Select Better Wood by Knowing Its Grain
When you’re working with wood, there are a number of factors that lead you toward a specific type of wood for your project. The most important factor of all is the grain that you choose.
Most people know that the grain found in wood refers to how the lines, which are wood-cell fibers, create a pattern in the surface of the wood. Although each pattern is distinctive, there are 6 common types of grain that you’ll find when looking for a new piece of wood to use.
- Straight Grain. This type of grain runs parallel throughout the wood, running the length of your log or board. It always has a vertical axis to it, giving the wood a pattern of long lines that are found within the piece.
- Irregular Grain. Wood with the grain is unpredictable. Most of the grain will be vertical, except the lines are not usually straight. You’ll also find more knots in this type of wood, which disrupts the flow of the grain in severe instances.
- Diagonal Grain. You achieve this wood grain type when a log with a straight grain has not been cut along its vertical axis. This creates a look which makes the wood look like it is wearing several necklaces as the grain moves down the wood.
- Spiral Grain. This unique grain creates stunning woodworking items. It is also one of the most difficult to find in good quality. The only way to achieve a true spiral grain is to have a tree that grows large enough to be used for lumber while it has twisted in its growth pattern.
- Interlocked Grain. This type of wood grain occurs when the growth layers of the tree have aligned in opposite directions for some reason.
- Wavy Grain. This type of wood grain looks a lot like irregular grain. You can distinguish the difference because it will still have the curved lines in a vertical pattern without the knots that are found in an irregular grain.
Why Is Knowing Your Wood Grain So Important?
Knowing what the grain of your wood happens to be will allow you to know how to maximize its potential. If you are using lumber, for example, then a straight grain is almost mandatory. Any other grain in the lumber, especially the softwood lumbers, will weaken the strength of the board.
That means your final project will not be as strong as it could be.
When working with hardwood boards, having one of the other grains besides a straight grain lets you know that you must take care when working with the wood. If you’re machining the boards, there is a higher risk of tear-out when dealing with an alternative grain.
Is Your Wood Open-Grained or Close-Grained?
Once you’ve determined what the grain pattern on your wood happens to be, it becomes time to determine if the grain is open or closed. It may also be referred to as “fine-grained” or “coarse-grained” respectively.
This determination helps you discover the size of the pores that are found in the wood. If you want to create a finish on your piece that looks like a polished glass top, then you’ll need to fill the pores of the grain with a filler.
Wood grain with larger cells tends to be coarse. Woods like ash and oak are the most common species to rate this way.
When wood has smaller cells, then the finishing process takes less time. Maple and sycamore are the most common species that fit into this classification.
What makes this determination a bit tricky is that many softwoods fit between the two extremes. Something like walnut is more of a medium-grain, even though it has smaller cells, which makes it a fine-grained species by definition.
To add another layer of complication, each tree grows to its own specifications. That creates variations that are described by the feel of the wood itself. You might find the wood with a moderate coarse-grain or an extreme fine-grain.
Why is this important? Because some woods have such an open grain to them that you must fill it for it to be useful. Red oak boards are the most common example used to describe this issue. If you have some sawdust lying around, then you can literally blow it through a board of red oak because of its grain.
On the other end of the extreme, the wood from a white oak has such a fine grain to it that water does not pass through it. That is why you’ll find white oak tends to be the primary element in wood-based outdoor furniture.
How to Properly Fill Wood Grain
To fill the pores of the wood grain you’ve chosen, there are several options available to you. The easiest method is to use a finish material, such as a lacquer, which fills in the pores quickly and dries to a nice finish. A water-based product can even be used straight from the can.
If you want to use something that is more forgivable to woodworkers, try either an oil-based paste filler or an oil-based slurry.
Using natural oils for this process, such as a linseed oil, allows you to highlight the natural grain in the wood, providing a visual aesthetic which naturally draws people into the piece. You may need to mix some paint thinner into the natural oils you choose if you don’t want the wood piece to be stained.
You can apply these products with something as simple as a plastic spreader. Just remember to sand away any of the excess filler products used to create a look that is nice and even.
Knowing the grain of wood and maximizing its appearance will help you create something stunning the next time you want to create some sawdust. Make sure you work the wood in a way that won’t give you a tear-out, fill in the pores as needed, and you’ll find woodworking to be a successful experience.
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