How Quartersawn White Oak is Sawn

How Quartersawn White Oak is Sawn

 In Lumber, Materials, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

1_TabLeg_1856Most woodworkers have an idea of what quartersawn wood is. The accepted definition is that the growth rings are between 60° and 90° to the wide face of the board. In some species, notably white oak, this exposes the medullary rays and changes the figure from “that’s nice” to WOW!”

Where things fall apart is when people try to visualize how the saw blade passes through the log as the lumber is milled. I just did a Google image search on the term “quartersawn lumber” and 75 percent or more of the images are incorrect. The methods shown range from absolutely crazy to just plain silly. Like most things about the Internet, the right answer is there, you just need to find a qualified source.

Down the road from our offices here in Cincinnati is the Frank Miller Lumber Company, in Union City, Ind. Glen Huey documented a trip he and I made several years ago in this blog post, and we shot some video of their retail operation in this blog post. Frank Miller Lumber saws more white oak than anyone, and has for more than 100 years. The company recently released an animated video that shows how they do it in Union City. It’s nicely done and fun to watch.

Click Here to visit the Frank Miller Lumber web site.

– Robert W. Lang

my personal blog is at

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Showing 7 comments
  • Mike Ramsey

    I grew up working in my grandpa’s sawmill where we sawed barrel staves and those are all quartersawn white oak. Basically what we did was buck the logs to a length of 38-40 inches. Once they were cut to length we would quarter the block with a spliter saw and send them down a chain belt to a band resaw. The band saw would cut a board off and at the end of the belt the quartered block was pushed off the board and placed on rollers that brought the block back around to the sawyer running the bandsaw. You would flip the block 90 degrees and run it back through the band saw. This would continue until you couldn’t get a 2″ board out of the block. Pretty interesting process. Before that my great grandpa would split staves. Spliting them means exactly that he would take a maul and a wedge and split barrel staves out of 40 inch blocks. Doesn’t that sound like a party?

  • gumpbelly

    Nothing like a trip to FML, and a stop in Greenville for Maid-Rites for lunch. Darrin, and Josh are great hosts, and through the week if it isn`t too busy, you might wrangle a tour.

    Yes the animation was in super slow mo play of real life. The headsaw just barely slows between swing, and bumps in real time, it`s something to see. The woodworking version of Disneyland, plus to get back to the working area you get to walk by yards of really tall stacks of hardwood. A feast for the eyes, and the nose, makes for a fine day.

    Hopefully I don`t get into trouble posting this, but if you are a member of you buy at FML at a 25% off price. Pretty much the same price as Rockler, or WoodCraft would buy at. So if you are in central to SW Ohio it would be worth joining, if you make one trip to FML a year you would cover the cost easily, if you end up making 10 trips, well, it would be like printing your own money almost. 🙂

  • Justin Tyson

    I know the images you are talking about, and as a hobbyist sawyer, they have always been annoying to look at. No one cuts a round log into quarters, then puts the quarters up at a 45-degree angle and saws through-and-through. I have a different method for quartersawing than the one in the video here, but it does present a reasonable way to do it. The only thing I scratch my head over is why the log is flipped end-for-end after each pass. I’m not aware of any mill that operates this way.

    • Robert W. Lang

      I believe it increases their yield, allowing them to always cut the widest board available. As a quarter log comes off the bandsaw and automatic conveyor kicks it back around and flips it. While its on its way back, another log goes through the saw. The animation is a bit slower than the real life operation.


      • Moontoad

        I suspect the reason is so the cut off board falls to the same side of the blade for all cuts and can be handled by a single track system. Also, the ram shown in the video that rotates the log 90 degrees after the log is rotated only needs to be on one side of the blade.

      • Justin Tyson

        Yes, I understand the reasoning behind alternating which side you take a board from; that is standard practice for any type of quartersawing. What confused me is the reason behind flipping the log end-for-end, rather than simply rotating the cant 90*, back and forth, after each pass. That would require much less fussing and less room.

        Moontoad’s suggestion of having all of the boards come off on the same side by flipping end-for-end seems logical. Although I work in the forest industry in the South, most of our hardwood sawtimber goes to make coarser products, like flooring, pallets, and timbers, so I have never been to a high-capacity sawmill that actually does quartersawing. It’s a curious topic for me. I would like to see the actual sawmill in operation.

    • gumpbelly


      I`ve never been allowed close enough while the saw is running to see exactly what happens with the logs as they are sawed. I`ll try to explain what I have seen as best I can, First I believe the flipping is shown on the vid just to show you they are sawing from alternating faces. Looking the the headsaw it looks for lack of a better description, like the head of a T Rex dinosaur, except it has a multi articulated jaw, instead of just open close, chomp chomp. The log is actually rolled from one face to the other in this giant maw. They do quarter the log right off, then the operator has a heads up screen that shows the log, and also gives a look at the best possible yield for whatever portion of the quarter is left (this they tell you during the tour). Watching from the side, and afar it looks like they are almost constantly rolling the quarter, I believe it is bumped just by this action. If there is a piston coming up, I`ve missed that. What you see is the quarter rolling, then swish it wags it`s head and 12, 14 16′ maybe 20′ of log just goes, zipppp, and the offcuts do all fall away from the head. Blades on this monster start around 20″ tall, and they resharpen their own, down to a height of about 6″ The gullets are huge, maybe 2 teeth per foot, diameter of the blade has to be around 60′. Nothing like your normal trailer saw, huge, fast, very efficient. They are limited to girth diameter on the headsaw, and have a stationary chainsaw, that is pad mounted, sticks up around 16″ and powered by a huge motor. They push the logs through this saw to cut really big butts into sizes the headsaw can manage to further quarter. All of the offcuts from the headsaw go off onto a circular ramp, where they get sorted several times. Their massive kiln operations are run off the sawdust they make in the operation. Pretty much use, or sell the entire tree.

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