There's more than one way to cut a log
I've read articles explaining the differences between flatsawn and quartersawn lumber. Over the years, I've also seen the term "riftsawn lumber," but I've never seen a definition for it. Does riftsawn lumber have any special properties or uses?
—Dan Borcyk, Omaha
Dan, riftsawn is the word used for lumber that has been cut at no less than 35° and no more than 65° to the annual rings in a log. The word bastardsawn also is used for this type of lumber. Most riftsawing is done at about 45°. The best description we've heard comes from Lisa Flittner, of Paxton Lumber Co. in Kansas City. She explained that boards riftsawn from a log resemble the spokes on a bicycle wheel. The cut follows a path from the center, and travels at an angle across the tree to the outside. Quartersawn lumber, on the other hand, is cut straight from the core to the outside.
When you look at a riftsawn board, the end will have growth rings angled at about 45°, and the face will be so straight-grained that it's often called comb-grained lumber. These boards also have long sweeping stripes resulting from the rays that run from the center of the tree to the bark. These same rays show up as specks in quartersawn lumber, and don't appear at all in flatsawn lumber.
You may find riftsawn boards hard to come by, even though they prove to be as strong and as stable as quartersawn boards. That's because sawyers have to spend more time and create more waste, when cutting riftsawn stock. You'll mostly find riftsawn boards in oak, because of the desirability of the ray and grain figures. But other hardwoods can be ordered riftsawn. This type of wood is also the most expensive. In oak, it costs about a dime more per board foot than quartersawn lumber, and $1.60 more than flatsawn stock.