There are four different types of sawing patterns. The patterns vary in appearance, size, and price. The patterns are flat sawn (plain sawn in softwoods), quarter sawn (vertical grain in softwoods), rift sawn, and live sawn.
Flat sawn is the most commonly found sawing pattern. It comes from taking boards from the outside of the log. This gives the wood a cathedral grain pattern. When looking at the end grain of a board, you will notice that the annual growth rings are either smiling (cupped) or frowning (crowned) at you. Flat sawn lumber tends to produce wider boards and fewer knots. It is also the most economical because it’s very quick to produce and little waste associated with it.
Quarter sawn lumber is created by quartering the log and then breaking those quarters down into lumber. This sawing pattern is desired in some species more than others. When you quarter saw a log you slice the ray plane, resulting in ray fleck. Ray fleck is desired by some woodworkers and for certain styles of woodworking. The ray plain runs from the center of the tree to the bark, which means it sits perpendicular to the annual growth rings. When inspecting the end grain of quarter sawn lumber, you will notice that the annual growth rings run vertically from one face to the other. Red and White Oak are the most common lumber to be quartered due to their large ray cells. Quarter sawn lumber results in long, straight grain lines. You will also get narrower boards because of the way the log is broken down into lumber. Quarter sawn lumber takes more time to produce and creates a fair amount of waste during the process. This ultimately means that quarter sawn lumber can have a fairly high price tag.
The third sawing pattern is rift sawn. Rift sawn is very similar to quarter sawn, but instead of slicing the ray plain, it is purposely missed. When looking at the end grain of rift sawn boards, you’ll notice how the growth rings are just slightly off 90 degrees from the surface. That is how the ray plain is missed. Rift sawn lumber has the same long, straight grain lines like quarter sawn lumber, but it has no ray fleck. Since it is broken down in a very similar process, it also produces narrower boards. Rift sawn lumber tends to be a little cheaper than quartered, but it is still more expensive than flat sawn lumber.
There is one more sawing pattern, but it normally isn’t sold on a commercial basis. This sawing pattern is called live sawn. It is very simple. You just saw board after board right next to each other. This is used to produce live edge material and large slabs. The slabs tend to have some “character” because there is no control over the grade of the lumber. The cool thing with this sawing pattern is each cut/slab will contain areas of flat, quartered, and rift sawn lumber. The price for live edge lumber is all over the table. There are lots of variables that contribute to the cost; overall size (width, length, and thickness) amount of character/grade, type and the amount of figure, surfaced both sides, and kiln dried.
What to Use
The different sawing patterns produce different looks. Some of these looks are liked by some, and not by others. Some sawing patterns also cost more than others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so choose the pattern fits your project and checkbook the best.