What Is the Difference Between Plain Sawn, Rift Sawn, Quarter Sawn and Livesawn Grain?

Wood flooring begins life as a log.  That log enters a sawmill and is sawn according to the grain pattern of the board desired.  And the grain pattern on the face of the board is determined by the orientation of the growth rings (as viewed from the butt end of the board) to the face of the board.  The grain pattern options are Plain Sawn, Live Sawn, Rift Sawn and Quarter Sawn

plain sawn, live sawn, rift sawn, quarter sawn grains


The vast majority of logs intended for flooring are sawn into Plain Sawn boards.  It is the easiest method of sawing logs as it is merely sawing the round log into a series of smaller and smaller squares.  Depending on the size of the log, this can translate into several different grain pattern possibilities – but in nearly all cases, the growth rings (again, viewed from the butt end) are essentially parallel to the board’s face.  In fact, the angle of the growth rings to the face ranges from 0°- 45°.  Because of the relative ease of this method of sawing, this grain pattern tends to be the least expensive option in each species choice.

The resultant grain pattern on the face of a Plain Sawn board is typically wide arching lines that some people refer to as Flame Grain or Cathedral Grain Flat Sawn (owing to the growth rings being parallel to the face aspect).

Plain Sawn Red Oak


Quarter Sawn and its close associate Rift Sawn are both considered Straight Grain products.  This means that on the face of the board, the growth rings present themselves as more or less straight, more or less parallel lines.  To be considered Quarter Sawn, the Growth Rings must be oriented from 45°- 90° to the face. 

The unique thing about Oak is the presence of Medullary Rays that emanate outward from the center of the log like spokes in a wheel.  When those Rays intersect the growth rings at or near 90°, boards paralleling them – as much of Quarter Sawn flooring does – show anything from flecks to flashes of iridescence.  This was found very desirable in the late 1800’s during the Arts & Crafts period and is still considered an elegant and beautiful option today.

Quarter Sawn White Oak


Rift Sawn Only is defined as having growth Rings oriented from 30° – 60° to the face of the board.  So, while it still has straight parallel lines of grain like Quarter Sawn – it no longer exhibits the flecks or flashes of iridescence.  This is a very desirable option for those looking for the most benign flooring option – a very minimalist look.

It is the most difficult grain pattern to achieve – particularly in wider widths – and therefore, more expensive than even Quarter Sawn.

Rift Sawn White Oak
Rift Sawn White Oak

Rift and/or Quarter Sawn is a premium cut and is generally more expensive than Plain Sawn.  It is also considered more stable because of the vertical grain orientation.  The latter is not necessarily true with flooring from CountryPlank because of the care taken with kiln-drying and conditioning.  It is much more important to control the moisture content of the subfloor and the humidity of the area where the flooring is to be installed – because, grain pattern alone will not save you if the site conditions are not appropriate! 

Rift and/or Quarter Sawn is customarily ordered in a Select & Better Grade – but in Oak, it is also available in Clear Grade and Natural Grade – so, it can complement any decorating scheme!


A new/old option of White Oak and occasionally Walnut has lately become available – Livesawn.  It is sometimes called French or European Cut – but, is a very old method of sawing a log.  Instead of squaring the log in the case of Plain Sawn, or quartering the log in the case of Quarter Sawn, Livesawing is the technique of sawing straight through a log from one side to the other, much like pit-sawing of centuries ago.  The result is planks that exhibit Plain Sawn grain down the middle with Rift & Quarter Sawn grain along the edges.  It is a dramatic look and a more reasonably priced alternative to Antique Reclaimed Oak.

Livesawn White Oak

Visit Countryplank.com for more information on:

Or email info@countryplank.com or call 443-280-1517.