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Understanding Wood Grain

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A craftsman selects a certain type of wood for a project because of a number of reasons. Grain is one. Yet that word has many meanings.

Technically, the word grain refers to the orientation of wood-cell fibers. That's quite different from figure, which describes the distinctive pattern that frequently results from various grain orientations. To understand this, it may help to think of the word direction following the word grain. All grain types except straight grain can be a blessing or a curse. Because wood with anything other than straight grain may be sawn to produce sometimes exquisite figure, errant grain becomes a blessing. In structural applications, such as home construction, lumber (mostly softwood) with other than straight grain loses some strength. And hardwood boards without straight grain require extra care in machining to avoid tearout and other reactions.


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Grain means texture, too

Texture means the relative size as well as the amount of variation in size of the wood cells. It's the cells and how they're arranged in bands called rays, and the size and distribution of pores, that make the difference between fine-textured wood and coarse-textured wood. Woodworkers, though, say "fine-grained" and "coarse-grained" rather than use the word texture to describe this characteristic of wood. And you don't have to be a wood technologist to see as well as feel the difference in grain.


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