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Our Glossary contains terminology frequently used to inquire about or purchase wood. Please scroll down to view terms, followed by their definitions, and in attempt to make it as clear as possible, photo examples that you can view by clicking on the yellow links. Feel free to contact us with any further questions.

Lumber Grades

FAS: 1st and 2nd:

Mixed domestic hardwood lumber grade is for the highest grade of hardwood lumber as defined by the National Hardwood Mfg Association. In most species a board must be 6" or wider, 8' or longer and 84% usable. Walnut and Butternut are two of the exceptions.
FAS (Butternut, Koa and Black Walnut):
Board must be 8' or longer and 67% usable. This grade is used for Butternut, Walnut and Koa.
Clear / Premium: 
The clear grade is our highest quality grade.  All material found in this grade will be 95% clear on 1 face and 90% clear the 2 face.  This grade is only offered in some species.
First European Quality.  This quality is mostly clear boards.
A clear board that is too short or narrow to be FAS.
(mixed 1 and 2 common) are boards that have too many defects to be FAS or select.
Flitch / Boules: 
Almost all European hardwoods are sold this way.  The Europeans cut their material in sequential order where all boards are from the same tree and in many cases have their natural edge.  This allows customers the ability to build a matching piece of furniture.  It is also important to note that a full flitch will have many different grain patterns or cuts.  As you cut a log you will find flat sawn boards on the outside cut then as you get closer the grain will become a rift cut, which is proceeded  by a quarter-sawn cut.  The center boards, which we call the “Pith Boards” will have the most amount of quarter-sawn material.  The “Pith Board” will have a pith crack, which marks the center of the tree.  This crack usually runs the full length of the board thru the center.  This will create two boards that must be ripped between the natural edge and the pith crack.  Note when buying flitch material please be sure to add extra waste to your cut list.  This type of cut usually has the highest waste factor. 
Most veneer is sliced extremely thin making a log yield more square footage.  This allows wood workers to use material from the same tree on much bigger projects.  Wood workers can pick a flitch of veneer and have it glued to plywood products.  This also is usually more cost effective then using solids.  However the main disadvantage is durability.  The life of Veneer varies to thickness and final use, but be aware that real thin veneers may need to be replaced within a life time.  In some instances sawn veneers can be purchased.  This material is usually custom cut to customers request, which is typically around ¼” of inch.  Sawn veneers are cut with a re-sawing band saw.  These saws can cut a minimum of 1/8” of a inch. 
The cost of figure is dependent on the consistency and intensity of the figure and the rarity.
Grain Patterns or Cut Types Available
Flitch Matched or Book Matched:
Sequentially sawn lumber from the same log.  Material is kept together in the order of sawing.  Therefore allowing matched possibilities for any project. 
Quarter Sawn (Q.S) Lumber:
Quarter sawn / vertical grained lumber. Most stable and strongest cut of lumber.  Note this cut can be found in the pith cut of flitches.
Rift Lumber:
Diagonally grained lumber.
Plain Sawn:
Lumber sawn parallel to the grain.
Figure Terminology
Types of Figure

Burl figure is one of the rarest and most beautiful figure patterns. Burls are balloon shaped growths composed of swirls of grain laced with eyes. They are often sliced into veneer but can also be produced into solids. As with birds eye, burl figure shows up on flat sawn faces so the veneer is rotary sliced and lumber should not be quartered or the figure will be a pin instead of eye. Traditional uses for burl figure include car dash boards, furniture drawer fronts and tops, and gunstocks. Contemporary uses include electric guitar tops, table and counter tops and sculpture.

Burls are considered by many to be cancers but I believe they are more similar to benign tumors. They are definitely cell structures growing out of control but they do not seem to kill the tree. Many burls are found in the root structure but they also occur on the trunk and branches. The pins will sprout new branches when exposed to light.

Cluster Burl:
Cluster Burls are small burl formations randomly found on the skins of logs. They produce figure similar to bird’s eye in both lumber and veneer. Veneer logs must be rotary sliced to develop the eyes. Lumber should be plain sawn or you end up with a claw scratch.
Burr is an English term for burl, see burl.
Pippy is an English term for cluster burl figure, see cluster burl.
Bird’s-eye is the name for a figure pattern most often associated with hard maple (acer saccharum) but I have found it in many other species including koa, black walnut, cherry, Tasmanian blackwood and a few rosewoods. The size of the “eyes” varies from small salt granular sizes to large ostrich skin eyes. The density of the patterns varies from an occasional eye to a rich galaxy of eyes a mile deep. The highest incidence of figured bird’s-eye maple occurs in regions with severe winters and short growing seasons including Maine, the eastern peninsula of Michigan, Canada and a few other areas. Sawyers in these regions tell me they find bird’s-eye figure most often on the north side of a dense woodlot. If at some point these wood lots are thinned they usually stop producing bird’s-eye. This leads me to conclude that the eye is a form of epicormic budding, or dormant buds that when exposed to light will grow a new branch. The eye figure only shows up on a flat sawn board or veneer – therefore, these veneers are produced on a rotary slicer. The grain is very complicated so it takes a skilled craftsman to work with it using hand tools and high quality sharp power tools to avoid tear out.

One of the most common figure patterns is curl, also known as tiger stripe, and ripple. Curl is compression grain perpendicularly crossing the face of a board producing alternate stripes of hard and soft board fiber.  This phenomenon creates a chatoyantcy in the board varying in strength depending on the degree of compression leaving the viewer with the illusion of a three dimensional surface.

The indication of the figure in a log can be apparent under the bark of a log by the prevalence of waves or rolls on the log’s skin but the absentness of these rolls does not necessarily preclude the figure being present. Some species such as butternut and walnut logs hide their figure well. The figure will appear in flat sawn, rift sawn and quarter sawn lumber. Quarter sawn curly maple is also referred to as fiddle back maple (some people erroneously refer to heavy figured flat sawn curly maple as fiddle back, but violin makers only use quartered lumber for the back and sides).

Curly figure can be present in many species among them koa, all maples, walnut, ash, oaks and even ebony. The trees that are figured tend to be rare mutations as I have found woodlots with trees from the same seed stock, soil, water supply and sun exposure where one tree is curly and all of the rest are plain. Most trees have a little triggering at the base of the trunk which is referred to as stump curl, but this disappears within a few feet from the base. Many trees also have a little triggering under large branches but again this does go far.

The working properties of tiger grain are similar to most figure patterns, it takes sharp tools and a steady hand to achieve smooth surfaces from a complicated grain structure, but with patience and experience extraordinary results can be achieved.

Tiger Stripe:

When one hears the word tiger it conjures up images of a spectacularly striped animal stalking through the jungle. Transpose this image onto the face of a board and you now know why this word is associated with the tiger figure pattern. Tiger is a compression figure of stripes lying across the grain of a board. The compressions can vary in density and spacing from one log to another. This is what determines the degree of figure with the greater the variance between soft and hard texture the more striking the figure. The degree of figure is often rated 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A. This is completely relative rating system with one persons 2A being another’s 4A. Tiger and curl are similar and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. We refer to a board as being tiger stripped when the stripes are long and bold while curl figure are shorter often overlapping “squiggles”.

Tiger figure is found in many species, soft maple, big leaf maple, black walnut, koa the list actually goes on and on. Some of our favorites are Tasmanian blackwood, Swiss pear, soft maple and koa. Traditionally tiger maple was used by the colonials for fine furniture and Kentucky (Pennsylvania) rifle stocks. Tiger figured lumber today is prized throughout the woodworking community for all fine applications from musical instruments to jet airplane interiors. It can be used for a whole piece of furniture or for just the featured panels. As with any figured lumber it takes a greater skill level to use, sharp tools and a steady hand but with a little patience the spirit of the tiger will be loose and the results will be spectacular!

Ropey / Flame:
Ropey figure is a diagonal striping crossing the face of a board. It can be found in both quarter sawn and flat sawn lumber and veneer. The intensity of the figure can vary from mild to wild and can be extraordinary. We find beautiful rope in some of our Pennsylvania Cherry! Flame figure is harder to describe but someone once remarked that it looks like a topographical map on the face of a board.

Quilt figure is one of the rarest and most valuable of all figure patterns. One way to describe quilt is wooden eggs compressed into the face of a board. Another is links of wooden sausages weaving through the grain. Quilt only shows up on the flat sawn grain so veneer must be rotary sliced and lumber must be flat sawn. An inexperienced sawyer can saw a quilted log and not see the first piece of figure. The figure can weave through portions of a log and it is not uncommon to have to reposition a log on the carriage many times to stay with the figure. This process is known as chasing the quilt. We have only found quilt in a few species, most notably maple, mahogany and bubinga. When finished a quilted piece is like a hologram changing its image from each different perspective. Quilt can be used wherever the finest woods are used, musical instruments, airplane interiors, yachts, dashboards, etc.

The most famous all figured logs was a large catacalea mahogany from Belize harvested during the 80’s still known as “The Log”. Remnants of this log are bringing unbelievable prices. The quilt from this log was outlined in black giving the impression of tortoise shell.

Pomelle is a small bubble like figure usually associated with species from former French West African colonies such as sapele, bubinga and mahogany. The beautiful sound of the word Pomelle resounds in the appearance of the figure in the board. It resembles a miniature quilt, bubbles suspended in the surface with light reflecting in all directions. Pomelle is used for musical instruments, jet airplane interiors, yachts, dashboards and almost any other application where the most beautiful wood is desired. It is more common to find pomelle in veneer than lumber, the veneer log dealers are very keen at spotting pomelle in the log and diverting them to the veneer mills. As with quilt, the figure can weave through a log, therefore it takes a great deal of experience to produce the figure from the log.
Bee’s Wing is a figure pattern very similar to pomelle (see pomelle) and is most often associated with the mahogany, most notably Cuban and Genuine mahogany. The little bubbles of figure resemble thousands of little bees fluttering their wings through the grain of the board. There are many fine period antiques that feature bee’s wing mahogany.
Bear Claw:
Bear Claw is a term usually associated with the spruce tops of musical instruments. It runs across the vertical grain like scratches from a bear’s claws and offers a beautiful chatoyantcy as lights reflects off the finish.
Waterfall is a term someone, somewhere came up with to describe quilted (see quilt) bubinga, one of the most beautiful figured lumbers. Unfigured bubinga by itself is a world class hardwood as it’s nickname “African Rosewood” implies, but combined with a quilt or “waterfall” there are few other species that compare. This is a figure that shows up on the flat cut so veneers are commonly rotary sliced and lumber is plain sawn.

Crotch figure is a figure that develops when a tree knits a trunk to a branch or two branches together and is often described as a plume or a feather. Almost all hardwood trees have crotches although not all crotches are created equal in splendor. Some species such as cherry tend to have ingrown bark inclusions and “nervous” pith cracks. This is often characteristic of trees with hard bark such as cherry, oak and hickory. In these species sometimes it is necessary to cut ten logs to get one series of high quality crotch sets. Other species such as walnut and mahogany have much friendlier natures and produce high quality crotch sets more frequently.

Once a crotch log is cut and good quality pieces have been produced then extreme care must be taken in the drying process. Crotch grain is very similar to end grain and dries at a different rate then the face of the rest of the board. Waxing the figure pattern on the face of the board helps as do slow kiln schedules but even then grain separations are not uncommon. Accomplished wood workers can correct these defects using combinations of wedges of wood, sawdust and glue. When done properly it is almost impossible to see the correction. Uses for crotch grain range from gun stocks to featured panels.


Spalting is a figure pattern caused by fungus growing in trees and logs. It produces black streaks usually growing with the grain and can result in a beautiful marbling. Some species are more prone to spalting such as maple, birch and beech, while others such as walnut rarely spalt. The fungus enters the tree through an injury and starts to spread. The trick is to get dense spalting before the lumber turns to punk. It is not uncommon to find a log with spalting penetrating the end grain for a short distance but this can be little more than a distraction. What every wood worker wants is a spalted board where the black lines weave over the face like a spider web. This is enhanced when combined with other figure patters such as burl or birds eye.

Some individuals have been able to get logs to spalt by storing them in a fungus prone environment. We have had mixed results trying some of these methods, one time getting good spalt and the next time a rotten log.

Respirators are essential when working with spalt in that it is a fungus that can grow in your lungs. Keep your work area clean at all times and be careful where and how you dispose of the dust.


Fiddle back is a figure pattern specific to musical instrument builders, in particular luthiers. Classical stringed instruments, violins, cellos, upright basses etc traditionally are built of quarter sawn European maple also known as English Sycamore or European Sycamore. The billets that the backs and sides of these instruments are made from are hand rived with a froe, a hand tool similar to a draw knife that is pounded with a mallet to produce stress free perfectly quartered lumber. Student models are often made from non figured less expensive lumber but the better instruments are built with curly quarter sawn sets. This figure is known as fiddle back. North American luthiers have expanded the definition of the term to include quarter sawn curly lumber of any of the species that are used to build stringed instruments. Image number two is an example of fiddle back ovancol, a lumber used by more contemporary builders.

Our Grading Scale:
No Figure:
No signs of the above types of figure or otherwords "plain".
(A) Light Figure:
A board that shows some figure.
(AA) Medium Figure:
A board that has figure but depth or consistency of the figure is lacking.
(AAA) Heavy Figure:
A board that has consistent good figure.
(AAAA) Musical Instrument Figure:
A board that has consistent figure with good depth that would be suitable for most musical instruments.
(AAAAA) Collectors Grade "One of a kind":
A board that has figure "as good as it gets" or we also like to refer to these boards as "one of a kind". These board are very rare and usually used for the most precious of applications.
Lumber Defect Terminology
Lumber Defect: 
The moment the tree begins growing it is suspect to many different types of defects.  Lumber defects occur in all trees.  One type of defect found in all trees is a knot.  A knot is caused by a branch.  Other types might be caused by the natural drying process and in some instances incorrect sawing.  Therefore it is easiest to classify defects into two categories:  Natural Defects and LumberProcessing Defects.
Natural Defects

A knot is the circular end grain of a branch passing into the surface of a board.

Bark Pockets:
As the name implies bark found within the interior of the tree.
Cracks and splits are just what they sound like, vertical openings on the ends of boards, shakes are separations  between growth rings.
Pitch pockets/ gum are black streaks in cherry lumber. These can be caused by cherry trees healing minor injuries caused by insects.
Sapwood is the light colored new growth under the bark of a tree. As the tree grows older this will become the color of the heartwood.
Rot and punk are areas of a board that have started to decompose.
A pith crack is the primary crack of a log. Every log develops a tension crack through the center (pith) of the log. Boards sawn across or through this crack are said to have a pith crack.
Metal/ bullets are as the name implies metal objects such as wire and nails that have been attached and then ingrown into the trunk of a tree. This can create problems and even dangerous when trying to saw the log.
Bug holes are as the name implies holes in boards caused by insects and larva.
Lumber Processing Defects

Cupping occurs when the edges of a board curl upwards, quarter sawn boards rarely cup.


Twisting occurs for many reasons stress in the plank, improper drying, and improper storage are a few.


Honey combing occurs when in the drying process the board dries out on the outside before the board is dry on the inside. When this happens as the drying process continues and the interior moisture expands the cell structures of the wood basically explode leaving a board that looks fine on the outside but is shattered inside.

Case hardening:
Case hardening usually occurs with thicker timber when the outside of the wood dries faster then the interior trapping moisture within the center of the board.
Metal cutout is as the name implies, sections of a board that have been removed to eliminate ingrown metal
Sticker Shadow:

Sticker Shadow is a fungal stain on a board caused by a fungal colony that developed between the face of a board and the drying stick. This can be reduced or eliminated by using fluted sticks.

Stain is a fungal infestation caused by logs being left too long before sawing or lumber being stuck too long before being kiln dried. It results in a grey stain on the ends or the face of a board. Species that are particularly prone to staining are maple and ash. Walnut is very resistant to staining.
Measurement Terminology
4/4, 5/4, 6/4, etc.:
The thickness in fractions. It implies that the lumber is rough sawn 1/16"+ over the stated fraction.
4/4 = 1 - 1/16" to 1 - 1/8" and should finish to 13/16"
5/4 = 1 - 5/16" to 1 - 3/8" and should finish to 1 - 1/16"
Width / Length Measurements: 
All boards listed in inches will be followed by a quotation ", while boards listed in feet will be followed by a '.  In our flitch inventory and internet store you might see board widths listed several different ways. 
For example: 1” x 6” x 5’ means the board is 1” inch thick by 6 inches wide by 5 feet long.
Board widths are sometimes listed as a range.
For example: 1” x 6” - 15” x 5’ means the board is 1” inch thick by 6" inches wide at the narrowest spot and 15” inches wide at the widest by 5 feet long.
Boards with natural edges are sometimes listed by three widths.
For example: 1” x 6” – 8” – 15” x 5’ means the board is 1” inch thick by 6” at one end – 8” inches at the middle – 15” inches at the other end by 5 feet long.
Board Foot:
A board foot is 144 cubic inches. Multiply the length, width and thickness (in inches) and divide by 144. This is your total board feet. A unit of lumber measure that is 1" by 12" by 12". A board 2" by 12" equals 2 board feet.  Almost all of our lumber is sold this way!
Square Foot:
A square foot is 144 square inches. Multiply the length by the width (both in inches) and divide by 144. It is the equivolent of a unit 12" wide and 12" long.
Our unit of measure is the pound (lb.).  2.2 pounds = 1 kilogram (kg.). Note when weight per bf is given the unit of measure is the pound. The weight is also given as a average for kiln dried wood. Most woods typically average 3.75 to 5.25 pounds to the board foot.
Copyright 2008 Hearne Hardwoods Inc.


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