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Understanding Wood Grain

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To fill or not to fill

When wood finishers refer to a hardwood as open-grained or close-grained, they're talking about the relative size of the pores. This determines whether or not the surface requires application of a filler to get a smoother finish.

It's all in how you view a board

A flatsawn board, that is, one sawn from a log through and through without it being turned, has three surfaces or planes, as shown in the illustration (below). In true quartersawn wood, the log must be sawn lengthwise into quarters. Then, each quarter log has to be sawn perpendicular to the growth rings. Although a quartersawn board has the same planes, its end-, face-, and edge-grain views will look different from a flatsawn board.

A few grainy tales

Did you know that the cellular structure of red oak is so open that you can blow smoke through it from end-grain to end-grain (flatsawn). Try it.

White oak, on the other hand, has such a tight cell structure that water can't pass. That's why white oak works so well for whiskey barrels and outdoor furniture.

Lignum vitae, a hardwood native to the West Indies, has the finest-grain of any wood known and an ironlike density. A cubic foot of it, air-dried, weighs about 83 pounds-so heavy that it won't float.


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