Glossary Quartered Oak

Defining Quartered Oak

Labeled either "Quarter Sawn Oak", or simply "Quartered Oak" is oak lumber that is riven or sawn along a radius of the annual rings or at an angle less than 45 degree angle so the radius is edge-grained. The slower growing hardwoods may require 75 years to yield good saw timber and 100 or more years to produce quartered lumber or high grade.

"Edge-grained," "rift-sawn, "vertical grain," "quartered," "quarter-cut," "cleaved oak", and "riven oak " are terms having the same meaning.

According to Charles Henry Snow (page 40), a prominent professor of forestry in the early 20th century,

Edge-grained, vertical-grained, straight-grained, and rift-grained pieces are the same as quartered pieces when these names are applied to manufactured woods.

What is known as quarter-sawn lumber is the best for pattern-work and all wood-work, because it is not so likely to warp as is the regular, or bastard-sawn. Quarter-sawn lumber is lumber that is sawn approximately parallel with the medullary ray. The trunk of a tree is made up of concentric cylindrical layers, bound together with radial fibres, which are known as medullary rays. It is the exposure of these rays that gives to quartered oak the beauty that is so much prized. However, quartering is a very wasteful way of sawing lumber, and involves an extra cost. But for pattern work that must be made thin, it pays to use quarter-sawn lumber, even if it does cost more.

The grades in quartered oak are "Clear", "Sap Clear", and "Select".

In contrast, the grades in plain-sawn oak are "Clear", "Select", and "No. 1".

The shrinkage or swelling in the width of a flat-grained board is nearly twice that of a quartered or edge-grained board of the same dimensions. As a rule, it takes quartered oak two years longer to dry in the shade than it takes plain oak, walnut, chestnut, and the like. Quartered oak veneer is usually obtained by sawing, not slicing, for the latter procedure destroys the effectiveness of the ray fleck. quartered wood dries more slowly than plain-sawn.

The flaked appearance in quartered oak furniture is due to opening the wood in such a way that large flat surfaces of the rays are exposed. ...

Riven Oak

For examples of Riven Oak in use, historically, click here

In OED, numerous uses given but none explicitily splitting logs, especially oak

1. Split, cloven, rent, torn asunder.

1720 POPE Iliad XX. 328 O'er him high the riven Targe extends.

For examples of Riven Oak in use, historically, click here

("Riven oak" is a term I will deal with in the future. In a quick-and-dirty search for uses of the term, "riven oak", in books and periodicals before 1900, several conclusions became obvious. In the 18th century, numerous poets used the term, evidenlty because they thought it to have romantic connotations. It is only early in 19th century, though, that I find uses of the Riven oak in more technical senses, primarily in agricultural settings. One thing is clear, though -- as a term, riven oak was in use before "quarter-sawn oak", with about the smae frquency and dates of use as "quartered oak". What does this mean? I think that my findings suggest that the term "quarter-sawn" came into use later than either "riven oak" or "quartered oak", evidence that leads me to conclude that, in preference to "sawing" logs to yield "quarter-sawn oak", these two terms emerge from an earlier common practice of riving or splitting oak logs. ; R W Symonds, "The Craft of the Joiner in Medieval England", The Connoiseur 1946.)

These terms for quartered oak noted above contrast with plain-, flat-, tangential-sawing, or flat-sawn. In plain sawing, the log is sawed through and through, successive boards sliced off until the log is sawed away. Because this latter process saves lumber, time, and labor, the process accounts for the more economical cost of plain sawed lumber in comparison with the quartered. In quarter sawing the log is first cut into quarters and these are then cut into boards.

In the "quartered" method of sawing, the grain shows up plainly in big wavy lines, which easily distinguishes the quartered from the plain sawed board. The perpendicular expansion and contraction in the quarter sawed boards makes no difference in the wearing qualities of a floor, but in the plain sawed boards the expansion and contraction is sideways, thus causing the floor to warp and crack, so the plain sawed oak floor is not desirable, although this stock properly selected, laid and finished, makes one of the most attractive floors to be had, and would be most desirable from an economical viewpoint, were it not for the large amount of expansion and contraction, which the boards undergo during changes of season.

Sources: Definition above adapted from Horace Traiton Purfield, Wood pattern-making; the fundamental principles and elementary practice of the art. Ypsilanti, Mich., Scharf tag, label & box Co., 1906. page 21; Charles Henry Snow, Wood and Other Organic Materials New Yrok: McGraw-Hill, 1917, page 40; Thomas Andrew McElhanney, Canadian Woods: Their Properties aand Uses 1935 page 15; Great Britain Forest Products Research Board Forest Products Research Records London: HMSO, 1938, page 4; Pamphlets in Forest Management 1950, page 21; Harry Philip Brown, Alexis John Panshin and Carl Cheswell Forsaith, Textbook of Wood Technology Volume 1, 1952, page 268.

Putting "Quartered Oak", "Quatersawn Oak", and "Riven Oak " in Historical Time Periods

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 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.

using pit saw and riving iron

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,

"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."

Charles H. Hayward English Period Furniture New York: Van Nostrand, 1959 and later eds.

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.

Additional Sources: Herbert Cescinsky and Victor Chinnery

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

Herbert Cescinsky, in the introductory sections of his article, "An Oak Chair in S. Mary's Hall, Coventry", The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 39, No. 223 October, 1921, pages 170-177, provides additional background info on the evolution of the artisan woodworker.

The trade conditions of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can be gleaned from a careful examination of records of those dates. The crafts of the joiner and the carver were rigidly sub-divided into three classes;

those who were employed in the palaces of the King,

those attached to the Church and

those who were free to work for the laity.

Some slight overlapping, if only of advice and direction, was inevitable; much of the early secular woodwork has the monkish influence very strongly evidenced, but, as a general rule, the King's and the Church's craftsmen were forbidden to go outside their own spheres.

Further stringent laws existed to hamper the craftsman. He could not roam beyond his own town or village without the consent of his Guild and the Lord of the Manor. A "journeyman" was such by permission only, and without the necessary sanction, a workman appearing in a strange town or village was liable to apprehension as a masterless man, i.e., a rogue and a vagabond. The punishment for vagrancy was death and mutilation. Trial was not necessary; a vagabond was hanged first and tried-if at all-later on.

It was an age when there were more than a hundred offences in the calendar for which a man could be put to death, and hanging was one of the kindest punishments which could be....

Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the carpenter was the sole artisan in woodwork for domestic or clerical purposes.

The Chest Emerges is the First Article of Furniture

After the Dissolution, in the first half of the sixteenth century, according to Herbert Cescinsky, the the so-called carpenter split into two groups, each group with a specialty. (Think about biological "cellular divsion ".)

One Specialty Comprised Joiners Called Either the "Huchiers" or the "Arkwrights".

In that period after the "dissolution", "when wealth was tangible and real, not held by token", the "ark" -- the familiar name of the chest or coffer, designed to hold articles of value, linen, silver and plate, fabrics, vest­ments and the like -- was held highly in families as an important piece of furniture.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century the two trades, which had hitherto been quite distinct and on widely differing levels, appear to have partly coalesced, the result being the "joyner" or joiner, who concerned himself with such woodwork as was not constructional in the sense of bearing large strains, as in roofs, chancel screens, and the like.

cross-section for four-sided post

Right up to the Restoration [1660] we find this arkwright-carpenter, or joiner, engaged on furniture of all kinds, including chairs. Then the trade of the woodworker splits up again, and we get the chair maker as a distinct trade, followed by the cabinet maker.

The Significant Discovery That Quarter Sawn Oak is the Most Stable Form

First, according to Herbert Cescinsky, up to Tudor times (1485-1603), oak was virtually the universal timber. (His chapter 4, "The Woodworker of the Olden Time", is the most informative account I have found on the topic.) From this, understand, though, we should not think that because it was the practice to split oak into boards with the beetle and the wedge or by the riving iron, that the saw was not used, and was, therefore, unknown. Actually something else happened: the early woodworkers, who were most particular about their timber, found out that split oak, riven on its natural cleavage lines, possessed a stability which sawn oak did not possess. Even today, with power-driven saws, air-dried oak is nearly always riven instead of sawn.

In other words, this early practice of quartering oak is our evidence that, when cut parallel to the medullary rays, the joiners of the day discovered about the stable qualities of oak . It may be accepted, almost without exception, as a definite fact that all oak, other than in beams or posts, was quarter-cut right up to the middle of the eighteenth century, even for carcase construction or drawer sides. This is an important point, especially in judging the authenticity of panellings, so it is necessary to add some explanation to the diagrams illustrated here.

Oak cut on the quarter invariably exhibits the medullary ray figure in a series of splashes on the surface. The first two or three boards cut right through the centre of the trunk show this "silver figure," as these boards are almost parallel to the medullary ray itself. Beyond, however, it is necessary to cut on an inclined plane, the angle of which must vary with each succeeding cut. Between each board there falls out a small wedge piece which is more or less wasted. What is important to re­member is that the saw, in quartering, almost follows the natural cleavage lines of the timber, and that the river, when he uses the "thrower" or riving iron to split the wood into "panel stuff" for wains­cotings, produces quartered oar, as a matter of course. The wood will split in no other way. It will be found that oak panels in wainscotings up to the end of the reign of Charles II (1685) are almost invariably split, and vary greatly in thickness, even in the same panel, whereas the framings, the stiles and rails, are nearly always sawn.

One would like to establish a rule that all original oak pieces were made from quartered timber, but this would be misleading.

First of all, there is no secret about this method of cutting, and quartered oak is used, to this day, in all good shops. Secondly, in Tudor and Stuart times, these matters were in the hands of the Trade Guilds, who had the power to seize all oak intended for furniture or interior woodwork, which was not cut "on the quarter."

Had the oak used been cut "on the straight" the furniture and panellings would have shrunk, warped or otherwise have fallen to pieces. As the usual panel grooves in seventeenth-century wainscotings are very shallow, as a rule, we know that the panel timber cannot have shrunk to any appreciable extent.

Unfortunately for our present purpose of proper co-ordination, the arkwright does not appear to have been subject to Guilds as strict as those which regulated the carpenter, with the result that in the inferior post-Dissolution Gothic pieces from about 1550 to 1600 one finds straight cut and quartered oak used indiscriminately.

Actually, two distinct schools of woodworkers arise after about 1540.

1) The one, infinitely the more scholarly and skilled in the craft, follow in the new manner, the Renaissance, which was introduced from Italy by Pietro Torrigiano in his design for the tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, or which permeated through France into Somerset and Devon, or arrived from the Low Countries and in­fluenced the work of the East Anglian counties.

2) There remained others, no longer under the tutelage of abbey or monastery (and all art-crafts had, hitherto, emanated from the clerical houses), who ventured on the old style, dimly remembered in vague ornamented forms, but with the former fine constructional traditions absolutely forgotten.

There is one striking phenomenon in the development of English woodwork which it may be instructive to notice here. The early car­penter followed the mason, and used timber in much the same way as the latter used stone.

There is no doubt that the custom of the shop providing the tools for the workman existed almost to the close of the eighteenth century.

There is every evidence to show that tools must have been rare in the earlier periods, as so few have survived, and those which have persisted are often of a very ornate character, which suggest that they were highly prized and would, therefore, not be lightly destroyed or allowed to perish.

The dovetailing of drawers demands a fine saw and sharp chisels of various sizes. Undercut carving requires finely tempered gouges and V-tools, among others.

When we examine this post-Dissolution Gothic (of which several examples will be illustrated later on), we find that mortise-and-tenon framing is exceptional and dovetailed drawers still rarer.

Carving is flat and crude, often a mere scratching with a sharpened divider (the so-called "chip carving"), and piercing shows that the saws must have been very coarse.

At the same time it must be borne in mind that the woodworkers, even as early as the dawn of the fifteenth century, were in two distinct classes at least.

At the top as the skilled and highly paid carpenter, usually in the fee of the Church, and generally engaged on elaborate works, such as screens, stalls with their canopies, and timber roofs. Occasionally he would make furniture, such as the chests in Pershore Abbey, St. Michael's Parish Church at Coventry or the triple Guild throne in St. Mary's Hall in the same city. His work is to be dis­tinguished by its skill and constructive knowledge; he joints and frames accurately, and his oak is always quartered.

Side by side with the carpenter, although possibly not working in the same shop, and certainly not belonging to the same Guild, was the "huchier" or "arkwright," who uses oak very much in the stone mason's manner rather than in that of the carpenter or woodworker proper.

It is only in minute details that the work of the early fifteenth-century ark­wright differs from that of the post-Dissolution maker of furniture.

How quartered Oak is Made

Quartersawing produces "edge-grain" boards, where a large log is first halved and then each half is "quartered", the quarters in turn being resawn either "a board at a time on the headsaw" or by being passed through a "gang resaw". By this method, to quote Bruce Hoadley (page 209), "the widest boards will be most truly edge-grained". In many applications, Hoadley continues, "edge-grained stock is preferred because the radial surfaces have more uniform wearing and finishing properties and radially cut boards have greater dimensional stability across the width." Among the donsides to quarter-sawing: more time-consuming and more wastelul. Consider, too,

that central knot defects are likely to occur along the wider boards, especially in smaller logs, and much of the outer clear material winds up in the narrowest hoards. Quartersawing is therefore most appropriate for fairly large or reasonably clear logs. or where the products need not be very wide (as in strip flooring). The above considerations suggest why quartersawn lumber is less common and more expensive then flatsawn lumber. The woodworker often can take good advantage of softwood lumber that has been sawn through-and-through. Since many such boards contain the pith and lots of knots, they are usually sold in relatively wide pieces for utility shelving. Ripsawing down the center to remove the pith and crosscutting to remove the worst knots yields short lengths of clear.

quarter sawn oak 1929

In the quarter-sawing method, the wood's grain shows up with readily distingushable "flakes" and/or "flecks", features which give a warmness and an aesthetic appeal, and definitely distinguishes quartered from the plain-sawn board. See example (A).

In floors, any perpendicular expansion and contraction of the quarter sawn boards makes no difference in their wearing qualities, whereas in the plain-sawn boards, the expansion and contraction is sideways, thus causing the floor to warp and crack, meaning that the plain-sawn oak floor is not entirely desirable. In furniture, where a choice exists between quartered and plain-sawn, the quartered is always the more desirable.

The image above is adapted from A. P. Johnson and Marta K. Sironen, Manual of the Furniture Arts and Crafts Grand Rapids, Mich.: A.P. Johnson Co., 1928, page 267; R. Bruce Hoadley, Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple Tools Newtown, Ct: Taunton, 1990 .


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 differing characteristics of timbers, as well as the vagaries of individual trees, allow a variety of conversion techniques, [i.e., strategies of cutting the log into usable boards]. The most common of these was to saw the log into appropriate scantlings with the great two handled pit-saw; but certain timbers (and oak in particular) will split readily down the line of the grain, and these allow the technique known as riving. Oak will split easily along the radius of the log, and the first action of the river is to hammer an iron wedge into this line, using a shaped wooden mallet known as a "beetle". A wooden handle is then inserted into the socket of the wedge, and the log is split open using the handle as a lever. A straight and even-grained log of wainscot oak can be converted into a series of extremely thin and wide boards, and these are ideal for panel stuff. Such boards show the beauty of the silvery "figure" of oak to its best advantage, and were consequently highly-valued for this quality. Since they are formed from radial fissures, the individual riven boards are tapered in thickness from the outer to the inner edges, and this is often apparent in the finished work .... Another characteristic of riven timber is its distinctive surface, in which the cleft grain may stand out in small ridges, and the surface will undulate gently in following the line of the grain. This is evident only on the rear and under surfaces of early work, since show-surfaces are normally finished smooth .

Source: Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture: The British Tradition, A History of Early Furniture in the British Isles and New England. London: Antique Collectors' Club, 1979, pages 142-144.

Other Sources Exist That Show the Historic Use of Riven Oak?

Cleft Oak

Many of the uses of oak depended upon the ease with which the wood can be split and the great strength and durability that it exhibits when cleaved, or riven, rather than cut with an edge tool or sawn. Splitting occurs more easily in oak than in most other species due to the large medullary rays that run out radially from the heart. These show clearly as 'silvery grain' in quarter sawn oak panelling. When the wood is cleaved apart in the plane of the rays, the rays provide a line of comparative weakness along which the fibres separate. Cleaving, or riving, is most easily carried out in summer when the sap is up. Cleft timber is strong and durable because the wood cells (tracheids) along the line of cleavage are forced apart instead of being cut through (as they are by sawing), resulting in a smooth surface without weak points through which decay can enter. Raymond Tabor Traditional Woodland Crafts, London: Batsford, 1994, ) describes this well:

When a pole is riven, the wood fibres are parted from one another along their length. A few are torn, and raised as spears, but the face of a cleft presents a ribbed-rough surface of remarkable continuity, following every curve and fold of the pole's growth, even around knots. Because the wood vessels have not been cut across, exposing their open ends, this surface is uniquely waterproof, and explains why cleft poles in oak or chestnut have stood in damp shade on park banks for over three-quarters of a century. Further, since they follow the natural flow of the grain rather than cutting across it as do sawn lengths, there are few points of weakness that might fracture under stress, and indeed the very process of riving frequently reveals weaknesses that sawing would not.

This process is of great antiquity, as Tabor goes on to explain:

'A flint with sharpened edge can start a split in a green hazel rod as well as a billhook, so small cleft wood has been a valuable resource since probably the Neolithic period.'

This must have applied to oak as well as hazel and indeed there is evidence that oak, almost certainly some of it cleaved, was used in the Sweet Track in Somerset 6,000 years ago (see Chapters t and 3). Cleft oak was also used to build early ships (sec Chapter 5). Wooden wedges were used to split the larger oak logs for constructional use and to make various artefacts. These were used rather than iron wedges because they were more suitable for separating the fibres along the natural lines of cleavage caused by the medullary rays and thus produced flat, parallel-sided timbers, whereas iron wedges would tear the fibres. Wooden wedges (often of oak too) were certainly being used for this in Medieval times and probably much earlier. Probably the earliest written reference to cleft oak is in Homer's Odyssey where the homestead of Eumaeus, the swineherd, is described:

As an additional protection outside he had fenced the whole length from either hand with a closely set stockade made of split oak which he had taken from the dark part [the heartwood] of the logs.There are on the Web, several sources on Eumaeus splitting oak for fences; here is one

Source: Esmond Harris, et al, Oak: A British Tradition Macclesfield, Cheshire: Windgather Press, 2003, 78-79.

In the Hadley Chest -- dating back to the 17th century -- some of its panels -- nine or ten inches in width -- are quartered oak, a fact that gives us an understanding of the ways and means by which a Hadley chest was made when sawing oak logs into boards was accomplished only with pit saws.

both These incomplete quotationscome from a google books search full articles on order

"Some of the panels nine or ten inches in width are quartered oak. ... and came to an understanding of the ways and means by which a Hadley chest was made. ..."

Source: Clair Franklin Luther, "The Hadley chest"‎, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Herald. Dearborn, Mich. : Greenfield Village and Associated Schools of the Edison Institute, v. ? 1935, Page 61+

"This chest is made of quartered oak with the top, back, bottom, and the small moldings around ... It is called the Hadley chest and is of colonial style. ..."

Source: [Quartered Oak in Hadley Chest],Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Herald, Volume 8‎, 1941, pages ?

Another reference to the 17th century comes from a 1795 article in the The Gentleman's Magazine (volume 114, page 444. That article claims that, historically, "diamond quartered oak floors" date back to the 1660 "restoration" of Charles II to the British throne.)

Some of the panels nine or ten inches in width are quartered oak. The trees from which they were rived must have been nearly if not quite, ...

Sources: Wallace Nutting, Furniture treasury (mostly of American origin): being a record of designers ...‎ 1933 -[page 379? pages of my copy not numbered; instead, all refs to numbers of photos]; Clair Franklin Luther, The Hadley chest‎ - 1935 page 61; George Stuart Brady, Materials handbook‎ 1940, page 342.

The First Morris Chair

first morris chair

The other equally popular chair is an upholstered open armchair with an adjustable back bar, the so-called Morris chair. A sketch of this chair dated 1866 by the firm's manager Warrington Taylor was sent to Webb with the following description

"back and scat made with bars across to put cushions on, moving on a hinge, a chair model of which I saw with an old carpenter at Hurstmonceaux, Sussex. by name Ephraim Colman ..." .

Source: Louise Ade Boger Complete Guide to Furniture Styles New York: Scribner's, 1969, page 398; Bungalow : the ultimate arts & crafts home Author: Jane Powell and Linda Svendsen, Bungalow : The Ultimate Arts and Crafts Home Salt Lake City : Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2004, page 52.

Victor Chinnery, Oak Furniture: The British Tradition‎ - Page 145 - - 1986 - 618 pages

quartered and riven timber (e.g., oak) allows these rays to be fully exposed at the surface, in a very attractive manner.

Esmond Harris, Jeanette Harris, and N. D. G. James, Oak: a British history‎, 2003

Misc Notes Still Needing More Info

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.

Oak boards and planks that show prominently a good silver-grain figure are now spoken of as wainscot stuff. The term is not now, as was formerly the case, restricted to the oak brought from any particular country. Russian wainscot, Austrian wainscot, English wainscot, and American wainscot are the principal kinds now in the market. Russian wainscot oak is brought over in flitches, Austrian stuff principally in plank form. English wainscot also is mostly in plank, and American rift-sawn or quartered oak, as it is called, in plank and in board.

In oak there are two distinct sets of rays -- the large thick rays that produce the well-known figure, and thousands of smaller ones that are mostly too minute to be detected by the naked eye. In the microscopic enlargement shown by Fig. 56 a single large ray appears as a dark band on the left, the smaller rays also being shown dispersed over the field. (The view is taken looking from the outside in towards the centre of the tree. All details of the fibres and parenchyma are omitted for the sake of clearness.) The total height of the large ray was between 300 and 400 cells, and its width averaged eighteen cells. Its length may have been 6 in. to 8 in., or perhaps a little more than that. Rays of this size are quite common in oak, and, as before stated, it is these alone that constitute the silvergrain, figure in that wood.

The brilliancy of figure and the colour contrast that are often observed in oak and other silver-grain woods are in the majority of cases due to differences in the character of the contents of the medullary ray cells, and of those cells that constitute the surrounding wood. Upon the contents of these cells light and exposure to the atmosphere produce marked effects. The rays often become darker at the edges, and present a " shot" appearance at their centres, making a well-defined figure upon the background of the general mass of wood. In other cases the medullary rays are naturally darker than the surrounding wood, having perhaps absorbed more colouring matter; but where no difference of colour exists the differentiated structure is alone sufficient to affect strongly the reflection of light; and whether the reflection is enhanced or retarded, the result is a marked contrast between the appearance of the rays and that of the wood in which they are embedded.

Source: Paul N Hasluck, Timber, Growth and Structure; Felling, Converting and Buying; Measuring; Seasoning; Properties and Defects; Preservation; Varieties. London: Cassell & Co., Limited, 1904, page 86.

Quartersawn Oak in the Age of Power Machinery

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 .

Explaining Quarter and Rift Sawing in 1886

Quarter-sawing and rift-sawing are, basically, the same. To secure the minimum of shrinkage or warp, a board must be rift-sawed, an operation which means "cutting the medullary rays at right angles with the circles of growth". In this sense, quartered oak is simply rift-sawed, where the designation "quartered" arising from the common method of first cutting the log into quarters, and then cutting the quarters as shown in Fig. 1 of the following diagrams.

quarter and rift sawing

The lines B a b, c d are those upon which the log is supposed to be quartered.

The circles represent the concentric rings of the tree's growth.

The straight lines across the upper half of the log, B, show the ordinary method of slicing it up into boards with a circular or gang.

Wherever the cut of the saw crosses the circles at right angles or nearly so that much of the board is rift-sawed; when it runs nearly parallel with them it exposes the grain, and is what is rather inelegantly termed bastard. (not shown)

The board nearest the middle, g g, will be almost a perfectly rift-cut piece, while the fourth one from it toward the outside will be just about half rift and half bastard. Supposing the lower quarter A to be cut out from the log, the common and most simple method of quarter-sawing it is to make the cuts, as shown by the straight lines which cross the concentric rings at sufficiently near right angles for making good flooring.

Each piece, however, will have a bevel edge as shown, which must, of course, be squared by the edger. Special arrangements of mill carriage and head blocks are in use for rift-sawing when great accuracy is desired.

Source: The above is adapted from William B. Judson, Lumberman's Handbook 1886

Treatment of Quartered/quartered Oak in Woodworker's Manuals

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

Comparison of Charles Wheeler's Treatment of Quartered Oak Sections in His 1899 vs 1924 Manuals

If you wish the beautiful figure formed when the medullary rays show on the surface of the board, as in "quartered" oak, the log should be cut in the direction of the radii, that is, along the lines of the medullary rays (Fig. 20). The more exactly the side of a board is cut on the radial line the more richly the figure of the medullary rays will be shown, as in Fig. 21. This method of sawing is more expensive than the first way, of course, as it re­quires more labour and wastes more of the wood. The wide board shown in Fig. 21 and either of those in Fig. 22 are examples.

If you wish boards that will shrink the least in width and remain as true as possible, then the log should be sawed on the radial lines as just shown, so that all the boards will be from the middle of the log. Wood shrinks but little in the direction of the radii, as just shown, and middle boards will be alike on both sides as regards heart- and sap-wood, etc., and, therefore, have the least tendency to change of shape. The middle board by the method of Fig. 17 will be a good board in these respects.

Various methods of radial sawing, or in which part of the boards are so cut, are shown in Figs. 20 and 26, Figs. 23, 24, 25, and 26 showing the log quartered and various ways of sawing into boards. Thus we see that the middle boards, those passing through or near the centre, are the best for most purposes.

Split or rift stock is stronger than sawed. If you wish a piece especially tough and durable, as for an axe handle or a stout pin, it should be split out rather than sawed, unless the wood is very straight-grained, because the splitting is sure to be in the line of the fibres, thus avoiding “cross-grain," which cannot well be entirely prevented in sawing.

If the grain is straight, there may be no practical difference in the result between sawing and splitting, as in the so-called rift flooring, which is really sawed, but with crooked-grained pieces the difference is marked in such cases as the block shown in Fig. 27, from which four pins can be sawed, while but one can be split out. That one will be straight-grained, however, and stronger than the sawed ones, which will be cross-grained.

Try your best to get well-seasoned wood for your nice work. If it is not dry before you use it, it must of course dry afterward, which is likely to cause cracks, warping, opened joints, and often the entire ruin of the article you have made. You will have to trust the dealer, or some friend, until you have had enough experience to judge for yourself, for it is no easy matter for an amateur to decide, except in case of very green stock, which is of course wet and soggy.

Oak in its softer, straight-grained forms is well suited to the work of the beginner. It is durable, and an article made of oak will stand more abuse without serious deface­ment than most of the other woods used for furniture. When quarter-sawed it is more difficult to smooth than plain, straight-grained oak, but as you acquire skill you will find quartered oak one of the most satisfactory woods. Oak can be stained if desired.

739. Quarter-sawing. The log is first quartered, and then quarter sawed by itself. Radial sawing gives the best boards but wastes more lumber than other ways. Quarter-lumber shrinks more in thickness than plain-sawed, but is usually of less importance than shrinkage across the surface. Quarter-sawed lumber holds its shape much better than plain-sawed and is therefore better for work of a high grade. The middle board sometimes has to be divided, because it contains the pith.

740. Showing figure formed on the surface by the medulary rays, as in quartered oak.

Quartered Veneers

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 ...

Source: [misc]; Canada. Forestry Branch Thomas Andrew McElhanney, Standardization of terms in forest-products research‎ 1935, page 10.


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.

Riven Oak

He conceives that drilled corn, kept perfectly clean, is a better sample than the common run of broad-cast, and he finds it difficult to get, in the country, a price proportioned to the merit of his productions; and to send the corn by sea to London! does not cost so much as land-carriage to Lynn would do. Entering on a new farm of Mr. Coke's, a year and i half past, and finding many hurdles necessary, he sent his ship to Sussex for a lading of hurdles: there, made much better, of riven oak, and at the same time lighter than others to be had in Norfolk: they cost him 3s. 6d. each, and will last 20 years. Common wattle hurdles cost 1s. 1s. 1d. besides long carriage, and will not last above two years.

Source: Arthur Young, [for] Board of Agriculture (Great Britain), General view of the agriculture of the county of Norfolk London : G. and W. Nicol, 1804, page 491

The " Olden Time" In Lyndeborough, By J. A. Woodward.

If any of the farmers of the Lyndeborough of today were required to go into the largest wood-lot in town, say in March or April, and cut down trees, build themselves log-houses to shelter their families, make clearings and raise crops sufficient for maintenance during the succeeding twenty-four months, they would undoubtedly think themselves obliged to deal with a pretty hard proposition. But that is what the first settlers of Lyndeborough undertook to do in A. D. 1735-1740. Besides, the heaviest growth of wood or timber within the limits of the town now, is not to be compared with the immense trees that constitute the celebrated "original growth."

The building of some sort of house on the lands they had bought was the first task of the pioneer, and it must of a necessity be a log-house. Sometimes these were built by the unaided efforts of the settler and his family, but frequently someone who planned to settle in the neighborhood would "change work," and in that way make the labor of lifting the logs into place easier. These log-houses were often built with one end against a large boulder, this to serve as a backing for the fireplace. Jeremiah Carleton's was built that way and so was Adam Johnson's. The fire-place was usually a mammoth affair, and it needed to be to warm the loosely-constructed house. It was made of stone laid in clay, with a low, wide chimney. Bricks were not to be had at first, and they were not used to any great extent until framed houses were substituted for the rude hut....

Hoes, axes, scythes, etc., were all made by the nearest blacksmiths. The shovels were made from a riven oak plank, blade and handle all one piece, the blade concave on one side and convex on the other, and sometimes shod with a piece of steel. Probably there are none of these old relics in town now, but one of these shovels was kept in Sherebiah Manning's hophouse for years, and was much worn.

Source: D Donovan, Jacob and Andrews Woodward The history of the town of Lyndeborough, New Hampshire,1735-1905 , [Tufts College, Mass.] Tufts college Press, H.W. Whittemore & Co., 1906, page 465.