If you happen to have wood flooring in your home or place of business, you’re likely pleased with how attractive it is. Its presence can foster many different environments, ranging from regal to rustic. Commercial wood flooring can be solid or engineered. The type—and species—you choose would depend on specific variables, such as the look you’re hoping to pin down, the area’s climate (along with that of the particular location), and how much traffic you’re expecting the floors to receive. For example, hickory is another option for resilience against high humidity; it is also more affordable than exotic woods shipped over from far away lands. For rooms that use a radiant heating system, such as those found in more temperate climates, engineered wood almost always makes for a safe bet, as it does not expand and contract with changing temperatures as much as solid wood.


Among the more popular species on the market is oak. There is a good reason for this. It tends to hold up quite well on July the 4th as well as December the 25th. Consumers can also purchase it in different staining and finishing options, ranging from light to natural to dark. Educating consumers of wood flooring, particularly oak flooring, is what this article intends to focus on today. More specifically, how veneer is sawn at the mill (way, way back on its journey toward becoming a flooring system), and which method tends to produce better results, and why. Today we’re going to compare sliced-cut oak veneer to sawn-cut oak veneer.


Find out more about how wood veneer is produced by watching this video:



Slicing wood logs is a widespread method for creating a wood veneer. The layer it produces is fragile—about 2 millimeters. Sliced-cut veneer is often found on engineered wood flooring parallel to the bevels, with the rest of the natural oak—a “book” of 4 to 6 millimeters—attached to a plywood substrate underneath. Sliced-cut veneer has four main methods of production, which we will examine here.


Rotary slicing

The oak log is mounted on a lathe and spun against a humongous blade. The thin slices peeled from the Log in leaves. This method results in varying patterns as the blade makes its way through the log’s growth rings. These patterns can sometimes be complicated for installers to match up pleasingly.


Quarter slicing

With this method, the Log must be sliced into quarters before the veneer is further processed.  Quarter slicing is accomplished with the blade set to cut at a right angle to the growth rings. It creates a straighter grain pattern on the surface. For oak, especially, a rather attractive flake pattern comes about from the blade’s cutting of the medullary rays (radiating lines from the center of the log that pass through the growth rings).


Plain slicing

Plain sliced veneer is typically produced by first cutting the log in half, then slicing leaves of veneer parallel to the cut line. The grain pattern comes out resembling a flame or the tower of a cathedral.


Rift slicing

Finally, we have a rift slicing. If the end-user does not prefer to see the “flaking” of grain in the oak veneer, the log is sliced at a certain angle to the growth rings. To accomplish this, the log must be put into a lathe, and the blade adjusted accordingly.


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                                                                                   Image courtesy of archtoolbox.com



The sawn-cut oak veneer is more sturdy and robust than sliced. Mainly this has to do with its broader thickness range—around 1/16” to 1/8”, compared to 1/60” to 1/50” for slicing. Nor is this a sawn-cut veneer’s only advantage over its cheaper alternative. We must also consider that since it’s more stable, it’s easier to work with—i.e., less likely to become damaged during construction or installation. It’s also more receptive to sanding at various grits. Sawn-cut veneers are often stored in air-dried flitch sets that help preserve their color and lignin (the organic substance that binds the cells, fibers, and vessels in the wood).


Just like with slicing, there are different methods to sawing wood. Each process will produce a different finish and grain type. The four main methods for sawing wood are:



The cuts are made at 45 to 90 degrees, making for more narrow boards than those produced by other methods. The cuts are made at right angles to the tree’s growth rings, resulting in mostly vertical grains in appearance.



These cuts are made at 0 to 45 degrees and are parallel to the tree’s growth rings. Plain-sawn is probably flooring’s most popular cut; it is the least wasteful, and because it produces more boards, selling prices don’t tend to be as expensive as those products cut by other means. The boards also come out wider and tend to shrink and swell by width more than by length.



Rift-sawn cuts are made at 30 to 60-degree angles. From a quartered log, the cuts are made from the center outward, from the smaller section of the quarter, making for more narrow boards than those derived from quarter-sawn or plain-sawn techniques.



This method involves cutting the tree straight through the center. Every cut is parallel to the first, producing wide boards, little waste, and combined elements of the above three methods. Live-sawn boards react to fluctuating moisture with shrinking and swelling in every direction.

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                                                                                  Image courtesy of evolutiamade.com


A Sawn-cut veneer is a generally preferred method for end-users who want a more robust floor that holds up better under re-coating, re-surfacing, heavy traffic, and really, just about anything thrown at it. Having said as much, slicing is more cost-efficient, and because the blade cuts from a stationary position, it does not produce as much wasteful sawdust. If you’re thinking of buying oak wood flooring for your home or business, check with your retailer whether the product has been sawn or sliced.


A video showing the massive machinery used to create live sawn oak veneer:



Find out more about how wood veneer is produced by watching this video:

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