Depending on a project's implementation, there are various ways to prepare and cut different types of wood. Alongside the basic rotary cut, the three primary methods of slicing lumber are plain sawn, quarter sawn and rift sawn. The difference between these methods is how the log is positioned as it is sliced and the angle that the cut makes against the growth rings. Let's take a detailed look at each.
Plain sawn veneer is made by slicing the entire log lengthwise into thin sheets. This method makes up about 80% of sliced veneers. Plain sawn veneer is very cost effective because there is less manipulation of the log during processing and little waste. This veneer can have the appearance of flat sawn lumber with a cathedral grain pattern. A plain sawn cut works well for cabinetry, wall treatments and furniture. However, when choosing plain sawn veneer, be aware there can be inconsistencies in appearance from one log to another or even from the same log. Depending on the application, this could be desirable. If not, one of the other slicing methods is recommended.
Quarter sawn veneer is made by first cutting the log lengthwise into long and round blocks of wood. Then, the blocks are sliced lengthwise perpendicular to the growth rings. The quarter sawn cut accounts for about 15% of sliced veneer. While more expensive than plain sawn, quarter sawn produces straight grains with varying degrees of ray fleck (color striations in the wood). This works well with oak and tropical species like Khaya and Sapele, producing distinct dark and light ribbons. The result is a veneer that adds dimension and complexity to the appearance, while also being more consistent than plain sawn.
Rift sawn veneer accounts for about 5% of sliced veneers. It is made by taking a slice at the widest diameter of the log, rotating it slightly, taking another slice and then repeating that pattern. This is the most expensive veneer and produces the most waste. However, rift sawn veneer has the most uniform and consistent look to the grain because all the cuts go across the growth rings at the same angle. This type of veneer is almost exclusive to red and white oak when there is a desire to minimize the ray fleck. Rift sawn does not produce benefits in other species to justify the extra cost.