Furniture artisans such as Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Amish used and often preferred the look of quarter sawn woods, especially oak, over any other woods. In oak the quarter sawn pattern exposed is often informally known as "tiger oak", especially when the cut has created that amazing striped effect. Popularized in the Arts and Crafts era by Mission furniture designers, the quarter sawn look is timeless and intriguing.
What then is the difference between plain sawn lumber and quarter sawn? Why does each one present their own beauty and production issues in furniture making?
The various sawing techniques used on the timber will affect and cause a difference in the wood's appearance. The way it is sawn even affects the properties of the tree and eventually its final use. The efficiency of the plain sawing technique means the production yields more. It is much faster and more efficient to plain saw and leaves less waste that can be sold for much less. An important factor furniture makers must consider is that the nature of wood is to expand and contract depending on the grain. Plain sawing timber can typically cause the board to be less stable. Because of wood movement plain sawn wood has some disadvantages. Plain sawn wood, however, can even have a very thoughtful after and interesting pattern to its grain called cathedrals and really can not be recreated by any other method.
A real prize of any furniture craftsmen or collector is in the grains and the ray flecks, of the woods. A tree always display growth rings and rays but the more obvious the rays, the more character is in the wood. Irregular growth rings can actually enhance the character of the rays. The proper cutting technique alone will bring out these other hidden lustrous rays. The nature of the oak is always beautiful and strong but the true beauty, much like in a good diamond cutting, is arguably revealed in higher priced quarter sawn oak. A log is first cut into quarters lengthwise and then each quarter is cut again lengthwise with parallel cuts. These cuts run sort of perpendicular to the tree's natural growth rings. This style of cutting, while less cost effective to produce, has an advantage. Because of the properties of the grain quarter sawn lumber makes it less pre to warping and shrinkage. Plain sawn lumber's grain is in many directions so making it more vulnerable to these two common enemies of wooden furniture. Quarter sawn wood adds a certain stability to furniture. Also, because of the features of quarter sawn boards, furniture makers can glue together boards for large projects and the grain can be matched as if it were seamless. This can make larger high end quality designs a masterpiece of nature and man.
Since cost is a factor in many furniture designs plain sawn boards have been used by many furniture manufacturers for decades since they are less expensive. Depression era furniture is often identified by its plain saw cut woods, or by its slightly more expensive quarter sawn veneers. That said not all veneers mean low end furniture but in many cases it is a cost cutting measure. Like Gustav Stickley, honorary father of American Arts and Crafts Mission furniture, the Amish still carry on the use of quarter sawn white oak with no veneers in their Craftsman style furniture.