Material Cuts, Grains, and Natural Characteristics

Decore-ative Specialties is honored to work each day with one of nature’s most beautiful products. Wood is a unique and inspiring material that tells a story of the tree it derives from. Included here are some common wood cuts that provide different looks and also some natural characteristics found in wood that add to its individual and beautiful appearance.

Wood Cuts

  • Flat Sawn: Also called Plain Sawn, flat sawing produces the least waste when milling the log. Their distinctive grain may be esthetically undesirable for some uses and it is at that point that the desire for rift or quarter sawn lumber comes to the fore. In most cases, the log is run through the saw such that it is reduced into slabs without any regard to positioning the blade to capture either quarter sawn or rift cut lumber. Therefore, a unit of boards cut by this method of milling will exhibit all three types of grain because rift and quarter sawn boards are simply the result of how the board is created relative to the path of the blade through the annual growth rings of the log.
  • Quarter Sawn: Quarter sawn boards are cut from the log such that the annular rings are perpendicular to the widest face of the board. Quarter sawn boards have greater stability of form and size with less warping and less shrinkage. In some woods, the grain produces a decorative effect. Quarter sawn oak, for example, shows a prominent ray fleck that is the trademark of Mission Style and Stickley Style furniture. Quarter sawn sapele is likely to produce a ribbon figure.
  • Rift: Rift cutting is like cutting a pie or cake. If you will, the log is sliced in such a way that all the boards are, at first, triangular with the point being the pith center of the log. This creates exceptionally strong, stable lumber. However, it also produces a great deal of waste.
  • Ribbon: Ribbon Mahogany, often called "African" ribbon mahogany because of its origin, is one of the most popular "cuts" of mahogany. Ribbon mahogany is not exclusive to Africa; some ribbon mahogany comes from Honduras as well.

    The "ribbon" grain is achieved by quarter sawing the mahogany. The ribbons interlace into each other, and have a "shimmer" to them which causes them to reflect light differently as you change your viewing angle of the wood.

Common Wood Natural Characteristics

  • Pitch Pockets: A cavity that contains or has contained resin. These are very common in cherry and fir. In cherry they often appear as dark spots in the wood that may or may not be large enough to include an indentation. Invisible within the tree until uncovered by the milling process, they are considered a defect by some or a part of the rustic nature of the wood by others. Pitch pockets in fir are more difficult to finish. Because they often do contain a bit of the sticky resin, they can be unstable and tend to compromise the finish applied over them.
  • Bird's Eye: Bird's eye is a type of figure that occurs within several kinds of wood, most notably in hard maple. It has a distinctive pattern that resembles tiny, swirling eyes disrupting the smooth lines of grain. It is somewhat reminiscent of a burl but it is quite different in that the small knots that make the burl are missing.

    According to an expert on the subject, “The highest incidence of figured bird's eye maple occurs in regions with severe winters and short growing seasons, including Maine, the eastern peninsula of Michigan, plus Canada and a few other areas.”

    Sawyers in these regions state that they find bird's eye figure most often on the north side of a dense woodlot. If at some point these woodlots are thinned, they usually stop producing bird's-eye. It could be concluded that the eye is a form of epicormic budding, or dormant buds that, when exposed to light, will grow a new branch.”

  • Bird Peck: A patch of distorted grain resulting from birds pecking through the growing cells in the tree and sometimes containing a hole and/or ingrown bark.
  • Pomele, Pomelle, Pommele, or Pommelle: A figure found in sapele, bubinga, makore, and bosse. It is reminiscent of rain drops falling on the surface of a still pond. It is usually found in extremely large trees. The heavier figured material is usually found near the outside of the tree, and may not penetrate through the log.
  • Flame: Flame grain is wide, straight grain pattern resembling flames. Flame grain would indicate a more random, chaotic, swirly look to the grain. Flame grain is caused by a more tumultuous life for the tree i.e., more winds creating stresses within the plant.
  • Fiddleback: A rippling or undulating grain common to certain hardwoods, such as maple and sycamore. Pieces containing this grain pattern are often used on the backs of violins. This figuring is produced from logs which have been quarter sawn to produce a very straight grain with nearly perpendicular curls running from edge to edge.
  • Curly: The stripes you would see in a finished board of curly wood come from the play of light on grain that waves from side to side. The troughs and crests of the waves reflect light in different directions. As you turn a curly board around in your hands, its surface actually shimmers. Light areas turn dark and dark areas turn light.
  • Tiger: The term tiger is used to describe a type of figure that has stripes running prominently perpendicular to the grain of the wood, vaguely resembling the coat of a tiger. This is one of the most popular and available types of figure, used in furniture, architectural millwork, toys, musical instruments and the like. The contrast in the figure is very good, and finishing actually helps to bring out and accentuate the figure. The striping can range from as fine as 1/16" to curls as broad as 1/2".
  • Mottled: Used to describe the appealing quality of the contrast of light and dark areas that are most attractive once the veneer is finished.
  • Beeswing: Very similar to the mottled affect, this figure is said to resemble a bee’s wing.
  • Crotch Figure: Crotch is a figure that develops when a tree knits a trunk to a branch or when two branches come together. The figure is also referred to as plume or feather.
  • Quilted: Most commonly found in mahogany and maple, this figure is best known for its three-dimensional effect. Like large bubbles in a pan of thick liquid. This beautiful figure is most commonly found in Oregon Big-leaf Maple.
  • Plum Pudding: More like bird's eye maple, it has blemishes in it that resemble the fruit in a plum pudding. It sometimes shows long streaks of color trailing away from a dark spot in the wood. Its appearance is similar to when you are mixing the pudding and the color is strongest around the plum then trailing off into the batter.
  • Moire: A shimmering grain quality not unlike the textile of the same name.
  • Burl: Burls are composed of swirls of grain laced with eyes. An abnormal, warty, balloon shaped growth which usually develops at the base of certain trees. A cut through a burl reveals tight bunches of small knots or eyes. Burls are often sliced for veneer. Burl figure is one of the rarest and most beautiful figure patterns.
  • Spalt: Spalting is a figure pattern caused by fungus. It produces black streaks usually following the grain and can result in a beautiful marbling.