The Ultimate Guide to Lumber Cuts for Hardwood Flooring

When it comes to hardwood flooring, solid wood takes up centre stage. Every decision you make, from the type to the cut of the wood, determines the beauty and strength of the end product. Depending on its origin, structure, density and appearance, wood can be of two types: hard and soft. Both have unique uses and prices. You may want to reference the Janka Hardness Scale to choose a suitable type for wood flooring. However, knowing how it is cut is just important as it impacts the characteristics of the wood.

Different Ways to Turn Logs into Lumber

Lumber comes from sawing logs in different ways. Here is an important fact: whether you need it for flooring or furniture, lumber needs to first be prepared in a certain way.

1.      Live Sawing

This is the easiest and quickest way to saw logs. Live sawing, also called slab sawing or through-and-through sawing, is a new trend in woodcutting that mixes rift, quarter and plain sawing. In this method, the open face of the straight log is cut through to its centre into 4/4 boards. It is then turned 180° and the sawing process is continued through and through.

The log is turned only once, unless the log is crooked or is a sweeping log. In that case, it needs to be turned twice.

Live sawn lumber is mostly wide, heavy and of a low grade. Another disadvantage of this type of log is that excess warping can take place during drying. That is why live sawing is only recommended to produce lower-quality logs.

2.      Cant Sawing

In this method, the top of the log is cut across and then flipped 180° to saw across its opposite face. It is then rotated 90° to saw the third side and then another 180° for cutting across the last side. In this way the log is cut into a square-shaped centrepiece, called a “cant”. This “cant” is then either sent for further processing or sold as is as a large timber.

This is the most common type of sawing method and produces medium to low-quality logs.

3.      Plain Sawing

This method produces great quality lumber. Plain sawing is similar to cant sawing and begins on the outer sides of the log. The log is rotated onto boards until a square centre or a four-sided cant is created. In this method, the cant is further rotated and sawn to produce the most amount of lumber. Rough edges are then sawed off.

4.      Grade Sawing

This method sees the log sawn and turned to a new face up to five times. Grade sawing is one of the best methods for creating medium to high-quality logs.

5.      Quarter Sawing

The natural grain patterns and knots in hardwood make it highly valuable. For this, quarter sawing is a useful method.

Different Types of Wood Lumber Cuts for Hardwood Flooring

Solid wood floors are made from planks derived from a single piece of wood. These planks are either pre-finished or site-finished, but the manufacturing of the flooring begins with the tree itself. Depending on the various uses, the trees are cut into logs. We have already discussed the various cutting or sawing methods that affect the stability and price of your boards.

Here are a few lumber types, differentiated by their different cuts, that you will come across when choosing wood for your hardwood floor.

1.      Plain Sawn Lumber

As mentioned earlier, plain sawing produces great quality boards. For this reason, plain sawn timber is perhaps the most common. In fact, most homes built during the early and mid-1900s have 2” to 3” plainsawn red oak hardwood flooring.

The main feature of this type of board is that the end grain’s annual growth rings are angled between 0° and 35°. This type of wood can be cut and dried quickly.

2.      Quarter Sawn Lumber

To make quarter sawn boards, logs are first cut into quarters. In this type of board, the annual growth rings remain angled at 90° to the surface. White oak, with its vibrant ray flecks and tight wavy grain pattern, is a perfect choice to produce quarter sawn lumber. The elegance of this type of wood board adds a cool quotient to your home interiors. The fleck or spot in its grain is caused by medullary rays found in the cellular structure of certain wood species. These rays appear to be radial, while perpendicular to the growth rings. When sawn across, these lines appear to radiate from the centre. Since these rays are prominent in white oak, this type of wood makes for a beautiful floor.

3.      Rift Sawn Lumber

In this type of cut, the annual growth rings are angled at 45° and have a linear grain pattern. Rift sawn boards are created when the log is quartered and then cut from the centre face. Boards from the outside edges have 45° annual growth rings due to the smaller sections of the quartered piece of wood. This is also why manufacturing wide plank rifts is not easy.

Different Properties Due to Different Cuts

Why mention the annual growth ring angle for each cut? This is because the angle of the growth ring has a direct impact on the appearance of the floor and influences its dimensions.

Simply put, wood shrinks or swells based on how much moisture is absorbs or releases, owing to changing weather conditions. The annual growth rings determine the direction of the movement. For example, plain sawn boards tend to expand and contract in proportion to board width. The wider the plank, the more movement can take place.

For rift sawn and quarter sawn (R&Q) boards, however, this movement happens according to thickness. R&Q flooring tends to be more stable than other types and can be installed over radiant heat.

Once you understand the differences between these types of sawn lumber, you will get a better idea how they need to be installed. Remember, every hardwood flooring board has a story, from the time the tree was growing to the time the logs were cut in the mill. The most interesting thing is that you will never find two boards that are the same. Therefore, the look and feel you get from your hardwood floor is unique and desirable.

 

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