The type of wood cut is determined by the angle at which a board is cut from the log. There are three cuts of wood: Plain sawn (AKA Flat sawn), Quarter sawn, and Rift Sawn and each cut produces a board of a different appearance and quality.
Plain Sawn: The most common cut is Plain sawn. The log is squared and sawed lengthwise in a series of parallel cuts. The annual growth rings appear as approximately straight lines on the board, joining at the end to form a “cathedral arch.” Because of this arch, Plain sawn boards are often considered the most beautiful of the cuts. These boards are ideal for large visual areas like whole floors, tabletops, drawer fronts, sides of dressers or other similar projects. Plain sawn boards are the least expensive of the three cuts as they are the least labor-intensive to produce and leave the least waste.
Quarter Sawn: Created by first cutting a log into quarters and then making a series of parallel cuts perpendicular to the tree's rings, cutting on the radius. The grain in Quarter sawn wood is relatively consistent and the growth rings (grain) will be at a 60-90-degree angle in the profile of the flooring plank. This also makes Quarter sawn boards less likely to bow, warp or twist than plain sawn. This makes it a good choice for floors being placed in high traffic areas.
*In certain species the Quarter sawn lumber will display a prominent ray fleck on the face of the lumber. These rays are part of the cell structure of the growing tree that radiate outward from the pith or center of the log to the sapwood. These appear as shiny bands that vary in width from species to species. They are called medullary rays.
Rift Sawn: The third cut is Rift sawn. In this cutting method, the log is still quartered, and then cut as you see on the left. As the cuts get closer to the outside of the log the angle of the grain changes to 30-60 degrees and reducing the amount of ray flecks appearing in the wood. This makes it easy to match boards for a uniform appearance.
Live Sawn: The oldest method of cutting, but the newest to America. The most common method in Europe, is gaining popularity in the states. Instead of being cut to produce Plain sawn, Quarter sawn, or Rift sawn wood, the log is cut straight through with each cut parallel to the last. This produces a mix of Plain, Quarter, and Rift sawn woods (about a third of each) and eliminates virtually all waste. This method also yields wider boards making it very popular.