Quarter Sawn Lumber – The Pros and Cons

Ash Rift-Quartered Hardwood Flooring
Ash rift-quartered hardwood flooring board.

Although most of the world’s lumber is produced using plain sawn methods, many hardwood flooring and decking professionals prefer quarter sawn material. Why? What makes quarter sawn materials so special? And what, exactly, IS a quarter sawn board? This post takes a look at the specifics of quarter sawn wood and why so many people prefer to to plain sawn. Enjoy!

What is “quarter sawn”?
The term “sawn” refers to how the lumber is cut during production. The main types of sawing techniques are plain sawing and quarter sawing, which can produce both rift and quartered lumber. As you can probably guess, quarter sawn lumber means the log has been cut in quarters during production. Rift lumber has been cut so the growth rings are at an angle of 30 degrees to 60 degrees, where quartered lumber has been cut so the growth rings are 60 degrees to 90 degrees.

What makes quarter sawn so great?
Appearance – One of the main reasons people choose quarter sawn lumber is its unique, attractive grain pattern. Quarter sawn lumber has a split medullary ray, also called pith and wood ray. This split ray has a shiny, reflective surface that looks great for flooring or trimming.
Stability – Quarter sawn lumber is more dimensionally stable than plain sawn lumber. Quarter sawn does not shrink or swell in width, making it a great hardwood flooring choice for areas with extreme temperature fluctuations or rooms with high traffic.
Surface – The surface of quarter sawn lumber is better suited for painting and staining. It is also more resistant to surface checking or splitting.

But is it all sunshine and roses?
Unfortunately, no. There are, of course, a few downsides to quarter sawn lumber. Producing quarter sawn wood requires a higher level of skill and, when done correctly, takes longer to produce. Also, it is estimated that only about 2% of all lumber in the world is quarter sawn, meaning that it is harder to get and can be more expensive.
Despite the downsides, quarter sawn is still a great lumber choice. If you’re looking for a high-shine hardwood flooring option with an interesting grain pattern and a resistance to shrinking, swelling, and warping, then you should definitely look into quarter sawn lumber.

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