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Bringing Out the Best in Douglas Fir: Quarter-Sawing

March 16, 2011 by | nell | There have been 0 comments

When we think of quality Douglas fir flooring, we often consider only what’s on the surface – the finish, the stain, the arrangement of boards. However, the most important step in ensuring the ideal product is the first one: cutting the boards from the log itself. Which method you choose will have a profound result on the quality of the wood.

vertical grain douglas fir

Douglas fir logs that are quarter-sawn yield clear vertical grain boards.

The two most common methods for cutting lumber are quarter-sawing and flat-sawing. Quarter-sawn wood products are typically more expensive, and with good reason: they are of a much higher quality, and are more labor-intensive to produce. A flat-sawn log is run through the blade repeatedly at the same angle, while quarter-sawn logs are split into four pieces (thus the name) and cut from multiple angles. The method of cutting dramatically changes the orientation and amount of grain in the boards. A quick look at the different end grains (what you see at the smallest end of the board) can illustrate the difference. Because of the uniformity of cuts into the log, flat-sawn boards have a range of grain patterns. However, most end up with a horizontal, curved end grain. This can be problematic, as seasoned wood expands and contracts with variations in climate. The curved, sparse end grain can result in cupping when the wood swells. When wood curves as a result of this process, it never returns to its original shape. Quarter-sawn boards, on the other hand, have a dense vertical end grain. This way, when the wood shrinks or swells it nonetheless retains its integrity.

mixed grain douglas fir

Flat-sawn Douglas fir yields a wavy, or "cathedral" grain.

Aside from structural considerations, quarter-sawn wood products also display a superior surface grain. Whereas flat-sawn boards tend to show a cathedral-grain pattern, the quarter-sawn wood results in beautiful vertical-grain designs. Furthermore, because the wood is cut perpendicular to the growth rings of the log, quarter-sawn boards often capture the medullary rays (or pith rays) that run vertically through the tree. These worming ribbons can add beautiful figures to the surface of the boards, such as silver grain or pith flecks.

The vertical grain and dimensional stability of quarter-sawn wood makes for the best flooring products. Flat-grain wood is more commonly used for paneling, siding and framing lumber, though some people admire the grain variation enough to use it for flooring. Combined with a quality lumber variety, the quarter-sawn method guarantees a long-lasting, attractive result. Douglas fir is an ideal wood for flooring, as it is one of the most dimensionally stable. The quarter-sawn process increases that stability, in addition to bringing out the beautiful vertical grains in the wood – a flawless choice for the majestic Douglas fir.

- Ian Friedman


This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, quarter-sawn, flat-sawn, clear vertical grain, appearance grade

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