Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Understanding Hardwood Flooring Cuts

Understanding Hardwood Flooring Cuts
There are three well-known cuts from which flooring is made. The most popular is plainsawn, also known as flatsawn. Next we have riftsawn and quartersawn, which are different, but often sold together as rift and quartersawn (R&Q). A new trend is livesawn. It is a mix of R&Q and plainsawn, and to fully understand livesawn, it is important to have an understanding of plainsawn and R&Q.

Hardwood flooring, like everything in interior design, has different stages of style and fashion changes. Plainsawn is the most common cut today, but prior to the early 1900s, quartersawn was all the rage due to its fashion and functionality. However, plainsawn developed and could be sawn more efficiently than quartersawn flooring, and it became commonplace. At that time, logs were quartersawn in a manner that produced 100 percent quartered lumber, which was very wasteful. Today’s R&Q is cut to produce minimal waste, but its overall production takes longer than plainsawn products.
It is easy to tell the difference between a plainsawn board, a riftsawn board and a quartersawn board.

The end grain of a plainsawn board has annual growth rings between 0 and 35 degrees. The face of the board has what is referred to as a “cathedral” grain pattern. Most old homes built in the early and mid-1900s had 2- to 3-inch plainsawn red oak, and when people think of oak floors, this is what they picture.

When the log is cut into quarters to make quartersawn boards, the annual growth rings are at 90 degrees to the surface. White Oak is especially popular in quartersawn because of the vibrant ray flecks along with the tight wavy grain pattern create a really cool and elegant look. The fleck is caused by the medullary rays, which are the life veins of the tree. The medullary rays are perpendicular to the annual growth rings and therefore parallel to the surface of the quartersawn board. These rays are very pronounced in the white oak and it creates this great figure.

This cut has annual growth rings angled around 45 degrees, and the grain pattern on the surface is very lineal. It’s important to note where the riftsawn boards come from in the log. When a log is quartered, it is then cut from the center face and works its way out. The boards that come from the outside edges have 45 degree annual growth rings. This comes from the smaller part of the quartered wedge. If you picture this, you can see why it is hard to get wide-plank rift only!

In fact, a few years back we had an experienced installer who was looking for wide-plank rift-only white oak. When told how difficult it was to get, he said to our owner, “You own a saw mill! Why can’t you just cut it?!” We invited this installer to the sawmill while we were cutting R&Q white oak and asked him to watch to see how many wide-plank rift-only boards came through. After an hour, he realized he had not seen a single one wider than 4 inches!

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