A seasoned craftsman chooses a particular type of wood for a specific type of project based on a number of reasons. Grain is one of them, but unfortunately, many people don’t understand what it is.
In woodwork, the term grain is used to describe the alignment of wood-cell fibers. Most people confuse wood grain with wood figure, but the two are quite different. The figure refers to the unique wood grain pattern created by molding wood grain into exciting finishes.
Depending on what you use your wood for, all types of wood grain – except straight grain – can be a blessing or a pain to work with. For instance, if you are the kind of craftsman who likes to play around with wood grain to achieve an exquisite figure, working with wood that has an errant grain will be a walk in the park. But if you are trying to create a top-notch figure with straight-grained softwood, then you’re going to have a long day
So, Why Does Wood Grain Matter?
Grain and Texture
Have you ever heard a woodworker mention “fine-grained” and “coarse-grained” wood, and you had no idea what on earth they were talking about? Well, it has something to do with texture. Basically, wood grain texture refers to the degree of variation in the relative size of wood cells. It is the arrangement of wood cells in bands (known as rays), the size, and spread of pores that makes all the difference between coarse and fine textured wood.
For some reason, woodworkers like to use the terms “fine-grained” and “coarse-grained” instead of “fine-textured” and “coarse-textured” when describing this property of wood. Maybe they just like to sound sophisticated or professional. But whatever their reason, you will no longer be in the dark the next time they throw these terms at you.
Grain Dictates the Use of a Filler
When you come across terms like “open-grained” or “close-grained” wood, they simply mean the relative sizes of pores in a particular grain. It is based on this feature, that a woodworker will determine whether a filler is required for a smoother finish, or not.
Grain Determines How You Should Cut Wood
Depending on how you cut your wood, you can achieve numerous types of grain including the end grain, the radial grain, and the flat grain. All the three types have different appearances and strength.
Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the wood grain background and how you cut it, especially when trying to design different patterns for aesthetic purposes.
Grain and Strength
The direction of wood grain can be used to increase the strength of wood. Be it soft or hard, wood is a natural polymer made up of parallel cellulose strands that are firmly bound by lignin.
To help you understand, picture a thousand straws that are lined up and closely held together with an adhesive. An individual straw is easy to bend or break, but together, they are very strong.
So, what does this arrangement have to do with strength? Well, when you cut wood along its length, you are breaking the lignin bonds. But when you cut across the length of the wood, you break the cellulose fibers, which are much tougher than lignin bonds. This explains why cutting wood horizontally is much easier compared to cutting across. To achieve the ultimate durability of your wood, always ensure that the wood grain is oriented in a way that offers the utmost support to the load.
If you need to cut your wood into smaller pieces during constructions (which you certainly will) try as much as possible to cut along the grain. This ensures that the grain runs throughout the length of the wood, achieving the utmost strength. As a rule of the thumb, always opt for straight-grained wood if you are looking for strength and not aesthetics. Also, pay attention to the evenness of the grain. The more even it is, the stronger the wood is.
Grain and Hardness
Different types of grain direction result in different degrees of hardness. Side hardness of wood is measured by the top surface of the plank, while end hardness is determined by testing the cut surface of a log. Both degrees of hardness are determined by the evenness and the direction of wood grain.
In complex woodworking, the hardness of wood is measured to ensure that the most appropriate type of wood is used.
A Whole New Way of Looking at Wood
So, the next time you are picking wood for your deck, choose one according to something deeper than just the appearance and price – choose according to the wood grain.