Wood Grain: What You Like — and Don’t

Figures of Fancy

In his editorial last time out, Rob shared that he has a “split personality” when it comes to wood – sometimes preferring straight grain, while other times call for wildly figured stock. He asked readers to share your preferences on this issue – and, of course, you did. – Editor

Some of you definitely had specific preferences. – Editor

“I work mostly with red oak. I know many prefer quartersawn, but I love the grain in plainsawn. I enjoy matching grain so that joints are almost invisible (unless you are looking for them). That being said, it is very easy to mix grain patterns so they look very ugly!” – Ken Maurizi

“I have my own bandmill and 185 acres of forested woodland containing red oak, white oak, Eastern red cedar, cherry, and quite a bit of walnut and ash. My preference in the oaks is quartersawn. I am pleasantly surprised when those streaks, tiger eyes, or whatever-you-call them start showing up. When it comes to walnut or cherry, however, I usually flat saw that. The grain is so beautiful in flatsawn walnut and cherry that it would seem a shame to quarter saw those species.” – Charles McCullough

“I also prefer quartersawn wood for my sides, tops, stiles and rails, but will use figured or even crotch patterned woods in my raised panels to add beauty to the piece. Veneers from the same tree allows one to have mirror or matched panels in every frame.” – Stanley D. Jubas

“I am 100 percent of the same mind as you. For some woods, quarter sawn is all that I work with. For others, I love the look of wild grain…I suppose it has something to do with how the traditional patterned wood looks. For instance, plainsawn oak is so overused, that I almost can’t stand furniture made from it, let alone work with it.” – Curt Horvath

“I guess you can say that I’m a full figure fan. However, as with any attribute, a contrast is needed to highlight it to its best advantage. So, while I really appreciate a figured raised panel, I also like a quartersawn rail and stile to frame it.” – Tom Scott

“I prefer lots of grain, especially contrasting light and dark, curly, quilted, lacey, straight and wild. Grain adds beauty and character to just about any piece of work. Grain in small pieces like pens makes the piece more interesting and gives it an appeal to be held and admired.” – Gordon Patnude

“I love the wild, more figured, woods. Bird’s-eye maple is a real thrill to turn, and the bird’s eyes look like little gemstones looking back at me. Australian lacewood is also one of those woods that give me pleasure in turnings. I have wasted, or used in other smaller projects, some jatoba just to get some special grain pattern in the center of a jewelry box top. Anyone can work with straight grained wood, but the truly figured wood adds so much to an object that no amount of woodworking expertise can match. I guess I hope that people will look at the fancy grain patterns I like and not so much at the woodworking I do.” – Charles Buster

“I happen to like wild grain. I have filled in large knot holes with translucent amber (Bondo) and finished the inside of drinking vessels with clear epoxy just for effect. I also like turning wood that has been worm-eaten (borers) and following the form they make. (You just have to do it to figure it out — if they run parallel to the tool-rest, cut them out, when they turn and run perpendicular, quit cutting.) It makes for some interesting forms. My sister has a lamp designed by the worms. I love to cut stumps and create with them find out what they hide within. Basically, the wilder the better (and the sharper your tools need to be!).” – Riley G.

For some, the choice depended on the use. – Editor

“My preference in grain depends on where and how it’s being used. As with choice of species and finish, and complexity of profiles, and so on. Wild grain can be spectacular, but it can be overused. Curves may enhance straight lines in the form, or may distract from and distort them. And there’s no reason you can’t use both in one project, to set each other off. (I’m thinking here of a wild-figured inset framed by straight grain, or perhaps even vice versa.) Much of what raises woodworking from craft (which is my own level of skill, on a good day) to art is the choices one makes.”- Joseph Kesselman

“I’m of only one mind when it comes to the way my wood is milled: I like it all. There’s a place for every type, and I have a ton of both kinds. They’re like my children. I don’t treat them preferentially. Believe me, I do love swirly, curly and even spalted grains, but there are many times when quartersawn wood is inappropriate. So one of my other children will have to do the job.” – Don Butler

And, of course, there’s a wag in every bunch. – Editor

“Fancy figure, straight or curvy? We are talking about wood yet, correct?” – Richard Downey

A Simple Stop for Sawdust in the Face? 

We also heard from an eZine reader who questioned whether we’d missed the obvious solution to a question in eZine 261’s Q&A section from a reader who kept getting sawdust in his face when he ripped wood on his table saw. – Editor

“I cannot understand the basis for the convoluted answers supplied by either Tim Inman or Chris Marshall in response to the above question in issue 261. Why did neither suggest the most obvious solution to reduce the dust and chips flying into the operator’s face: i.e., install the overblade guard or crown guard, whichever nomenclature is appropriate for the machine in question. After all, that’s part of the guard’s role, surely?” – Richard Jones

Moving Toward Curved Molding

Finally, the reader who asked the question about crown molding featured in last issue’s Q&A section wrote a note of thanks for our experts’ response. – Editor

“Thank you, Tim Inman, for your response to my question about making curved molding. The way it is usually made in professional shops, so far as I can find, is on a shaper with cutters and a ball bearing using the starting guide post on the shaper table with possibly a holding device similar to the one shown by Conover on the front cover of his book. I can hopefully do this on my router table. Wish me luck! Thanks again.” – Jim Burgeson

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