Types of Wood Cuts for Hardwood Flooring | Tamalpais Hardwood Floors


The angle at which a board of solid hardwood is cut, or how the veneer for engineered flooring is cut is important because it affects how the finished product looks, performs, and how much it costs.  Different types of wood cuts produce different qualities in timber. Choosing the right cut for your project can make the difference between a long-lasting, strong and durable structure and a weak or faulty structure. Hence, the more you know about the cuts, the better. Knowing your options will help you to make the most informed decision for your home and choose the right flooring. Click here to see flooring products we have available at Tamalpais Hardwood Floors.

Diagram 2: Wood cuts
Diagram 2: Wood cuts

Solid hardwood flooring

Solid wood flooring is either plain-sawn, quarter-sawn or rift-sawn.


Plain-sawn is the most common cut. The board contains more variation than the other two because grain patterns resulting from the growth rings are more obvious. It provides a relatively good yield with little waste and a larger percentage of clear, sapwood pieces free of knots.  The goal of sawing lumber this way is to avoid knots. The sawyer turns the log and cut the board from the clearest edge. This is typically done by sawing around the outer portion of the log trying to avoid the heartwood in the center. The clear boards on the outer portion of the log are known as the “sapwood”. They are traditionally more valuable than the dark “heartwood” pieces in the center.  This method will produce wider boards than quarter sawn but not as wide as live sawn.


Since wood expands and contracts in the direction of the grain, the plain sawn moves across the width of the board. It makes it the least stable method of sawing lumber. This is the most inexpensive way to manufacture logs into lumber. Plain sawn lumber is the most common type of cut. The annular rings are generally 30 degrees or less to the face of the board. This is often referred to as a tangential grain. The resulting wood displays a cathedral pattern on the face of the board.


Quarter-sawn wood twists and cups less and wears more evenly. When a log is being cut for quartered flooring, as the name implies, the first step is the cut it into quarters.

Next, it’s cut perpendicular to the growth rings in the log. It produces tight graining at angles of 60-90 degrees, resulting in that are close to the surface of the boards. The resulting pattern is beautiful flecks of color from the wood’s medullary rays (ribbons that extend vertically through the tree, perpendicular to the growth rings).

Quarter-sawing produces fewer board feet per log than plain-sawing and is, therefore, more expensive. Boards sawn using this method are generally narrower than ones cut using the plain sawn method. Red and white oak is generally quarter sawn in order to show off the wood’s distinctive straight, striped grain. This method of sawing wood for flooring matches the wood grain of Mission-style furniture. If you want to create a coordinated look with your flooring and furniture, you’ll want to keep this detail in mind.


Rift-sawn is similar to quarter-sawing, but the cut is made at a slightly different angle. It has a very minimalistic straight grain. Rift sawn wood can be manufactured either as a compliment to quarter sawn lumber or logs can be cut specifically as rift sawn. In rift sawn lumber the annual rings are typically between 30-60 degrees, with 45 degrees being optimum. Because of its simplicity, rift sawn flooring tends to provide a very modern look.  Whereas, plain sawn and quarter-sawn provide a more classic, traditional look. The rift sawn boards are the remaining cuts from the quarter sawn process.


If you look at the cross section of the log, the two pieces to the center of the log are quarter sawn, and the remaining pieces are rift sawn. Manufactured by milling perpendicular to the log’s growth rings producing a linear grain pattern with no flecking. This method produces the most waste, increasing the cost of this lumber. Rift sawn lumber is very dimensionally stable and has a unique linear appearance.



Engineered Floors

There are also three different ways of cutting the real hardwood top layer for engineered floors:

Dry solid-sawn

Dry solid-sawn involves letting the wood dry out slowly with a low humidity level. It keeps moisture from inside the wood cells intact, reducing the risk of cupping. It is the most expensive type of engineered flooring but looks and acts more like a solid. With a dry solid-sawn process, the natural color variations, consistency and beautiful grain of the species are maintained. The floor can be re-sanded if necessary.


Rotary-peel involves boiling the log for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature to prepare the wood. After the wood has been prepared, it is scraped from the log with a blade working from the outside in and then pressed flat. It typically has a plywood-like grain. It can have issues with cupping and warping to try to revert to its original shape. Rotary cut surfaces can also be too thin for re-sanding.


Sliced-peel involves boiling the log for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature to prepare the wood. After the wood has been prepared, it is sliced from the end and then pressed to create a veneer.

Rotary-peeling and slice peeling produce a less expensive product. The soaking process of rotary and sliced-peel methods can yellow the wood’s original color.  Also, the wood’s exposure to added moisture can cause issues such as face-checking (small splits, or openings running parallel to the grain of the wood.) That said, these methods are appropriate for producing products at lower price points and can be finished to a beautiful effect.  Reputable manufacturers will guarantee their products against defects if installed properly by a licensed installer–always be sure to check the floor’s warranty and choose a licensed and insured installer.

Courtesy of Lauzon Ltd.
Courtesy of Lauzon Ltd.

For more information or assistance with selecting a hardwood floor please call Dermot at Tamalpais Hardwood Floors (866)-987-8686.