Page B2.1 . 28 April 2004                     
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Understanding Figure in Wood

by R. Bruce Hoadley

The term grain is often used erroneously to refer to the distinctive surface appearance of wood, especially that resulting from growth-ring structure. To avoid continued confusion with that already overworked word, we prefer the term figure to refer to distinctive or characteristic markings on longitudinal or side-grain surfaces of wood.

In commercial parlance, the term figure is generally reserved for the more decorative woods. Figure in wood results from a combination of particular anatomical features (ranging from normal growth structure to various abnormalities and extractives) plus the orientation of the surface that results from cutting.

Lumber is sawn to produce all surface orientations, from flat-sawn to edge grain. Veneer can likewise be cut in any plane relative to the growth rings, from flat-slicing to quarter-slicing. Veneer can also be peeled, that is, cut using the rotary process whereby a log is rotated against a gradually advancing knife a continuous sheet of veneer is removed, as one would unwind a roll of paper towel.   >>>

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This article is excerpted from Understanding Wood: A Craftman's Guide to Wood Technology by R. Bruce Hoadley, with permission of the publisher, Taunton Press.

 

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The method of manufacture determines the appearance of grain on a board or veneer.
Image: R. Bruce Hoadley

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Quartersawn surfaces of uneven-grained conifers such as this Douglas-fir board have parallel-grain figure.
Photo: Randy O'Rourke

 

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