Plain Sawn vs. Rift and Quartered Oak: What's the Difference?

Posted by Josh Kou on

Plain Sawn vs. Rift and Quartered Oak: What's the Difference?

Plain Sawn vs. Rift and Quartered Oak: What's the Difference?

There are three major ways that hardwood oak lumber is cut: plain sawn, rift sawn, and quarter sawn. Rift sawn and quarter sawn oak share many characteristics and are frequently sold together under a "rift and quartered oak" category.

plain sawn white oak

Plainsawn Oak Characteristics

  • Plain sawing brings out the characteristic annual rings more visibly.
  • Knots, if any, affect the surface appearance less than spike knots in quarter sawn lumber. (However, the spike knots in quarter sawn may appeal to some woodworkers as more “natural” in knot formation.)
  • Plain sawn shrinks and expands less in thickness -- but more in width. Therefore it is less stable than RQ oak and the shrinkage/expansion in the plainsawn lumber must often be compensated in design.
  • It is less costly to produce because it is easier to obtain.


rift sawn red oak

Quartered/Rift-sawn Oak Characteristics

  • Hardwood rift and quartered oak lumber will shrink or swell in thickness when the humidity in the environment changes. (Plain sawn lumber, on the other hand, shrinks and swells in the direction of the width of the board.)
  • Quarter/Rift-sawn lumber shrinks and swells less overall than plain sawn. This makes it the most dimensionally stable form of wood lumber.  Musical instrument makers, for example, take full advantage of this property in making high quality instruments. 
  • It twists and cups less.
  • It is less susceptible to checking and splitting during drying process.
  • Quarter or rift sawn oak wood wears more evenly than plain sawn.
  • Quarter/rift-sawn has characteristic figure due to pronounced rays.  This gives quarter/rift-sawn oak the classic look that high caliber woodworkers have coveted for centuries.
  • It is more liquid resistant.  It does not allow liquids to pass into or through it so readily.  This is one of the reasons why whisky distillers and wine makers use quartersawn white wood oak barrels to age beverages.
  • It takes paint better.
  • The sapwood appears at the edge of the board, and so the sap width can easily be edged off and eliminated.  In contrast, plainsawn sapwood appear across the width of the board and is difficult to edge off.

As you can see, Quarter/Rift-sawn oak has a lot to offer, not only in appearance but in function.  Please glance through our quarter/rift-sawn oaks for your next woodworking project. 

Our Quartered/Rift Red Oak has the most excellent and uniform color available. We sustainably source our red oak from slow-growth forests, so our oak logs have more annual rings per inch. This produces a visually softer and more appealing texture. Add to this the unparalleled care we take in the drying process, and you have hardwood lumber that will make your next woodworking project stand above the competition.

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