board is cut from the log, and then turned 90º before taking the next cut. This process is continued until the entire log is cut. The graining in plain sawn wood are at 0-30 degree angles, which create large open patterns on the face of the boards (referred to as the cathedral effect).


When cutting for quartered flooring, the log is cut first into quarters, then cut perpendicular to the growth rings of the log. This produces tight graining at angles of 60-90 degrees that are closer to the surface of the boards. This shows off the medullary rays (think of them as the veins or arteries in your body) of the wood creating beautiful flecks in the wood that add to the character and elegance of the finished product.


Similar to quarter sawn wood, when cutting for rift flooring, the log is first quartered. Then the quarters are cut radially perpendicular to the growth rings (this differs from quarter sawn). This cut produces liner graining along the boards at angles of 30-60 degrees.


The sawing techniques for quarter sawn and rift sawn are very wasteful and inefficient. Most of the log is left unusable and the boards that are produced are generally very narrow. Because of these downfalls, rift sawn and quarter sawn are often cut together as rift and quarter sawn. In this sawing technique the log is still quartered, but then each quarter is cut along alternating sides producing about half rift sawn and half quarter sawn. This is very popular today because it produces the wide widths that the modern customer is looking for, while producing a very stable plank and keeping waste to a minimum.


Live sawn is the oldest method of cutting, but the newest to America. The most common method in Europe, is gaining popularity in the states. Instead of being cut to produce plain sawn, quarter sawn, or rift sawn wood, the log is cut straight through with each cut parallel to the last. This produces a mix of plain, quarter, and rift sawn woods (about of third of each) and eliminates virtually all waste. This method also yields wider boards making it very popular.


French cut is a slight variation on live sawn. The cuts are made straight through the log except the first and last few boards are pulled out. This eliminates the boards that are all plain sawn leaving only uniquely mixed boards behind. This technique creates a very interesting and beautiful floor.


Moisture plays a major part in the stability of wood flooring as well as the drying process. Wood is hygroscopic which means it has the ability to take in or give off moistures causing expanding or contracting. More moisture will cause swelling and less shrinking. The angles of the growth rings determine the direction of the wood’s movement. In plain sawn wood, the growth rings run more parallel to the edges of the boards causing the boards to expand or contract across the their width. Therefore, the wider the board the more potential for change, so an 8 inch board will expand and contract twice as much as a 4 inch board. Rift and quarter sawn boards have different growth ring angles and with these cuts the movement happens through the thickness of the board. This is why rift and quartered flooring is more stable than plain sawn. In short the M/C (moisture/content) of wood is directly related to its environment.


KilnThe most common and widely used method of drying wood is using a kiln. Kiln drying involves stacking the wood on pallets in the kiln and slowly drying it through manipulation of temperature, relative humidity, and air circulation to achieve the most effective & efficient drying. When compared to air or solar drying, kiln drying is preferable because the wood can be dried quicker and with more overall control producing a most consistent moisture content level.

Many factors contribute to how wood is dried such as species, thickness, and the saw cut of the wood. When dried the moisture in the wood moves out through the medullary rays that run perpendicular to the growth rings of the tree (when a tree is standing the medullary rays run from the roots of the trees up to the branches and leaves). When the wood is sawn into the different cuts discussed earlier in this article, the medullary rays are cut differently. In plain sawn wood the medullary rays run perpendicular to the surface so the moisture travels out through the thickness of the boards which causes a little quicker of a drying time compared to rift and quarter sawn where the moisture travels out along the width. The drying starts in the exterior of the wood and works it’s way in. Because of this the wood must be monitored closely in order to prevent cracks and splits that occur when the exterior dries too rapidly. These factors are why it’s important to constantly monitor and control the drying conditions of the kiln. No matter the thickness, species, or saw cut, with the proper drying conditions, any lumber can be turned into beautiful wood flooring.