09 July A Builders Guide To Better Lumber Cuts

At Reliance Building Products, we know that the success of your construction projects depends on the quality of your materials. One crucial factor is understanding the different types of lumber cuts available. The cut affects not only the appearance of the lumber but also its performance and suitability for various applications. This guide will give builders and contractors, especially those working on high-end projects, the insights needed to make informed decisions about lumber cuts, enhancing both the structural integrity and aesthetic appeal of your builds.


A Guide to Lumber Cuts for Builders and Contractors

Why Lumber Cuts Matter

Choosing the right lumber cut is vital for several reasons:

Structural Integrity

Different cuts offer varying stability, strength, and resistance to warping.

Aesthetic Appeal

The cut influences the grain pattern and overall look of the lumber.

Cost Management

Knowing about lumber cuts can help manage costs effectively, as some cuts may be more expensive but offer benefits that justify the investment.


Lumber Cut Type Characteristics Common Uses Benefits Example Application
Plain Sawn (Flat Sawn) Sliced parallel to growth rings, "cathedral" arches Framing, flooring, cabinetry Cost-effective, prominent grain pattern Oak flooring in high-end homes
Quarter Sawn Cut perpendicular to growth rings, straight tight grain High-quality furniture, cabinetry Enhanced stability, unique appearance Custom cabinetry and fine furniture
Rift Sawn Cut at 30-60 degrees to growth rings, linear grain Architectural millwork, trim, furniture Superior stability, consistent grain pattern Modern furniture and trim in luxury homes
Live Sawn (Through and Through) Cut straight through log, varied grain patterns Wide plank flooring, decorative elements High yield, distinctive appearance Rustic yet elegant flooring in upscale homes
Free of Heart Center (FOHC) Avoids heart center, reducing splitting and warping Structural beams, posts Reliability, minimal defects Exposed beam construction
Boxed Heart Contains heart center, stronger, denser wood Heavy load-bearing applications Strength, density Large structural elements in commercial buildings
Surfaced Four Sides (S4S) Planed on all four sides for smooth surfaces Finished applications, trim, molding Smooth, uniform appearance Visible interior woodwork
Mill Sawn Rough Rough cut straight from the mill, rustic texture Barn construction, rustic designs Natural, rugged look Rustic aesthetic designs
Resawn Rough Resawn for rough surface, aesthetic purposes Decorative elements Visually striking texture Accent walls
Dense Grain High concentration of growth rings, slow growth Flooring, high-end furniture Maximum strength, fine texture Heirloom-quality furniture
Course Grain Wider growth rings, faster growth, coarser texture Construction projects Acceptable coarser texture Framing and structural applications
``` This table provides a structured layout for information on lumber cuts.


Types of Lumber Cuts

Plain Sawn (Flat Sawn)

  • Characteristics: Plain-sawn lumber, or flat-sawn, is the most common and cost-effective cut. It involves slicing the log parallel to the growth rings, resulting in a distinctive grain pattern with "cathedral" arches.
  • Common Uses: Versatile and widely used in framing, flooring, and cabinetry, especially for visible surfaces where a prominent grain pattern is desired.
  • Benefits:
    • Cost-Effective: Maximizes yield from the log, making it more affordable.
    • Aesthetic Appeal: Adds visual interest with its prominent grain pattern.
  • Example: Use plain-sawn oak flooring in high-end homes to provide a rich, warm look that enhances the overall aesthetic.

Quarter Sawn

  • Characteristics: Produced by cutting the log into quarters and then slicing each quarter perpendicular to the growth rings. This yields lumber with a straight, tight grain pattern and increased stability.
  • Common Uses: Ideal for high-quality furniture, cabinetry, and flooring where stability and durability are crucial.
  • Benefits:
    • Enhanced Stability: Reduced risk of warping and shrinking.
    • Unique Appearance: Tight grain pattern with occasional ray flecks for a refined, elegant look.
  • Example: Quarter-sawn white oak is perfect for custom cabinetry and fine furniture in quality home builds.

Rift Sawn

  • Characteristics: Cut at a specific angle to the growth rings, usually between 30 and 60 degrees, producing a linear, straight grain pattern without ray flecks.
  • Common Uses: Favored for high-end architectural millwork, trim, and bespoke furniture pieces.
  • Benefits:
    • Superior Stability: Highly resistant to warping and twisting.
    • Consistent Grain Pattern: Uniform, linear appearance sought after in luxury design.
  • Example: Use rift-sawn hardwoods for sleek, modern furniture and trim in luxury homes.

Live Sawn (Through and Through)

  • Characteristics: Involves cutting the log straight through without turning it, incorporating all the various grain patterns, including flat and quarter-sawn sections.
  • Common Uses: Ideal for rustic or contemporary projects where a unique, varied grain pattern is desired, such as wide plank flooring and decorative elements.
  • Benefits:
    • High Yield: Maximizes use of the log, making it an eco-friendly choice.
    • Distinctive Appearance: Combines the best features of different cuts for an interesting grain pattern.
  • Example: Live-sawn white oak flooring blends traditional and modern design elements for a rustic yet elegant look in upscale homes.


Specialty Cuts for Timbers

Free of Heart Center (FOHC)

  • Characteristics: Avoids the heart center of the log, reducing the likelihood of splitting and warping.
  • Common Uses: Structural beams, posts, and other applications needing strength and stability.
  • Example: FOHC timbers are reliable for exposed beam construction.

Boxed Heart

  • Characteristics: Contains the heart center of the log, resulting in a stronger, denser piece of wood.
  • Common Uses: Heavy load-bearing applications like beams and posts.
  • Example: Use boxed heart timbers for large structural elements in commercial buildings.

Lumber cut Surfaced 4 sides

Surfaced Four Sides (S4S)

  • Characteristics: Planed on all four sides for smooth, even surfaces.
  • Common Uses: Perfect for finished applications needing a smooth, uniform appearance.
  • Example: S4S lumber is ideal for trim, molding, and visible interior woodwork.

Mill Sawn Rough

  • Characteristics: Rough cut straight from the mill, retaining a rustic, textured appearance.
  • Common Uses: Natural, rugged look for barn construction and rustic designs.
  • Example: Mill sawn rough lumber is perfect for creating a rustic aesthetic.

Resawn Rough

  • Characteristics: Resawn to create a rough surface, often for aesthetic purposes.
  • Common Uses: Decorative elements in both interior and exterior applications.
  • Example: Resawn rough boards are great for accent walls and visually striking features.

Dense Grain

  • Characteristics: High growth ring concentration indicates slow growth and high density.
  • Common Uses: Applications like flooring and high-end furniture need maximum strength and durability.
  • Example: Dense grain lumber is perfect for heirloom-quality furniture.

Course Grain

  • Characteristics: Wider growth rings indicate faster growth and a coarser texture.
  • Common Uses: Suitable for construction projects where texture is less critical.
  • Example: Course grain lumber is often used in framing and structural applications.


Choosing the Right Cut for Your Project

Selecting the appropriate lumber cut depends on several factors including budget, project requirements, and aesthetic preferences. For instance, if cost-effectiveness and visual appeal are your primary concerns, plain-sawn lumber might be the best choice. However, quarter-sawn or rift-sawn lumber would be more appropriate for projects requiring superior stability and a refined look.

Expert Tips for Selection:

  • Assess Project Needs: Determine whether stability, appearance, or cost is the priority.
  • Consider the Environment: Choose cuts that best suit the environmental conditions of the project site.
  • Consult with Experts: When in doubt, seek advice from lumber professionals to ensure the best choice for your project needs.



Understanding the various lumber cuts and their unique characteristics is essential for builders and contractors working on high-end projects. Selecting the right cuts can enhance your builds' structural integrity, aesthetic appeal, and overall quality.

Whether looking for superior stability or a distinctive appearance, Reliance Building Products offers a range of high-quality lumber options to meet your needs.

If you want more information or to explore how our lumber products can enhance your next project, please contact Reliance Building Products. By leveraging the unique properties of different lumber cuts, you can ensure that your construction projects stand out for their quality, durability, and aesthetic appeal.