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Lumber SelectionLumber Selection

Watch Your Figure

When selecting boards, grain style (or figure) is the first thing you should examine. That’s because it will have the single biggest influence on the appearance of your project. Because of this, make sure to have a good idea of what kind of figure you want before you shop. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to figure. Whether you prefer the wood to be subtle or highly figured is up to you. Just remember that with subtle figure, you are more likely to notice the project itself. With highly figured wood, you’ll likely notice the wood more than the project.

When a log gets milled into boards, the blade cuts through the growth rings.  The angle at which these rings are cut determines the appearance (or figure) of the grain on the face of the board.
The top board here is “flatsawn” one slice after another. Look closely at this board’s end grain, and you’ll see that the growth rings run almost parallel to the face of the board. On the face, you see the telltale wavy grain that results.



The middle board is “quartersawn,” meaning the log first gets cut into quarters and then sliced so that the end grain runs perpendicular to the board’s face. This results in straight face grain. In some woods, such as oak, quartersawing produces “ray fleck” figure. Quartersawn wood is almost always sold separately from flatsawn and priced higher. However, some flatsawn boards will have quartered grain, depending on where in the log the board came from.

The bottom board is “riftsawn.”  Here, the end grain runs not parallel or perpendicular to the face, but between. The face grain is still straight but lacks the flecks.  Riftsawn stock may be sold separately or, more typically, mixed in with flatsawn material.

Once you know what figure you want, start by pulling out and setting aside those boards that have the right type of figure. You might start by pulling twice as many boards as you really need.  Then, once you have a batch of good boards, line them up side by side. Keep the best grain matches, and return the rejects to the stack.


© 2010 August Home Publishing............................................................................ From Kreg and Woodsmith Magazine

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