Cuts and Grades

Understand hardwood cuts and grades to choose your perfect floor.

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Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring (AMHF) and Hickman Lumber are known worldwide for their rift & quarter sawn and live Sawn. They have the highest industry standards in the cuts and grades of their wood floors. Understanding these cuts will help you find the best floor to fit the look and needs of your home.

Many sawmills and manufacturers do not cut or understand rift & quarter or live sawn. The Hickman family has been specializing in these cuts for many years, which is why Wood Floor Business Magazine asked Jessica Hickman to write an article explaining the difference. 

The lumber cut starts at the head saw and each individual log is examined prior to sawing to determine if it will be quarter sawn or live sawn or plain sawn.

Cutting Methods

How the log is cut at the sawmill determines the direction of the annual growth rings in relation to the face of the board. These various cuts change the visual grain pattern and affect the dimensional stability of each board. The advantage of rift & quarter sawn, other than how cool it looks, is its dimensional stability over plain sawn. 

 Most sawmills cut plain sawn. This is the fastest way to cut logs and the quickest to dry. Hickman Lumber has specialized in rift & quarter sawn (R&Q) since the 1980s. Rift sawn differs from quarter sawn, but they are both a result of the same method of cutting the log. The difference is the degree that the growth rings intersect with the face of the board (see drawings below). Often boards feature a combination of the R&Q characteristics as trees do not grow perfectly straight. Logs too small to quarter saw are cut in the live sawn method, creating a unique and beautiful mix of plain sawn and R&Q in each board.

The diagram below shows the growth rings in the rift & quartered are perpendicular to the board face, and in the plain sawn, the growth rings are parallel to the board face. Wood is hygroscopic. Therefore,  wood can move with humidity and temperature changes.  The wood will move depending on the direction of the growth rings.  For instance, with dramatic environmental changes, a PS floor will be more likely to cup and gap due to movement across the board’s width. The potential movement in R&Q is in the board’s thickness which is very minimal. The stability of the R&Q and live sawn, due to the high percentage of rift & quarter sawn, allow you to install solid, wide plank flooring over radiant heat and in homes with more potential for environmental changes (live sawn has a high percentage of rift and quarter grain).

Red Oak Plain Sawn S&B vs Red Oak Rift & Quarter Sawn S&B
Red Oak Plain Sawn S&B vs Red Oak Rift & Quarter Sawn S&B
Rift Only Clear Red Oak - AMHF hickmanwoods

The Allegheny Difference

Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring can provide 100% Rift and 100% Quartered Only. The industry rule book (NOFMA / NWFA) only requirement for Quarter Sawn is to have only 50% quartered figure. Rift Sawn can be considered rift if only 75% of the board has rift characteristics. For example,  if you order a 5” Rift Only white oak from a company that grades its flooring according to the industry rule book, you could have over 1” of plain sawn or 25% of quartered figure on each board.   At Allegheny Mountain, we set a higher quality standard and offer 100%.

Allegheny Grading Definitions

The grading scale measures the natural variations and characteristics throughout the floor. These include color variation from board to board, mineral streaks, sapwood, and the presence of knots, open checks or wormholes. No grade is necessarily better than the other; grading is just a way to qualify the appearance. Each of our grades has the same length options and high-quality milling.

Flooring Grades

Rift & Quarter Sawn are available in these various grade options. Live Sawn is only offered in a natural grade. 


Allegheny Clear Grade

This is our cleanest, most perfect grade.   Mostly heartwood flooring that allows subtle natural heartwood color variations. This grade will be free of knots and sapwood. Clear grade has a very formal and elegant appearance.  This is cleaner than a Select & Better (S&B).  

White Oak - Select - Sample

Allegheny Select Grade

This is slightly lower grade than the clear. It will include all the variations in coloration produced by the contrasting differences of heartwood and sapwood. May include very small pin knots, but in general minimal to no character marks and knots.

Rift and Quartered - White Oak-Natural-Sample

Allegheny Natural Grade

This is a character grade with color variation due to contrast in heartwood & sapwood, along with natural variations, including sound knots, including open knots and checks, worm holes, and mineral streaks,. #2 common and better.   This is a tasteful floor displaying the tree’s natural beauty.

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