Rift Sawn Oak vs. Quarter Sawn Oak

Rift sawing and quarter sawing are two ways to make boards out of oak logs.

Rift Sawing

These two sawing techniques start with slicing an oak log into quarters, unlike flat sawing, which simply slices the whole log. Rift sawing and quarter sawing produce grain patterns in the finished boards that differ from each other and from the grain in flat-sawn wood. Rift sawn and quarter sawn oak are used for somewhat different purposes.

In rift sawing, you start your first cut perpendicular to the growth rings and offset the log slightly for each succeeding cut so each cut is always perpendicular to the growth rings. If the cuts of a rift sawn log are viewed from the end of the log, they resemble the way in which artists depict the rays of the sun, with each cut radiating out from the center of the log. Rift sawing produces a very straight grain without shiny, wandering medullary ribbons or the shiny spots in the grain known as flakes. Rift sawn oak is the cut of oak most resistant to warping.

Quarter Sawing

Quarter sawing is similar to rift sawing in that you start your cut perpendicular to the growth rings. But in quarter sawing you keep sawing on that plane, slicing through the growth rings at an angle that starts at 90 degrees of arc but ends at around 75 degrees of arc. Quarter sawing produces a straight grain with shiny ribbons and flecks in the oak grain. Rift sawing and quarter sawing produce a lot more waste and narrower boards than flat sawing, which makes for more expensive boards. Quarter sawn boards are less prone to warping than flat sawn boards, but not quite as warp-resistant as rift sawn oak lumber.

Rift Sawn Oak Uses

Rift sawn oak is the most expensive cut of oak because of the labor and the amount of waste. Rift sawing produces almost as much waste as usable lumber. But rift sawn lumber shows straight grain on all sides, without any ribbons or flecks, and is the most dimensionally stable cut of oak. The straight grain on all sides and dimensional stability makes rift sawn oak the preferred choice of furniture makers for legs and other linear parts of furniture, as well as for structural support members.

Quarter Sawn Oak Uses

Quarter sawn oak, unlike rift sawn oak, exhibits vivid patterns of ribbons and flecks, making it favored for paneling, cabinetry, flooring and boat decking. It is more expensive than flat sawn oak but not as costly as rift sawn lumber because it is somewhat easier to cut and there is less waste. The vivid ribbons and flecks in the quarter sawn grain are prized by makers of Mission-style oak furniture and oak antique reproductions. Quarter sawn oak also is particularly suitable for turnings and steam bending.

About the Author

Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.