Charlottesville VA – Quarter-Sawn Lumber and Heart Pine

by staff on February 4, 2011

Heart Pine Floors in Charlottesville VAIt’s really a privilege to be able to see the many homes and buildings in the Charlottesville VA area which were built decades ago.  Many older homes (and some new homes as well) feature a particular type of flooring which features “quarter-sawn heartpine”.   Because a number of clients have been unaware of the benefits of this particular cut of lumber, we thought we’d share some of the details with you.   Quartersawn Lumber

Here’s a terrific link where you can get a good look at an example of quarter-sawn boards.  Quarter-Sawn refers to the direction of the grain in a board as viewed from the end of the board.  Quarter-sawn boards are cut with the grain at a 60-90 degree angle on the cut of the board.  The grain runs perpendicular to the surface of the flooring.   This produces a board with extra strength because the grain is tighter  (resulting in less extreme shrinking and expanding  if exposed to humidity). 

We’ll talk a bit about plain-sawn and riftsawn boards too, but first about the particular boards found all around Charlottesville… at UVa, in churches and homes and fraternities.  This wood is quarter-sawn heart pine.

Heart” pine comes from the very heart of the tree (a long leaf pine) where the wood is denser and a bit darker.  Most heart pine came from old forests that were lumbered years ago, from trees that were around 300 years old…. with a sizeable “heart” to make into lumber.  Today’s forests are cut before they reach an age where the heart is large enough for boards, so it makes the older wood even more rare.  The photo at the top of the page is a heart pine board.   You can see its rich warm colors and very tight dense grains.  The stairs and floors inside the rotunda at the University of Virginia are a beautiful example of the sturdiness of heart pine.  Here’s access to a forum on “what is heart pine“.

Plain-sawn lumber is cut straight across the log, resulting in many variations of grains.  Since wood expands and contracts in different ways with respect to grain, plainsawn lumber is typically less stable than rift-sawn or quarter-sawn.   According to this excellent article about how to use different types of wood, when plain sawn lumber is exposed to moisture on one side of the board, that side swells and causes the plank to cup.  (We also see many floors which were made of soft pine, plainsawn, and they often exhibit cupping and warping).   Quarter sawn wood reacts with less distortion, because of the vertical orientation of the grain. Where stability is critical–as in fine cabinetry or flooring where one surface will see more humidity than another–quarter sawn lumber is the best choice.

Rift-sawn lumber is more stable than plainsawn lumber…. but not as stable as quarter-sawn.  This method of cutting produces a lot of wasted pieces (see diagram at top) and is not always cost effective.

Quarter-sawn lumber comes from many varieties of wood, not just heart pine.  Oak is a popular choice.  Oak grain has rays of wood that extend outward from the center through the annual rings of the tree.  In plain sawn oak only a few of the center boards will show this pattern, but with quarter sawn oak, each plank exhibits the special flecking and sheen of this cut.   This photo of quarter-sawn oak shows that grain.  Quarter Sawn Oak

Quarter-sawn lumber is not limited to flooring… you see it everywhere.  Here’s a link with lots of photos of quarter-sawn lumber, showing its versatility.   This site for Long Leaf Lumber features some gorgeous photos of the wood, both old and new uses.  It’s the source for the photo below, a gorgeous wood kitchen island.  Wood Kitchen Island 

The desirability of this wood extends to unexpected venues.  From boat keels to musical instruments (in particular guitars)…  heart-pine and quarter-sawn wood is prized for its attributes. This link shows you the various attributes of quarter sawn lumber for prized guitars

And no article about wood flooring would be complete without some helpful advice about the care and cleaning of your wood floors.  Here’s your  link to answer your questions about how to install wood flooring and  wood floor care.

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