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Quartersawn Lumber for Guitars

Plain Sawn vs. Quarter Sawn

Plain sawn (or flat-sawn) lumber has the growth rings of the tree parallel to the board's broad face. Plain sawn wood highlights the grain, loops and growth swirls of the wood.

Quarter sawn has the growth rings of the tree approximately perpendicular to the board's surface. Quarter sawn wood has the straightest grain, and is used for necks, fingerboards or anyplace where strength and stability is a must. It is much more expensive to use quarter sawn wood because you need bigger trees to get wood that will be appropriate

Rift Sawn lumber is cut at a 30-degree or greater angle to the growth rings. This produces narrow boards with accentuated vertical or "straight" grain patterns.


How Quarter-Sawn Wood is Milled

First, the log is cut into quarters. Then, the quarter is flipped ninety degrees back and forth to saw off a plane of wood. This process does not produce any more waste than plain sawing, but it does require a lot of extra time to flip the quarters back and forth.

The benefits to this cut of wood are straighter grain that is up to 50% more stable than plain sawn wood and a superior looking product featuring less variation, longer lengths, and straighter grain.

Plain or Flat Sawn Technique

(Top Half)

Quarter sawing produces both Rift and Quartered

(Bottom Half)

Rift lumber is lumber where by the growth rings are 30 to 60. Plain sawn lumber has growth rings that are less the 30". By definition, Quartered Sawn lumber produces lumber where by the growth rings are positioned at a 60 to 90 angle. 98% of the lumber produced in the world in plain sawn, which may make quartered sawn lumber mills seem small; However there are more than 4000 sawmills in the United States alone.

The most obvious characteristic of quarter sawn lumber is the type of grain pattern produced. By quarter sawing, the saw actually splits the medullary ray, causing the ray to appear shiny or reflective. (The German term for this is "Spiegel Shnitt" or "Mirror Cut".) The rift board does not have this shiny characteristic. It does produce vertical grain - usually used in a more contemporary setting specified by architects.

Appearance is not the only reason why quarter sawn is sought after. Quarter Sawn Wood:

  • Does not shrink or swell in width
  • Reduces twisting, warping and cup
  • Wears less in almost all applications
  • Does not surface check or split
  • Produces a better paint surface

 

As described, quarter sawing is more of an art than plain sawing. Quarter sawing takes larger logs to saw this product, more production time in sawing each "quarter", all of which equates to a premium price.

The reason why 98% of mills do not sell quartered sawn is because of the technical skills and patience needed.

Most mills pull quartered sawn from their normal plain sawing production, resulting in very inconsistent colors and grain patterns.

The bigger guitar companies generally don't use quartersawn lumber. I first learned about quartersawn lumber and why it was better from Paul Reed Smith back in 1990. He drew a crude illustration on a napkin at the dinner table but I was able to understand the concept and I have always used it on every guitar I ever built.

Ed Roman  2007

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