Monday, June 18, 2012

Against the Grain No More

As we've talked about several times in the short life of this blog, interior styles and trends truly do seem to come full circle. And, as these trends make their second circle debut, we, as designers and homeowners, wise up and learn how to work with these trends and not against them. So far we've talked about white cabinetry, brass and now we will discuss oak. Until recently, I thought of oak as a ho hum option. While some clients liked the look of oak cabinetry, it has never really interested me. Granted, most of the oak kitchens I have come across look something like this:

Oak cabinetry surrounded by blah countertops, blah flooring, blah appliances and blah backsplash. This look is a hot, outdated MESS!
To most (I was guilty of this mindset too), oak is more a color than a wood species. When people think of oak they think of honey stained cabinets similar to those shown above, that were popular in the 70's and 80's. For years we have been gutting and replacing oak kitchens, because people wanted a more updated look. Wood species such as, cherry, maple, mahogany, painted maple and walnut have been among some of the more popular choices in the last decade. However, oak has recently resurfaced and is actually giving some of these other wood species a run for their money.

As a species, oak has an open grain that takes stain well. The graining is busier than maple, and often has a bit of a '3d' effect that shows though paint. The difference between the oak from the past and the oak we are seeing today is all in the cut. There are several different cuts that can be performed on oak:  plain sawn, quarter sawn and rift sawn, all producing different aesthetic results.

Plain Sawn Oak:

This is the method of cutting we are most familiar with, it is the method used on the cabinets shown above. Plain sawn oak is the most straightforward way to cut rectangular boards from a round log. A series of parallel cuts are made, creating large grain patterns and inconsistency.


The benefit in going in this directions is it's less expensive, because there is less waste created. This look can really work with the right stain/paint color. The graining gives the cabinet depth and interest beyond the color of the wood.



Quarter Sawn Oak:

This method of cutting requires the log to first be cut into quarters and then sets of parallel cuts are performed perpendicular to the trees rings.


Quarter sawn oak has a tighter and more consistent grain pattern. This type of cut is more expensive than plain sawn oak because the yield is not as substantial so more waste is left behind.


Rift Sawn Oak:

This process starts by slicing the veneer at a 15 degree angle to the radius of the log. This produces straight, striped grain appearance. This method yields the least amount of veneer than any other method and is the most expensive.

I couldn't find a rift sawn diagram but the photo above does a great job of comparing the three techniques.


Isn't this beautiful. I love the graining and the color. So sleek and warm.
The photo above showcases rift sawn oak with a horizontal grain. A matching horizontal grain in both quarter sawn and rift sawn oak can significantly add to the price of the cabinetry.The pieces selected to make each door have to be book ends so the grain picks up where it left off from cabinet to cabinet. If at any point a cabinet door should get damaged, successfully replacing a door and having it match is slim to none, therefore all cabinet door fronts would need to be replaced on this run of cabinetry. Expensive. Headache.

I started researching oak cabinetry because I've had several clients interested in going in this direction. The more I dug the more amazed I became that different cutting methods can affect the look of lumber cut from the same tree. My new found knowledge regarding oak is thrilling and embarrassing at the same time. How quickly we discredit something we know so little about, only because it was done poorly in the past. Let's get real, it seems like everything looks better the second time around. Once we open our minds, we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work with the properties of materials instead of against them.

All photos are from google.

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