quartersawn vs. flatsawn

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by kazuhank, Feb 24, 2004.

  1. kazuhank


    Nov 12, 2002
    Portland, OR
    Just finished completing searches in the "setup" and "basses" sections and found several threads that sing praises of quartersawn or flatsawn necks, but none that explained the differences between the two. What are these differences and how are the two manufactured?

    Thanks. :confused:
  2. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Try this link for a cursory explanation - http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-quartersawn-wood.htm

    Unfortunately, less mills are producing quartersawn because it is more difficult for them to produce and the market isn't as concerned about strength/quality as it once was. :spit:
  3. Probably the major factor is that you get less quatersawn lumber out of a given log than flatsawn. That means unit cost is higher for quartersawn necks and that tells the tale. There are several aftermarket manufacturers that sell quartersawn necks (USA Custom Guitars is one that comes to mind).
  4. I think lonote got it right, all things being equal, the quartersawn neck blanks are more costly than flatsawn blanks. Most experts seem to agree that by alligning the grain the way Lakland does with its quartersawn blank, that particular piece of wood best resists the string tension that tries to pull it into a bowed shape. On the other hand, there are millions of flatsawn necks out there that are more than strong enough for the task. I like the fact that some manufacturers make a committment to excellence by using quartersawn necks, but I'm sure that some flatsawn necks are stronger than some quartersawn necks. It's interesting to sit down with a buch of basses and pluck a note, then gently pull back or push forward on the headstock while holding the body in place. Some necks move a lot, some not at all. The stiffer ones probably sound better, much more often than not. Weak necks always make me nervous!
  5. Excellent article rickbass, thanks for the link!

  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    De nada, Treena,,,,,as with so much of this stuff, the more you understand, the less you know. Here's some info that shows how true that is -

    > The definition of quartersawn varies. Some people, including the U.S. Forest Products Lab, say that a piece is quartersawn when the rings are between 45 to 90 degrees with the face; otherwise it is flatsawn. The common definition in the industry is 75 to 90 degrees is quartered, 45 to 75 is rift. The National Hardwood Lumber Association has a slightly different definition: the ray fleck "must show well."
  7. dave251

    dave251 Wendler Instruments

    Feb 5, 2004
    Lawrence, KS
    I've personally done a bunch of testing on this issue....and found that the individual piece of lumber makes more difference than what the grain orientation is.

    Here's another perspective, and relates to the strength/stability issue.

    Aerobatic aircraft use spruce for the main wing structures...and the main spar is quartersawn...since the spar is usually 6 to 8 inches tall by an inch wide, the grain lines are PARALLEL to the forces exerted on the wing under stress. Or in otherwords, at a right angle to the forces exerted on a quartersawn guitar neck.

    It would seem to me, that when true strength is needed, the stress needs to be parallel to the grain line, rather than at a right angle. However, the reason quarter sawn is used is that the tendency to split is GREATLY reduced, rather than the slight advantage of the "strength" issue. This also applies to acoustic instrument tops, where the wood is so thin that stability and resistance to checking is of great greater concern than absolute strength.

    Further, while I've worked on only 3 Lakland basses with the bolt on quartersawn necks, ALL 3 were highly unstable; not due to the quartercut, but rather to a lack of baseline stability in the neck lumber itself.

    I will have to admit that part of my skepticism is due to my lumber inspection process while I was the process engineer at Peavey's guitar factory...I literally looked at thousands of necks over my 3 1/2 years there...and believe me, a good piece of wood makes a good neck, regardless of grain orientation.
  8. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.

    Great post, Dave. I agree with your method of finding the stongest neck billet that you can find. I do have have some reservations that strength alone is what dictates a choice.

    If strenghth alone was the sole consideration, a composite neck fills the bill better than a wooden neck. It could be made so stiff that a truss rod is no longer even needed.

    The only problem being that if you go to lighter or heavier strings, the relief becomes a compromise.

    That's where the predictable flexibility of wood starts to shine. To get the ideal relief profile, the neck is tapered from the heel to the nut. This creates more relief at the thin nut end and less relief at the thicker/wider bridge end. The tension of the truss rod almost exactly cancels out the forward bow caused by string tension. The strength of the wood is not much of a factor because the truss rod carries the stress. Not the wood.

    The worst case scenario for a neck failure is probably due to twist. A flat sawn neck is less prone to twist than a corresponding quarter sawn neck because the sap wood/growth rings are stacked up almost like plywood.

    I'm not saying that you are wrong and that I'm right. Just another perspective.:)

    Harrell S.
  9. Folks, though this is an interesting thread, it's more suited to the "Luthiers" forum than "Setup". Quartersawn or flatsawn has little to do with getting the correct action. That question should be answered prior to purchase.
  10. kazuhank


    Nov 12, 2002
    Portland, OR
    my bad hambone

    i'm still a newby and was not familiar with the "luthier" forum... and there it is right before my eyes. proper classification was never my strong suit ;) (reminds me of grammer school..."was that kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, family, or species?")

    thanks for the wealth of information everybody! i now know more than i ever wanted to about wood grain and milling orientation.

  11. You should take a look at the thread in this forum about gluing up necks. There's lotsa info about gluing flat or with longitudinal runners, etc.
  12. dave251

    dave251 Wendler Instruments

    Feb 5, 2004
    Lawrence, KS
    I'm certainly not going to argue about neck twist...but I don't know if flatsawn is less prone to twisting than quarter cut; quarter sawn lumber is supposed to shrink the most evenly.

    Let me tell you a Peavey story....

    I'd been in the Leakesville plant about three months when I was asked to look into neck warp, bow, and backbow issues as they were coming down the neck line; seems like more than half were being reprocessed due to instability. Most of these necks were flatsawn, and that was the specification. They were also coming into our climate controlled warehouse at the specified moisture content, ie, about 8%. All of this lumber was coming from Ontario and Quebec...sugar, or rock, maple as it's called.

    So, I designed a test....we checked a sample of bass neck blanks for "flatness" when it arrived; then put it back in the warehouse and check it once a week for 3 months...that **** continued to move and bow for the entire time....I was actually able to reject about a third of the blanks with a corresponding reduction in rework on the neck line. So it became company policy to let the neck blanks "stress relieve" for six weeks(we found that after six weeks, any more movement was fairly minor).

    My point is, even if the lumber is "kiln dried" to spec, there are still stress relief issues to take into account....you wouldn't believe the effort that went into the "Wolfgang" series guitars...heavy birdseye maple...THE most unstable neck lumber I've ever worked....

    By closely inspecting the grain orientation of the blank, a basic prediction of how it will behave once there is tension on it and a few years can be surmised...but not predicted with any REAL certainty. Particularly with maple, it's really the luck of the draw.
  13. Woodboy


    Jun 9, 2003
    St. Louis, MO
    The whole quartersawn/flatsawn argument has become written in stone. "Quartersawn is more stable and stiffer than flatsawn." Might have even been said by Moses. True, quartersawn lumber shrinks less from the green state to 7% MC. You can see these figures in just about any wood textbook. But we aren't concerned with this figure unless we are kiln operators. What we are concerned with is the coefficient of dimensional change from say 35% relative humidity to 85% relative humidity (the expected swing of moisture in the air in normal service.) The difference between quartersawn and flatsawn in most species is miniscule, especially in the 1 1/2" to 3" in width we are talking about in a typical bass guitar neck. The string tension pulling the neck upward is far more than the tension spreading the neck sideways with moisture change. Ervin Somogyi in the G.A.L. Quarterly tested spruce braces in flatsawn, riftsawn, and quartersawn configurations. Guess what? The flatsawn braces were the stiffest. An experienced mandolin builder I am acquainted with says he prefers to build his maple backs out of flatsawn maple because it is stiffer and he can work it out thinner. Dave raises a good point of conditioning. If stresses are set in the wood before and during the drying process, they will stay there, by gosh, until high heat and moisture can "reset" the wood. A typical manufacturing nightmare would be to unevenly remove wood from the top and bottom surface (like carving a guitar neck) and have more stress in one side of the piece than the other. Only by careful harvesting of the lumber and adequately conditioning the wood in the kiln or by many years of atmospheric seasoning can you be assured of wood that doesn't have tension set into it. "Quartersawn" is a concept that the public and many instrument builders have latched on to as an indication of quality. There are many ways to make a stew.