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Following is an overview of wood cuts and sawing methods. Click on the below links to see our information sheets in an easy, ready to print format. Plan a visit to our showroom to chat or ask us about our Woods Cuts presentation (registered for AIA credit for those architects who are looking for continuing education credits).

Cuts Comparison

The way a log is cut affects the appearance and performance of a piece of wood. The growth rings will always be visible on the face and the angle in which they meet the face of the board will change the look of the board. The medullary rays in the wood play a huge role in how moisture exits (think kiln-drying process to prepare wood to be manufactured into a usable wood product) and enters (think acclimation and/or re-entry of moisture in installed material due to improper conditions) a piece of wood. The medullary rays can also be exposed on the face of a board to drastically change its appearance. Finally, the way a log is cut will produce different reasonable limitations for width and length.

Example of plainsawn wood


Plainsawn is a method of sawing created to diminish waste and cost. It is a commodity cut and has a visual cathedral pattern on the board face. Wood is cut parallel to the growth rings (and therefore perpendicular to medullary rays which play a role in drying) making the angle of the growth rings at the face 0 to 45°. Moisture will exit and enter a plainsawn board through the thickness of the board which is typically ¾” in flooring, making it an easy cut to dry. Since moisture enters and exits through the thickness of the board it makes it a slightly less stable cut as moisture has a shorter distance to re-enter a board if placed in conditions that are not ideal per NWFA recommendations on moisture and relative humidity. Sometimes plainsawn boards are referred to as “flatsawn”.

Example of riftsawn wood


Riftsawn wood is technically from a log that has been sawn in quarters (quartersawn). A board is designated riftsawn as a visual characteristic due to the straight grain pattern. The boards tend to come from the outer portion of a log where the angle of the growth rings at the face are 30-60°. There are no visible medullary rays and the appearance of the board is very linear and “combed” looking. Riftsawn boards expand and contract through the width of the board making it a very stable choice. The process of quartering a log and drying the lumber is more specialized and costly than when creating plainsawn lumber, therefore, rift (and quartersawn) wood products come at a higher price tag. If a client wants a “rift only” product, they can expect this to come at a premium. There is an extensive grading process to be sure the full length of the board features rift characteristics. Because rift boards come from the outer portion of a log, there is also a reasonable limit of 5” widths for a true “rift only” product. There is also a certain allowable amount of flake permitted by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA) standards in a rift floor. It is essential to either have a control sample representative of grade or a detailed conversation regarding the amount of flake that is acceptable to the end user.

Example of quartersawn wood


After a log is sawn into quarters, planks that show the visually noticeable medullary rays on the face are considered to be quartersawn. The medullary rays appear as conspicuous flake on the board face, also known as tiger striping, figure or fleck. According to NOFMA standards, for flooring to be specified as quarter sawn, each piece must contain at least 50% quartered characteristics. Since we control the lumber and grading process, we are able to abide by or tweak those standards dependent on a client’s expectation. These adjustments will affect the cost and timeline based on availability. The annual growth rings intersect the face of the board at a 60-90° angle and those boards tend to be cut further towards the center of a log. As with riftsawn boards, quartersawn boards expand and contract through the width of the board making it a very stable choice.

Rift and quartersawn examples

Rift & Quarter

It is very common to have a mix of rift and quartersawn in wood products. We are able to determine an appropriate ratio here at Hunt Hardwood based on a client’s preference. We often see clients who want a lineal rift floor, but hedge cost by not eliminating all of the quartersawn portions each board. Lumber that comes from a log that has been sawn into quarters will produce some rift only boards and some quartersawn only, but many boards contain a variation of the two grains in the same plank.

Rift & quartersawn boards need to be expertly kiln dried with attention to detail as they are more difficult to dry, but once properly dried, they are a more stable option. Before buying rift and/or quartersawn, be sure that the kiln that is drying the lumber is specifically setup to dry this type of cut as it is a different and more tedious process than drying plainsawn lumber. Moisture will exit and enter the board through the medullary rays, which in a rift or quartersawn board, run parallel to the face of the board, meaning the moisture travels the width of the board. Since wood planks are wider than they are thick, moisture has further to travel when it exits a rift or quartersawn board.

Example of livesawn wood


“Livesawn” is an old milling term that has come to describe wood planks that have come from a log that has been simply sawn across in one direction throughout. This technique allows us to yield the longest and widest boards and incorporates all the physical characteristics of the other three cuts combined in the same plank. A livesawn board will have lineal rift grain, flaked quartersawn grain, and the cathedrals found in plainsawn boards. This allows it to be a stable option as it has the superior stability of the rift and quartersawn cuts. All Livesawn boards are character grade.