Using google books search, a quick-and-dirty search shows a hand of uses of "quartered oak" before 1800, but none for "quarter sawn oak; only late in 19th century does use of "quarter-sawn oak" begin.
Oxford English Dictionary, "quartered oak"
1. (b) (of timber) sawn radially into quarters and then into planks in order to show the grain to advantage.
1674 Arch. Maryland in C. R. Lounsbury Illustr. Gloss. Early Southern Archit. & Landscape (1994) 301 [Stairs at the statehouse in St. Mary's City] to be made of good white Oke quartered Planck.
1719 G. LONDON & H. WISE tr. J. de la Quintinie Compl. Gard'ner 187 The most convenient..is a Lattice of quarter'd Wood, or Heart of Oak.
a1807 WORDSWORTH Prelude (1959) II. 46 Through three divisions of the quarter'd year.
1854 P. B. ST. JOHN Amy Moss 21 These palisades were formed of quartered oak.
Oxford English Dictionary,"quarter-sawn"
quarter-sawn adj. subjected to or produced by quarter-sawing.
1878 Manufacturer & Builder June 136/3 *Quarter-sawn oak cannot crack.
1966 A. W. LEWIS Gloss. Woodworking Terms 74 Quarter-sawn boards shrink less and are less liable to warp than other boards.
Arthur William Lewis, A glossary of woodworking terms, London, Glasgow, Blackie, 1966
1990 Practical Woodworking Mar. 94/1 (advt.) Walnut..lime, quartersawn oak, (brown and tiger), American red oak.rebec:-- ^ Panum, Hortense (1939), The stringed instruments of the Middle Ages, their evolution and development, London : William Reeves, p. 434
The popularity of quartered oak rises and falls. Around the turn of the [20th] century, it was at its height for furniture, pianos, interior trim etc. For example, Quartered Oak is frequently mentioned in The Craftsman and other publications for which Gustav Stickley is responsible. click here for a list.
But quartered oak has a history that stretches back to at least into the 16th century or even earlier, where, as shown in this image from Charles Hayward's English Period Furniture, pit saws and riving irons are the "cutting-edge" technology. (Figures 9 and 9A from page 25 of Hayward's book.) Hayward goes on to say that,
Charles H. Hayward English Period Furniture New York: Van Nostrand, 1959 and later eds.
"Most early oak was riven, that is, the log was cleft at the end with a wedge, and was so forced apart. The method was far less laborious than sawing, and it created a workpiece for the craftsman that is stronger, since in splitting it followed the natural line of the log's cleavage."
Also implied here is that, rather than the aesthetic qualities of of quartered oak -- i.e., the visibility of the rays and flecks -- it is the more-down-to-earth matters, like a utilitarian "stability", that interested woodworkers in that early age. In other words, I think it safe to say that the aesthetic qualities of quartered oak loom as a secondary pay-off, rather than a first.
Cescinsky and Chinnery are separated by several generations of scholarship. Cescinsky worked in the first half of the 20th century, and while Chinnery extends into the 21st. Chinnery is reviewed by Robert F. Trent -- who signs himself as a member of the Connecticut Historical Society in the "[review of] Oak Furniture, the British Tradition: A History of Early Furniture in the British Isles and New England by Victor Chinnery", Winterthur Portfolio 18, No. 2/3 (Summer - Autumn, 1983), pages 215-217, challenges some of chinnery's claims, although Trent praises Chinnery's effort overall. Cescinsky's appraisals of furniture construction and methods of identifying authenticity and provenance -- he has authrored numerous books and articles on a wide range of furniture styles -- are not challenged by anyone that I can locate.
Victor Chinnery, a dealer in oak furniture, has penned a massive volume --
Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture:The British Tradition, A History of Early Furniture in the British Isles and New England London: Antique Collectors' Club, 2002, selections from pages 142-144.-- on the tradtions of oak as the wood furniture construction in Britain and in America, and in his discussions, covers topics such as techniques of rendering oak logs into boards using both quartering and straight sawing methods, pit sawing, coppicing as a method of nurturing the growth of oak trees, and when oak was replaced by walnut and mahogany. Click here for the passage .
Herbert Cescinsky the gentle art of faking furniture 1931 Chapter 4: The Woodworker in Olden Time: -- time coverage:-- 15th to 17th centures
Riving, rather than sawing, oak was a technique used more frequently in New England than Old England. This may have been because it was more wasteful of timber — a riven board is wedge-shaped in cross-section and so a lot of wood has to be trimmed off to make the two sides roughly parallel. Another factor was that American oaks were better for riving — they grew straighter and taller than English ones.
Riving is done from the end of the log using a wedge and mallet and then a froe to split the log. The first split halves the log, the next halves one of the halves, and so on. Each split is along the radius, hence the wedge shape. About an inch or two of the heartwood and the sapwood is discarded, so the widest riven board that a 24-inch diameter tree could produce is about 10 inches wide. Sawyers could get a 20-inch board from it, though quartered oak, of course, is limited to the same board-width as riven oak. Riving was faster and less hard work than sawing, and it could be done in the forest where the tree had been felled. This meant that the joiner had to haul home only the wood that he would actually use. His wife and children would come by later to collect the trimmings for fire-wood or charcoal.
Riven oak is stronger than sawn, and is less likely to warp, because the spits run along the fibers and don't cut any of them, as the saw inevitably does. A riven board follows the natural growth of the tree.
When working with riven oak, the joiner needs only one straight corner (an edge and two true sides), which is called the "arris." All measurements are made from the arris, so the other three edges can be off-true with no ill effect. Most joiners, however, did square off the visible edges till they were roughly parallel, but this was for visual appeal, not structural necessity.
Riven surfaces were usually smoothed first with an adze, then a plane, and then with an abrasive paste of brick-dust or stone-dust. We've often heard that shark-skin was used like sandpiper, but we've not been able to verify this (can anyone help here?). Different surfaces were given different degrees of smoothing depending on their visibility.
Most collectors love riven oak. Perhaps because it's comparatively rare, but more likely because it seems more natural, less processed. It is properly finished only where it needs to be and leaves many signs of handwork on its surfaces. Its non-parallel sides and non-right-angled edges take it a step further away from the regularity of the machine age. That's why it's so appealing. (As you can see from the illustrations, we currently have a lovely Tudor coffer made of riven oak (Small Elizabethan Coffer).
Sources: Herbert Cescinsky, Chapter 4, "The Woodworker of Olden Time", The Gentle Art of Faking Furniture London: Chapman Hall, 1931.
Victor Chinnery, a historian of British oak furniture, captures the essential characteristics of riving when he states,
The dining table was invariably made of mahogany or quartered oak and, unlike the custom in the late 1880's, the wood ...
Source: Marta Katrina Sironen, A history of American Furniture 1936, page 82.
Soon after 1840, machinery began to be used in the making of furniture. Read in more detail here about the mechanization of the woodworking industry.
Writing in 1928 about the introductin of veneering into the industry, Arthur Koehler impugns the furniture manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic"As lumber was plentiful and cheap in America, makers of furniture neglected the artistic for something merely serviceable. But no artistic progress [in veneering styles] was made in Europe for several decades, one atrocious style after another being tried out on the public. Progress in the United States was retarded for approximately thirty years by the Civil the War. As in other periods when art was at a low ebb art of veneering suffered a marked decline."
But, continues Koehler,
"toward the end of the Nineteenth century American manufacturers awoke to the need for a standard of craftsmanship. Treasures of the Old World served as models for American designers. The natural beauty of wood was again conceded its true value, and veneers began to come back into favor. A new era may be said to have begun in the year of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 ."
While a a consensus probably prevailed about Koehler's opinions at the time, since then, revisionist historians have reassessed the period, and identified some furniture designers and manufacturers whose output is not open to these criticisms about excesses of veneering. I am working on this topic here .
In researching the historical background on woodworker's practices associated with "quartered" and "quartered" oak, I included in the net woodworker's manuals -- read more here -- among the items I wanted to consult. The results, although somewhat disappointing, are sketchy, but among some sources, quite gratifying. Perhaps most gratifying is Charles G Wheeler's two manuals. One of his manuals came out in 1899, the second in 1924.
Read more about Wheeler here.
(I should do an entire webpage dedicated to Wheeler's achievements, because I think that such attention is deserved.)
Wheeler is one of only a handful of manual authors who has dedicated specific attention to this topic, and the span of his two books -- the first in 1899, the second in 1924 -- presents us with an interesting matter to speculate. Wheeleer gives more attention to the topic in 1899 -- the columns directly below contain both texts -- than he does in 1924, which only provides more questions: why more info in 1899 that in 1924?
Answering this conundrum is, I think, speculative, because of some "unknowns". Between 1899 and 1924, a major technological revolution occurred: electrification
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Am determined to get more info on this aspect of QS oak.
quartered veneers are produced from quarter-cut flitches. Sawing -- not slicing with a lathe --is generally used for white oak veneers ...
Quartered flitches can also be mounted to produce tangentially cut flat-sliced veneer. These are narrower than crown-cut veneers cut from half-round logs ...
Source: Albert Jackson, David Day, Simon Jennings, The Complete Manual of Woodworking New York: Knopf, 1997, page 31
In the Pilgrim white oak wainscot chair, Thomas Dennis developed his own individualistic design, which, together with the distinctive American white quartered oak which differs from the English,
Source: Albert Sack, Fine points of furniture: early American 1950, page 12
In the second aim the very tough medullary rays strengthen the timber, and
quartered oak with the rays running through the boards or planks, ...
Source: Percy A. Wells, Modern cabinetwork, furniture and fitments: a treatise dealing with the ... 1952 (1908?) page 327
Medullary rays show up most conspicuously on quarter-sawed, or quartered oak. On
some other woods they are almost invisible. Sometimes a cluster of buds
Source: John Gerald Shea and Paul Nolt Wenger, Woodworking for everybody 1944 page 5
Sources: Charles H. Hayward English Period Furniture New York: Van Nostrand, 1959 and later eds; R. Bruce Hoadley, Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple ToolsNewtown, Ct: Taunton, 1990, page 209.