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SFC > The SFC Craft > Quartersawn Woods

Quartersawn Oak

Quartersawn Oak , a material little used today, is one of the hallmarks of the Arts & Crafts and Prairie styles. At the sawmill, the log is first split into four quarters as shown at left (hence the name 'quartersawn'), then cut on the diagonal from the center of the tree out toward the edges. A peculiarity of oak is that it has very strong, well defined ‘rays’ running from the center of the tree outward. Look closely at the end of a sawn oak board or branch and you can easily pick out the rays. They look like fine, straight lines spreading out from the center of the tree, perpendicular to the grain of the wood.

The Quartersawing Method

The Quartersawing Method places these rays on the face of the board, revealing the distinctive stripe or 'ray fleck' running across the grain that is the signature of quartersawn oak. According to Gustav Stickley "The quartersawing method of cutting...renders quartersawn oak structurally stronger, also finer in grain, and, as shown before, less liable to warp and check than when sawn in any other way." Quartersawing fell out of favor in the first half of this century because it yields less lumber per tree and takes more labor than plainsawing. Because almost all oak furniture today is plainsawn, we associate the quartersawn figure with prized period pieces. Therefore, this unique figure is an important ingredient in accurately recreating the look of turn-of-the-century furniture.

Plainsawn Lumber

Plainsawn Lumber is used in most oak furniture today. Here boards are sawn from around the perimeter of the log so the growth rings are essentially parallel with the surface. The ‘ray fleck’ appears only on the edges of the boards, if at all. Plain sawing produces many wide, clear boards with a pronounced 'cathedral' figure mixed with straighter grain. Plainsawn oak has a coarser, more textural look that draws attention away from the lines of the piece toward the surface itself. This textural quality tends to give furniture a more rustic or ‘country’ look, whereas the quartersawn figure is more refined and shows off the rectilinear lines of Prairie and Arts & Crafts furniture more clearly.

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