flatsawn red oak

flatsawn red oak

The other day I bought this piece of wood at one of the large “home-improvement” stores. This piece of kiln-dried red oak is 1/2″ x 6″ x 24″ – thus one board foot. Price, about $7. I actually paid less than that, because there was no sticker on it, and the cashier couldn’t find the price. So it was about $4.50. From my standpoint, this piece of wood is about as bad as it gets, the only way it could be worse is if it had a knot in it.

I bought it to compare with the red oak I use every day, the radially-riven stuff, from a freshly-split log. Here’s three boards, one of mine, then a quartersawn red oak and finally this tangential-sawn, or flatsawn board.

riven, quartersawn, and flatsawn red oak

riven, quartersawn, and flatsawn red oak

to understand them better, let’s look at the end grain. Hopefully this picture is big enough to see the growth rings in the first two boards from the left, (running horizontally in the photo, across the thickness of these boards) and the medullary rays running perpendicular to the growth rings:

riven, quartersawn, flatsawn red oak

riven, quartersawn, flatsawn red oak

The riven board has its rays running almost right on the faces of the board. The quartersawn board has its rays running close to the faces, at times running out of the faces. The flatsawn board mostly has its growth rings running parallel to the faces of the board. The most stable of these 3 is the riven board, and in additon, it’s the easiest to work with…there is little or no disturbance in its fibers, thus easy to plane, carve, etc.  Below is a detail of the riven and the quartersawn boards. When I work the riven stuff, people often say “Oh, it’s like quartersawn stock…” and my standard reply is that this is what quartersawn wood wishes it was… Notice that the rays in the quartersawn board are running at an angle to the faces of the board. It’s not a bad piece of oak, it’s just not the best.

riven and quartersawn

riven and quartersawn

I get even pickier than that, when I can. I also want the oak to have grown slowly. Here are two extreme examples, both riven and planed in my shop. One grew about 30 or more years per inch; the other about 3 or 4 years per inch. Technically the faster growing oak is stronger, but seventeenth-century furniture is overbuilt anyway, so strength is not a factor for my work. I want ease of working, and also I find the slow stuff more pleasing to look at. The marks I made on the slow-growing one below are ten years.
(l) slow growth, (r) fast growth red oak

(l) slow growth, (r) fast growth red oak

Here are the faces of these two boards:

(l) fast grown (r) slow grown red oak

(l) fast grown (r) slow grown red oak

The fast one was too much trouble, I threw it in the firewood pile.

I just checked a local hardwood dealer’s website, and they have quartersawn white oak on sale for $7.50 per board foot. When I buy the log, I pay about $1 to $1.50 per board foot. I am sure once I have all my labor in it to rive and plane it into boards the cost become quite high. No mind, I get all the wonderful work of riving and planing that stuff, and the stock I get can’t be beat.

driving a wooden wedge

driving a wooden wedge

sixteenths red oak

sixteenths red oak

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