In general, rift sawn and quarter sawn lumber are commonly mistaken. So if a client asks you for one of these types of woods in a project, it is best to make sure that what they are asking for is what they really want. The easiest way to distinguish visually is by asking if they want have the medullary rays, or flecks, showing.
Quarter sawn lumber is produced by quartering the log followed by sawing it perpendicular to the annual growth rings on an angle between 75 to 90 degrees. This particular method of sawing produces a nice straight grain appearance on the face of the board. In many species, this technique of sawing makes the medullary rays visible on the face of the board in the form of “flake”. Quarter sawn lumber creates more log waste and therefore is more expensive and the end result of narrower boards in relation the plain sawn technique.
Rift sawing is very similar to that of quarter sawing manifesting similar limitations and advantages. It is sawed perpendicular to the annual growth rings on an angle between 45 to 75 degrees. During rift sawing, the quartered log portion is offset slightly from perpendicular before cutting. This reduces the appearance of the medullary rays in an effort to minimize the amount of “flake” on the face of the board. Rift sawing produces a virtually straight grain appearance on the face of the board. The rift sawing technique also produces much log waste and yields narrower boards in relation to plain sawn lumber. Rift sawn gives a better yield than quarter sawn however, and may be more readily available from your supplier.
Because of the very straight grain of rift sawn lumber, it is commonly used in furniture legs for example. That way all four sides of the legs have the same straight grain appearance. If plain sawn lumber was used, you would have straight grain on two sides, and quatered on the 'edge' sides, showing the medullary rays.