Quarter Sawn Oak and Rift Sawn Oak are becoming increasingly popular in kitchen, bathroom, and home office designs. In this video, Brian explains the differences between standard oak, quarter sawn oak and rift sawn oak, as well as the limitations and price differences you can expect when ordering white oak and red oak cabinets. Feel free to reach out to your Cabinet Coach with any other questions, and enjoy your new cabinets!


RESOURCES Woods and Finishes • https://www.cabinetjoint.com/finishes/

Cabinet Door Styles • https://www.cabinetjoint.com/cabinet-door-category/styles/

Assembly Information • https://www.cabinetjoint.com/assembly-information/

Installation Tips • https://www.cabinetjoint.com/installation-tips/

Video Transcript

Hey everybody, Brian from The Cabinet Joint here. This isn’t an assembly video; we’re going to talk about Quarter Sawn and Rift Sawn Oak as wood species. We’re doing an awful lot with quarter sawn and rift sawn oak right now, moving away from the old ‘flatsawn oak’ that our grandparents and parents had in their kitchens. So, I want to discuss the differences and some things to be aware of if you’re planning on ordering that for your project.

Let’s start with what we know as flatsawn or traditional red oak. This door doesn’t do a great job of exhibiting it, but you can see these cathedral rings—the growth rings—in a cathedral manner both at the top and bottom. That kind of fat, heavy grain up here is really the hallmark of the original oak we used to see, especially back in the 50s and 60s when we had wider boards to work with. Those cathedrals could be really big. As trees have gotten smaller because we’re harvesting so many, these panel staves are also getting smaller. So, while you might not see the rings as big, they’re still there.

However, this is not what people are wanting right now. They’re looking for very straight, linear-looking grains in the oak. We can achieve that with quarter sawn and rift sawn oak, but there are things to be aware of. Let’s talk about how rift sawn and quarter sawn are harvested as opposed to flatsawn.

Imagine this bottom section of the log representing traditional flatsawn. The growth rings run along the end of the log like this. They’re cut along the rings through a saw, resulting in planks. Pretty much everything yields—you’ll have hardwood and sapwood. Pretty much everything out of that log is yielded for flooring or cabinetry or whatever. Now, let’s delve into quarter sawn and rift sawn oak, which I’m illustrating here. Suddenly, not everything can be used. Let me explain further.

In quarter sawn oak, the growth rings run straight, which means the grain doesn’t come into and out of the same piece of wood. This results in a very straight appearance. When they cut the log into quarters and slide that through the saw, you get these lines representing the planks of the quarter sawn wood. Almost everything in there can be used, as long as it doesn’t have a nasty knot or other defects. However, it doesn’t yield as well as flatsawn oak.

Now, let’s talk about rift sawn oak. It’s even more challenging. These bands here represent the five, six, or seven pieces you could actually yield out of that quarter. The rest is waste. Rift sawn oak has a different orientation—more like traditional diagonals. Unfortunately, the yield is quite poor, which drives the price up. It’s just not good in terms of yield.

What differentiates the look of quarter sawn versus rift sawn is these worm tracks. Let me show you a close-up. I’ve got some really heavy ones here. This veneer panel, called modular array, has tons of them. These worm tracks are very dense parts of the wood. Interestingly, I’m not entirely sure why they appear more prominently in quarter sawn oak. But here’s the key: with quarter sawn oak, these tracks don’t take stain as well and can really stand out on a finished door, especially if it’s a darkly finished door. So, quarter sawn has some of that variability. Due to this variability, you can get a lot of it in one door and almost none in another door, or very little in another quarter sawn door. People don’t tend to like quarter sawn as much as rift sawn. Rift sawn oak is almost the exact same—very straight grain. Unlike quarter sawn, it doesn’t have the worm tracking. So, rift sawn is what people seem to be after.

Now, let’s discuss some limitations. If you’re okay with quarter sawn, it’s available in red oak and white oak. This here is white oak. Red oak has a slightly pinker tinge, and that red will come through with some of the staining you do. But you can get quarter sawn in either white or red oak. Again, I’ve got white oak quarter sawn here.

However, rift sawn is only available in white oak. You cannot get it in red oak. So, if you want rift sawn, you’re going to get white oak.

Another important point to understand regarding both quarter sawn and rift sawn, especially concerning Conestoga’s cabinets, is that Conestoga deals with four or five standard species for their cabinets. However, they can work with up to 16 species or even more if you want three special designs. But they can’t do the cabinet box, which means the finished side—the interiors—they only do those in red oak, cherry, hard maple, soft maple, or painted. So, when you get into these odd oak cuts, we can’t do white oak in the cabinet box. Consequently, you’re going to get a white oak front frame and a white oak door. However, you’ll have to skin the cabinet side with a skin.

Now, rift sawn is not available in a skin that’s a quarter inch thick. They only do rift sawn in rift sawn white oak and three-quarter thick panels. So, when you go to skin your cabinet side, it’s going to be a quarter-sawn skin—even if the face of your door is rift sawn. You’ll get that modular reflection, and you may not like that. Essentially, you’ll be forced to use a door panel or, if it’s inset, do a frame and a door assembly on the side of your cabinet.

The cabinet coach can talk you through all that. I’m just trying to make you aware that there are some limitations. If you’re doing matching interiors, you can’t even get that with either of these. With red oak, you have a chance of just saying, ‘I want a normal red oak matching interior,’ and your cabinet’s interior will have all the cathedral grain on the tops, bottoms, left and right sides, and the back. The color will match. So, if you’re going to stain it in autumn or whatever color, it will match, but the grain won’t look the same as your front frames and doors. At least your colors will match. However, since white oak is not available as a cabinet species, there’s really nothing you can do to the interior of the cabinet that will match. You could maybe order it unfinished and paint it, or you can just stay away from matching interiors on your design altogether. Your cabinet coach and designer can guide you a little bit. For instance, if you’re doing a wall open bookcase in white oak rift sawn, we don’t want to do that because the only thing we can do for the interior of the cabinet is soft maple or hard maple—it won’t look right.

Always consult your cabinet coach and designer when dealing with these odd species. Now, let’s talk about the price. I hate to say it, but it’s up there—it almost doubles. We’ve seen a real uptick in demand for both rift and quarter sawn, primarily rift, in the last couple of years. During COVID, we actually had a shortage where you couldn’t get it. Price and availability went through the roof, but I think it has come back and settled a little bit. Always check with your cabinet coach on lead times. It won’t be your standard four or five-week lead time with these species; it’s going to be longer. So, keep all these things in mind. If you have any questions, always call your cabinet coach. Give us a call; we’ll be happy to talk you through it at 888-211-6482. We really hope you use this beautiful wood—it brings back some of the reminiscence of Stickley furniture, which was popularized back in the 50s. It’s a gorgeous wood to look at, but it does have some limitations. So, I hope this helps you with your design. Thanks for watching!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *