- Plain sawn
- Rift sawn
- Quarter sawn
The differences between these three types have to do with the appearance of the grain on the face of the boards. The grain patterns are determined by where the board was in the log & it's position relative to the growth rings.
If you look at the ends of a plain sawn oak board, the growth rings pretty much arc across one of the faces of the board. This produces an effect called "cathedral grain". That is, the grain makes a very high arching pattern on the face of the board. Here is an example of the grain on a plain sawn white oak board.
The growth rings on rift sawn oak run at about a 60° angle from one face to the other. This produces very straight grain patterns with no arches. It's also rather plain looking, since the grain essentially forms parallel lines along the length of the board. Here is an example of the grain on a rift sawn white oak board.
Quarter sawn oak boards have the growth rings running perpendicular or nearly perpendicular to the faces of the boards. Oak trees have these structures in them called medulary rays. These rays run from the center of the tree to the outside in a radial fashion, and help strengthen the trunk. They're not visible in plain or rift sawn oak, but become visible in quarter swan stock. They produce interesting effects in the grain that run generally perpendicular to the grain on the face and produce that classic Arts & Crafts or Mission look. Here is an example of the grain on a quarter sawn white oak board.
This article has an excellent picture showing you how logs are plain sawn, rift sawn, and quater sawn.
When you plain slice a log, you will get boards that are rift & quarter sawn, simply because of where the board came from in the log. Most of the boards, though, will have plain sawn grain. In addition, plain slicing results in the least amount of waste from the log (maximum yield). If you were to truly quarter saw a log, you would get the most waste (minimum yield). So when it comes to price, plain sawn stock is the cheapest and quarter sawn is the most expensive. Rift sawn stock can be as expensive as quater sawn.
Then I started looking at the actual prices for these kinds of white oak. The difference in price between plain & quater sawn is about $1.55 a board foot. This is a significant difference. I just couldn't justify the additional cost. So I decided that I was going to use plain sawn white oak for this cabinet. A closer examination of the wood in our dining room set convinced me that there was no quarter sawn material in the any of the pieces, so using plain sawn would actually make the new cabinet match the existing pieces better.
Next time: Buying lumber