Rift and Quarter Sawn
What is Rift and Quarter Sawn?
Rift & Quarter Sawn Lumber is created by cutting a log into quarters and sawing boards from each quarter from the inside out. The process of quarter sawing will create both quarter sawn and rift sawn boards. The way the log is cut determines the angle of the annual growth rings in relation to the face of the board. This dictates the look and dimensional stability of that board.
A Closer Look
Annual growth rings are 60-90 degrees to the face of the board with straight grain and at least 90% flake displayed on the board.
Annual growth rings are 30-60 degrees to the face of the board with straight grain and less than 10% flake displayed on the board.
Cellular structures in wood that transmit moisture & nutrients outward as the tree grows. These channels radiate from the center of the log like rays of the sun. These rays are perpendicular to the growth rings. In quarter sawn lumber the growth rings are perpendicular (60-90 degrees) to the face of the board then the medullary rays are extremely visible. These rays are most pronounced in white oak and fairly pronounced in red oak. All trees have medullary rays but only Oaks are sorted as “Rift” or “Quartered” based on the amount of figure displayed. Other species are sold as quarter sawn and share the straight-grained appearance of all quarter sawn lumber.
Benefits of Rift & Quarter Sawn
The advantages for rift & quarter sawn lie in the dimensional stability over plain sawn. Wood expands or contracts depending on the direction of the annual growth rings. So, with R&Q your movement is in the thickness of the board opposed to the width which is desirable for cabinets, furniture, and flooring. The cut also changes the look of the wood with the vertical grain on the face.
Limitations in Rift & Quarter Sawn
Larger logs, at least 16” in diameter, are needed to quarter saw. The log is cut into quarters and then boards are cut from either side of the quarter from the inside of the log out. The first few wider boards cut will be quarter sawn. As the wedge gets smaller and the growth rings are less perpendicular to the face, the boards will become narrower, and more rift is produced. Wide plank rift sawn is exceedingly difficult to produce.
White Oak & Red Oak are the most popular cuts. White Oak has the large medullary rays which create the figure that is most known for quarter sawn. We also quarter saw – Beech, Cherry, Hickory, and Maple.
Drying Quarter Sawn
When lumber is dried moisture moves through the medullary rays. In plain sawn lumber the medullary rays are perpendicular to the face and the growth rings are parallel to the face of the board. In 4/4” thick lumber moisture will only have to move ½” out of the thickness in the board; it does not matter the width. In quarter sawn lumber the medullary rays are parallel to the face of the board and the growth rings are perpendicular. The moisture to dry the lumber must move from the center of the board through the width to dry. For example, an 8” wide 4/4” thick quarter sawn board that moisture will have to move 4” from the center to dry. Therefore, it takes much longer to dry quarter sawn lumber than it takes to dry plain sawn lumber. Hickman Lumber takes great care and time to dry the rift & quarter sawn lumber separately than any plain sawn lumber.
Cutting Rift & Quarter is not more wasteful than cutting plain sawn.
Rift & Quarter is more expensive because it takes longer to cut and dry.
History of Rift & Quarter Sawn
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, quarter sawn was popular in flooring, furniture, and interior woodwork. The old timers used this lumber for its dimensional stability & beauty. The mills would cut the logs as radial sawn for 100% quarter sawn. This created a lot of waste and was very time-consuming
After the World Wars in the first half of the 20th century demand was high for wood and mass production was needed. Sawmills began to cut plain sawn, or flat sawn, as this lumber was much faster cut and quicker to dry. The art of cutting & drying quarter sawn was almost lost.
History of Hickman Lumber and Quarter Sawn
Hickman Lumber began cutting some rift & quarter sawn again in the 1970s, but after 2 devastating fires in the 1980s, Hickman Lumber was rebuilt to specifically cut quarter sawn with one head rig feeding a 7’ Filer and Stowell Slant ban-mill using a .125 kerf and two 48” West Plains horizontal resaw using .083 kerf
Nothing of this high-value log is wasted. The “waste” created in how we cut today is significantly less than the radial cutting of the old days, and this little “waste” is utilized in other ways. See Hickman Lumber sustainability page for more details.
In the 1980s and 1990s the rift and quarter sawn lumber was sold mainly to furniture manufacturers. The Japanese furniture market demanded premium rift as they liked the straight tight grains. Our quarter sawn lumber, with the heavy fleck, was sold to Stickley Furniture in New York.