As I look around my bedroom/office, I see a king-size bed frame made of pine logs. In true eclectic fashion, my desk is of red oak, my wife’s of mahogany. There is a nightstand I made from walnut eons ago in high school woodshop and a work table of maple. Our walls and ceiling are trimmed in pine, the cabinets in the master bath are of hickory and the mantle over the fireplace is a huge slab of Douglas fir. Inside my walls and holding it all up are studs of fir and pine.
Wood is all around us in our everyday world, and it is one of the most common materials in our lives. Wood comes from trees, and there are almost 1,000 species of trees in North America, with the most common being the red maple. Other trees that make the top 10 in abundance include Douglas fir, quaking aspen and lodgepole pine.
Once a tree is felled, it could become many useful things. Wood products include dimension lumber and logs used in construction, pulp for paper and cardboard, firewood and many commodities you may never imagine. For instance, cellulose from trees is used in the manufacture of soft ice cream, fingernail polish, parmesan cheese, toothpaste, chewing gum and ping pong balls.
Wood really shows its beauty though when it is used to make stuff. Whatever the item — from fine furniture to guitars, pianos, gameboards, kitchen utensils and much more — it is converted into a work of art through the appropriate use of wood.
There are many factors that determine just how a board will look and what it will be best used for. For instance, species determines density, color, porosity, fine or coarse grain and more. A multitude of finish choices are the final step, but showing wood off properly starts with how the wood is cut.
All trees grow by adding concentric circles of new growth under the cambium that we call rings. Because of this, milling a log into boards will yield three different grain patterns as different sections of the log are milled. Often a single board will have several different patterns.
The most common pattern is flat or plain sawn. If you look at the end of a flat sawn board, you will notice that the rings run edge to edge across the width of the board. It is referred to as tangential grain and is 30 degrees or less to the face of the board. In an inch-thick board, there may be a few to a dozen rings showing. The face of the board will show what woodworkers refer to as a cathedral pattern where a single ring makes an impressive “V” shape. Most furniture and cabinets show this pattern.
Quarter-sawn wood will have the rings from 60-90 degrees to the face of the board, and there will be lots of them. This yields a very straight grain on all surfaces and is ideal for woodworking. To get quarter-sawn wood, a log is first milled into quarters lengthwise, then each quarter is milled separately.
Rift sawn wood is the third type. This cut has the grain at a 30-60 degree angle to the face of the board with 45 degrees being optimal. This is the most desirable cut for much woodworking and, of course, is the most expensive, largely because it produces more waste. Rift sawn lumber is very dimensionally stable and produces a unique linear appearance.
In a quick count around my room, I found 20 items made of at least 10 different species of wood and all three saw patterns. Wood definitely influences my life, and I am grateful for the constant connection to nature.