One of the questions we are often asked when helping new clients choose a flooring type is what is the difference between the various sawing they see on the various flooring. It can be a bit confusing as their is plain sawn, flat sawn, live sawn, quartersawn, rift sawn, and rift & quartered.
Understanding the different cuts
When flooring mills & manufacturers mill lumber into flooring their is basically 3 ways in which they can run the timbers through their saw mills; Plain sawing, Rift Sawing, & Quarter Sawing. Each of these methods basically represents how the timbers are oriented to be ran through the saw mill.
The results of the various log orientations / cuts is distinctive looks & figuring of the wood rings on the finished lumber which can make the same wood species have several different appearances.
Plain Sawn – (most common + least expensive)
Plain sawn, also sometimes referred to as flat sawn is the most common lumber cut and what most people are familiar with. When someone thinks of a red or white oak wood floor, they would generally think of the look of a plainsawn oak. Plain sawing is the most cost effective way to mill timbers so the result is plain or flat sawn flooring being the most economical option for wood floors.
Quartersawn – (less common + more expensive then plain sawn)
When timbers are sawn using the quartersawing method the result is a unique grain pattern. Quartersawn is more specifically defined as wood that has the the annual growth rings intersecting the face of the lumber / board at a 60-90 degree angle. When this wood is milled with a saw mill, each log is cut into 4 sections (quarters), this is where the name comes from. The unique straight graining & flecking of the wood grain is what makes this a great choice. Quartersawn lumber is often times sold in combination with rift sawn and then the combination of the 2 is labeled as “Rift & Quartered”.
Riftsawn – (least common + most expensive)
Rift Sawn lumber is the most expensive of all the cuts of lumber due to the mills & manufactures getting the least amount of lumber from using this method. When sawing with the rift sawing method the wood logs are cut perpendicular to the tree rings. In rift sawn lumber the annual growth / tree rings are between 30-60 degrees of the face of the lumber / board. This method produces a tight linear grain pattern. Unlike the quartersawing method, rift sawn boards don’t have any of the “flecking” of the wood grain.
Live sawing uses a combination of all three of the other cuts; plain, rift & quarter sawn. Livesawn lumber is cut straight through the log without rotating it. The result of this cut is a grain pattern in the boards that is parallel to the surface in the center of the boards and perpendicular on the sides of the boards.
A lot of people love this cut because you get more of the flecked grains from the quartered boards and the most natural look of the grains, knots etc.
The live sawing method uses the least amount of waste of all the sawing types. However, since the majority of manufacturers produce the plain sawn variety, and since you need wider planks to get the true live sawn feel it causes live sawn wood to not be the cheapest. Instead it’s generally priced between that of the rift and the quartered.