Wood grain

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curlyThe way a given piece of wood has been sawn affects both its appearance and physical properties:

across the grain (direction of cut >is across the grain lines, but the plane of the cut is still aligned with them)

Perhaps the most important physical aspect of wood grain in woodworking is the grain direction or slope (e.g. against the grain). The two basic categories of grain are straight and cross grain. Straight grain runs parallel to the longitudinal axis of the piece. Cross grain deviates from the longitudinal axis in two ways: spiral grain or diagonal grain. The amount of deviation is called the slope of the grain.In describing the application of a woodworking technique to a given piece of wood, the direction of the technique may be:

straight - grain which runs in a single direction, parallel to the axis of the tree. Woods with this grains are the easiest to work.

interlocked - grain which spirals around the axis of the tree, but reverses its direction for periods of years resulting in alternating directions of the spiral grain. On quartersawn surfaces the change in grain direction creates a ribbon stripe figure. These are the most difficult to work.

end grain (at right angles to the grain, for example trimming the end of a plank)Grain alignment must be considered when joining pieces of wood, or designing wooden structures. For example, a stressed span is less likely to fail if tension is applied along the grain, rather than across the grain. Grain direction will also affect the type of warping seen in the finished item.In describing the alignment of the wood in the tree a distinction may be made. Different tree species may have one of the following basic grain descriptions and types:

  • versatile
  • numerous
  • different
  • including
  • direction
  • straight
  • appearance
  • placement
  • vertical
  • relative

R. Bruce Hoadley wrote that grain is a "confusingly versatile term" with numerous different uses, including the direction of the wood cells (e.g., straight grain, spiral grain), surface appearance or figure, growth-ring placement (e.g., vertical grain), plane of the cut (e.g., end grain), rate of growth (e.g., narrow grain), and relative cell size (e.g., open grain).

In its simplest aesthetic meaning, wood grain is the alternating regions of relatively darker and lighter wood resulting from the differing growth parameters occurring in different seasons (i.e., growth rings) on a cut or split piece of wood.

end grain: the grain of wood seen when it is cut across the growth rings.Strictly speaking, grain is not always the same as the figure of wood.

irregular - grain that swirls or twists. It can be found in a number of different patterns. This can be caused by factors such as knots, burls or "crotch" wood - where large branches separate from the trunk.

Causes including fungus, burls, stress, knots, special grain alignments, and others produce figure in wood. Their rarity often promotes the value of both the raw material, and the finished work it becomes a part of. These include: