Fiddleback is the name given to the tight and curvy grain often found in walnut, sycamore and maple wood. The name comes from the fact that many luthiers use wood with this particular grain for the back of their stringed instruments. Oftentimes fiddleback grain represents tiger stripes or flames and can be used in many other applications beyond instrument making that require a beautiful finished look.


Figure refers to the pattern of a woods surface. Influenced by grain, coloration and imperfections, there are many types of figure such as fiddleback, flame and spalted, just to name a few.


Hardwood is a description for the wood produced by angiosperm trees, which reproduce by flowers and have broad leaves. Ironically, the term hardwood has no reference to the actual hardness or density of the wood.


Heartwood is the dead, inner wood of a tree. This part of the tree produces the densest wood and hardest timber.


A kiln in the wood industry is a structure where heated air is circulated and temperature controlled to dry out wood, lowering its moisture content to a desired level. Kiln dried wood is wood that has been through this process.


Live edge, also known as natural edge, is a style where the natural edge of wood is incorporated in the finished wood product, such as in furniture, art, construction and other applications. This style is often characterized as rustic and when mixed with other materials can be considered modern rustic.


Also known as M.C., moisture content, in layman's terms, is a measure of how moist a piece of wood is. Technically speaking, it is the weight of water contained within wood, expressed as a percentage of the weight of that species of wood if it were an oven dry sample.


The nominal dimensions of lumber are larger than the actual dimensions of dry, finished lumber. This is because when lumber is first cut it contains high moisture content that evaporates upon being kiln dried, causing the lumber to shrink. Once the wood is dry it is planed to the standard finished sizes. This is why a 2 inch x 4 inch board ends up measuring 1-1/2 inches x 3-1/2 inches once the process is finished.


Pin, also known as pin knots, are knots in the wood less than ½ inch in diameter. Wood with both sparse and clusters of pin are sought after for various applications such as furniture, flooring and paneling, just to name a few.


Plain sawn, also known as flat sawn, is the most cost-efficient method of milling logs into slabs and planks. It is achieved by milling parallel through the log, minimizing waste and maximizing lumber and slab size. There are however drawbacks to milling in this fashion, including possible twisting and cupping during drying.


Quarter sawing is the method of milling boards by first cutting a log lengthwise into quarters and milling from the center out keeping the grain angle between 60 and 90 degrees. This method creates boards with greater stability than flat sawn wood and often displays straight grain with distinct ray flecks showing in certain species.


Rift sawn lumber shows vertical grain from all sides of milled boards, however, this method takes more time and produces more waste than other methods of milling. It is a favorite among furniture makers because of the finished grain and is achieved by milling on an angle of 45 to 75 degrees, perpendicular to the log’s growth rings.


Underneath the bark, sapwood is the outermost portion of wood in a tree. Young trees and new growth are often completely comprised of sapwood and there is usually a color distinction between sapwood and heartwood.


Softwood is a description for the wood produced by gymnosperm trees, which produce needles instead of leaves and have exposed seeds. Ironically, the term softwood has no reference to the actual softness or density of the wood.


Tearout is a term ascribed to when wood fails ahead of a tool’s cutting edge. This often happens when cutting against the grain and the cut angles deeper than intended, lifting and splitting the wood from itself in an unintentional fashion. Tearout is common when using planers and routers, especially when the wood has curly or irregular grain.


If you have questions about what wood would be best for a particular project or need help understanding a term not listed on this page, please feel free to contact us.