Understanding the Different Types of Wood Grain Patterns

Wood Grain

Wood is a choice of material for interior decorators and homeowners because of the interesting grain patterns it offers. No two pieces of wood are identical, but each offers natural beauty. Some intricate and unique grain patterns emerge in wood furniture and trims. There are dozens of different types of wood grain patterns. The patterns make a difference in the appearance of the finished pieces. Before you settle on the wood for your projects, develop an understanding of the different types of wood grain patterns. It can help you look at the wood differently. You will have the skills to evaluate the wood value based on grain patterns.

What are wood grain patterns, and how do they emerge?

Schenck and Company explain that each piece of wood has a unique wood grain, depending on the way you cut the wood. The age of the tree and the type of tree are factors. As a tree ages, it develops one growth ring each year. You can count the rings in a sawn round to know the approximate age of the tree. Four sawing methods produce different results in wood grain patterns.

Live sawn

This method cuts directly through the log. It produces a complete range of natural characteristics of the wood. A vertical grain appears on the edges with varied patterns on the interior. Planks cut with this method are commonly used for flooring. Wide plank sections reveal more of the grain pattern than smaller planks.


Logs are cut into quarters to reveal the growth rings from angles between 60 to 90 degrees. The grain pattern is tight and vertical. It commonly features dramatic flecking in the wood grain patterns.

Plain sawn

Most sawyers use the plain sawn cut. The wood is cut from a zero to 35-degree angle, revealing the annual growth rings. The method often produces a cathedral grain pattern.

Rift sawn

Rift-sawn woodcuts occur at 30 to 60-degree angles. This cut minimizes the grain activity and is for cutting wood for flooring.

Wood type affects grain patterns

Duffield Timber offers that wood grain patterns develop according to the arrangement of the fibers in the wood from the tree growth. Lighter and darker woods are highlighted, creating a distinct pattern. Approximately 60,000 types of trees mean there are far too many different grains and textures to cover them all without numerous book volumes. Each piece of wood is different, although grains may appear similar, there are differences. Woodgrain refers to the arrangement of fibers resulting from the growth of a tree. When the tree is cut these fibers reveal a visual pattern of relatively darker and lighter wood, commonly known as the grain or the figure. Woodgrain also affects the texture of a piece of sawn timber. Hardwoods have different grains than softwoods. It’s because the cells in the plants differ one from another. Vessel cells in some trees reveal the pores in hardwoods. Softwoods lack vessels/pores, creating different grain patterns.

Open and closed wood grain patterns

Two types of wood grain patterns include open and closed. Open grain patterns occur when trees grow fast in spring and slow in summer. The fiber arrangement is impacted. It produces more pronounced patterns. Hardwoods with large pores are open grain. These include ash and oak woods, often giving you a rustic aesthetic. The grain may be irregular or straight, some with bold grain designs and streaks with varying colors. The grade of wood with knots or lack of knots also affects grain patterns. Closed grain woods have smaller pores. These are closed-grain patterned woods. The growth rings are tighter and the grain pattern is straight. Maple and fruit woods are closed-grain woods. Other types include basswood and holly with smooth finishes and barely any noticeable grain patterns.

Different types of grain patterns

Understanding how grain patterns emerge and that no two pieces of wood are identical, we look at the different types of wood grain patterns that may vary from one piece to another.

Wavy grain pattern

Wavy grain patterns emerge when wood fibers change direction constantly, creating a wavy appearance. These are decorative pieces used to make unique finishes.

Interlocked grain pattern

Interlocked grain patterns occur when the wood fibers align in opposite directions. They appear to have interlocked patterns.

Spiral grain pattern

Spiral grain patterns occur when the tree’s fibers twist during its growth and developmental stages. When the wood is cut the patterns emerge in spirals. These are ornate pieces that offer eye-catching grain patterns.

Straight grain patterns

Straight grain patterns occur when wood fibers run in a straight direction consistently. Compared with the other grain types, it stands out with a uniform grain direction.

Irregular grain pattern

Irregular grain patterns emerge when the wood fibers run in varying directions that are irregular. Knots create irregularities in wood grain patterns, but other factors in the growth of a tree can contribute to irregularities.

Decorative grain patterns

Figured woods create visual grain patterns. These features are among the most decorative and ornate. Unusual markings that emerge within the grain cause high-value grain patterns. They have the most visual appeal and beauty because of their uniqueness. The following grain patterns fit into this category.

Bird’s eye grain pattern

Bird’s eye grain patterns are more common in maple wood. The grain pattern includes tiny dark eyes in the wood grain similar to bird eyes. The grain pattern is varied but occurs throughout the piece.

Burl grain pattern

The burl occurs when a deformity occurs in the fibers of a tree. It creates a twisty or wavy grain pattern. The burl occurs most often in poplar, elm, walnut, and ash trees.

Tigerstripe grain pattern

Tiger striped grain patterns feature variations in the colors of the wood. These patterns emerge when a tree is infected with fungi, creating darker streaks throughout the wood. This streaking is a valued color variation that occurs most commonly in oak wood.

Silver grain pattern

Silver wood grain patterns emerge when the wood is quarters sawn, revealing ray cells. It causes a silver grain pattern to show up. The silver wood grain pattern is specific to quarter sawn oak.

Curly grain pattern

Curly grain patterns happen because of contortions in the wood as the tree grows. They look like waves in the wood. It’s most common in birch and maple wood.

Ribbon curl grain pattern

Ribbon curl grain patterns occur as wood fibers grow unconventionally. The growth happens in a manner that creates a twisted ribbon effect when the wood is cut. Ribbon curl features a slight shimmering effect in the wood, especially when finished and polished. This grain pattern occurs most often in mahogany wood.

Crotch grain pattern

A crotch grain pattern is easy to identify because it has the appearance of a Y shape. It happens at the joint of a branch and the tree trunk. The Y pattern appears when you cut the wood from a tree at the joint. Woods featuring crotch grain patterns are most often walnut or mahogany.

Quilted grain pattern

A quilted grain pattern looks like waves in the wood. It adds a third dimension to the appearance. The quilted grain pattern is seen most often in maple wood.

Fiddleback grain pattern

The fiddleback grain pattern is also called flame maple or curly maple pattern. It is a distinct grain pattern that features a flame-like look with a wavy and irregular grain. It occurs in maple wood and is valued for constructing musical instruments.

The mahogany wood grain pattern

Mahogany wood grains are different from one type of mahogany to another. Cuban mahogany is the most common The color range is from pinkish-brown to dark reddish-brown. All mahogany wood gets darker with age. The grain ranges from interlocked to straight, wavy, or curly with uniformity of the patterns and a moderate luster. The wood is used to make boats, furniture, veneers, cabinetry, and musical instruments.

Teak wood grain

Teak wood darkens with age, ranging from medium to golden brown. The grain is straight, but in some cases, it can be wavy or interlocked with an uneven texture and a natural luster. The wood produces oil and may have a slightly oily feeling to the touch. Teak is for ships and boats, carvings, construction, and furniture.

Red Oak grain

Red Oak is for cabinetry, floors, doors, and furniture. The color is a medium brown with a red tint. It has a straight grain pattern but is easily stained by water exposure.

White Oak grain

White oak has a straight wood grain pattern with an uneven coarse texture. It is easily steam ben with a color that is light brown to medium with an olive tint. It’s premium wood and more expensive because of its strength. It’s used for floors, trim, boats, cabinetry, and furniture.

Brazilian Rosewood (Spiderweb wood grain)

Brazilian Rosewood has beautiful wood grain with contrasting colors of dark streaks running through the wood ranging from light purple or reddish-brown to dark chocolate brown with occasional black streaks. The grain is straight but sometimes presents in interlocked, spiral, or wavy grain patterns. This wood creates unique spider web grain patterns when the black streaks are present. It’s most commonly used in specialty wood items because of its value, musical instruments, cabinets, and furniture.

Sycamore wood grain

Sycamore wood grain tends to have a freckled grain with an interlocked appearance. The texture is even and fine, often similar to maple wood. The color ranges from white to light tan with some variety darker with reddish-brown hues. Sycamore is used for furniture, door, plywood, wood veneer, and paper.

Ebony wood grain

Ebony is dark black-colored wood with no visible grain. Some ebony woods have streaks of dark brown or grayish-brown. The grain is straight and occasionally interlocked. The texture is fine and even. It’s a high-density wood that is difficult to work with. The high oil content makes it difficult to glue.

Zebrano wood grain

Zebrano wood has the appearance of the stripes of a zebra. The grain is among the most unusual with alternating grains of deep brown and pale toffee colors. The grain is striated. It’s commonly used for featured wooden items, kitchen islands, and other unique standout pieces.

Makore wood grain

Makore wood comes from the Makore tree. The color ranges from pink to reddish-brown with variated streaks. The grain pattern is usually straight but may also be mottled or curly. The texture is even and fine. This wood features an interlocked grain. it can be difficult to machine. It is most commonly used for musical instruments, boats, flooring, cabinets, and plywood.

African Padauk wood grain

African Padauk is a wood that comes in various colors ranging from red so deep that it appears brown to a paler orangish pink. The wood darkens as it ages. The grain pattern may be straight or interlocked with a coarse and open texture. The wood is used to make tool handles, musical instruments, wood veneer, flooring, and small wooden objects.

Hackleberry wood grain

Hackleberry has a smooth to wavy grain. It is commonly used for both polished surfaces and rustic furniture and trim. It is used to make flooring, wooden fences, and paddles. It is worth noting that Hackleberry wood is extremely flammable.

Cherry wood grain

Cherry wood comes in various grain patterns depending on the cut. The color ranges from dark red to light pink with a rough to smooth texture. Cherry is used for furniture and miscellaneous wooden items. It is known for its flexibility and is often used for wood paneling.

Walnut wood grain

Walnut has a color that ranges from deep pinkish-brown to black. Different parts of the tree feature different colors. It’s commonly used for flooring, knife handles, and dining room tables. It’s one of the more durable and expensive wood choices with a straight grain.

Final thoughts

Understanding how the type of tree, the age, and even the part of the tree affects the wood grain pattern enhances your knowledge of wood for woodworking projects. The way that the wood is cut will produce variations in the patterns. We’ve highlighted the main types of wood grain patterns, but each individual cut of wood yields different and unique patterns.

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