How Wood is Sawn

A slice from the top of this log will have quarter-sawn grain on the left, flat-sawn in the middle and rift-sawn on the right.

As I look around my bedroom/office, I see a king-size bedframe made of pine logs. In true eclectic fashion, my desk is of red oak, my wife’s of mahogany. There is a night stand I made from walnut eons ago in high school woodshop and a work table of maple. Our walls and ceiling are trimmed in pine, the cabinets in the master bath are of hickory and the mantle over the fireplace is a huge slab of Douglas fir. Inside my walls and holding it all up are studs of fir and pine.

Wood is all around us in our everyday world, and it is one of the most common materials in our lives. Wood comes from trees and there are almost 1,000 species of trees in North America with the most common being the red maple. Other trees that make the top ten in abundance include Douglas fir, quaking aspen and lodgepole pine.

Once a tree is felled, it could become many useful things. Wood products include dimension lumber and logs used in construction, pulp for paper and cardboard, firewood and many commodities you may never imagine. For instance, cellulose from trees is used in the manufacture of soft ice cream, fingernail polish, parmesan cheese, toothpaste, chewing gum and ping pong balls.

Wood really shows its beauty though when it is used to make stuff. Whatever the item—from fine furniture to guitars, pianos, gameboards, kitchen utensils and much more—it is converted into a work of art through the appropriate use of wood.

There are many factors that determine just how a board will look and what it will be best used for. For instance, species determines density, color, porosity, fine or coarse grain and more. A multitude of finish choices are the final step but, showing wood off properly starts with how the wood is cut.

All trees grow by adding concentric circles of new growth under the cambium that we call rings. Because of this, milling a log into boards will yield three different grain patterns as different sections of the log are milled. Often a single board will have several different patterns.

The most common pattern is flat or plain sawn. If you look at the end of a flat sawn board, you will notice that the rings run edge to edge across the width of the board. It is referred to as tangential grain and is 30 degrees or less to the face of the board. In an inch-thick board, there may be a few to a dozen rings showing. The face of the board will show what woodworkers refer to as a cathedral pattern where a single ring makes an impressive V shape. Most furniture and cabinets show this pattern.

Quarter-sawn wood will have the rings from 60-90 degrees to the face of the board and there will be lots of them. This yields a very straight grain on all surfaces and is ideal for woodworking. To get quarter-sawn wood, a log is first milled into quarters lengthwise, then each quarter is milled separately.

Rift sawn wood is the third type. This cut has the grain at a 30-60 degree angle to the face of the board with 45 degrees being optimal. This is the most desirable cut for much woodworking and, of course, is the most expensive, largely because it produces more waste. Rift sawn lumber is very dimensionally stable and produces a unique linear appearance.

In a quick count around my room, I found 20 items made of at least 10 different species of wood and all three saw patterns. Wood definitely influences my life and I am grateful for the constant connection to nature.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho