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Veneer Grain Patterns
by Sal Marino

The actual grain pattern of a piece of wood is often determined by the way it is sliced from the log. The way veneer is cut off the log determines the appearance of the grain. Veneer cut from the same log will have an entirely different appearance if cut using different methods.  Wood mills use several different sawing methods to turn logs into lumber boards and veneer. What follows is a discussion of some of the more common methods.

Flat cut veneerPlain Sawing
Plain sawing is the method most often employed, because it produces the largest quantity of usable lumber and veneer from any given tree. Veneer is cut from one side of a log, then the log is rotated 90 degrees and more veneer is sliced. Plain sawing produces veneer that shows a flat grain pattern on its face and a straight grain pattern on its edges.

Quarter cut veneerQuarter Sawing
Using this method, the log is first cut lengthwise into quarters. The veneer is then sliced off of each quarter at an angle between 65 and 90 degrees to the annual rings of the log. Veneer cut farthest from the center will produce figured grain, while veneer cut nearer the center will display very straight grain patterns. Quarter sawing produces fewer splits in the wood, because the cuts are made parallel with the log's rays. These rays appear as flakes running the length of the boards.

Quarter sawing is more wasteful than plain sawing, but quarter-sawn veneer is more stable than plain-sawn veneer, since it's less prone to warp and twist. This is a good point to remember when you're building a project and you're concerned about the stability of the wood.

Rift sawn veneerRift Sawing
Rift sawing is very similar to quarter sawing, in that the log is initially cut into quarters. Then cuts are made at a 45-degree angle to the annual rings. This produces a grain that's very thin and runs lengthwise along the board. The wood rays that are apparent in quarter sawing are even longer and more distinct in rift sawing.


Burl and Crotch Grain Patterns

Burls and CrotchesThese two highly figured grain patterns are defined more by where on the log they're located than how they're cut. A burl is a cancerous growth on a tree.  It's the bulblike protrusion is often seen on a large limb or at the base of a tree.   Crotch and burl patterns are among the most attractive grain patterns you will ever find. Yet beauty almost always has its price. Highly figured woods such as these are very unstable and prone to warp much more than plain-sawn or quarter-sawn veneer. You must take extra care when working with these woods.




burlBurls are highly prized by custom furniture makers, wood turners, and other woodcraft artisans because they yield such beautiful grain patterns. The convoluted grain in a burl changes direction and "swirls," producing a stunningly rounded pattern. Walnut, ash, maple, and elm are some of the most commonly used burls for furniture and cabinet work.



crotch patternCrotches are cut from the top part of a tree, where two large limbs branch off at approximate 45-degree angles from the main trunk (Figure 9). Boards cut from this section produce a highly-figured grain pattern sometimes called flame, since the grain design often takes the shape of a flame. Mahogany and walnut are the two most commonly used crotches.


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