In woodworking, a term applied to the arrangement of wood fibers; working a piece of wood longitudinally may be either with or against the grain; a cross-section, or transverse, cut of wood is called cross grain.

The rings of a tree indicate its annual growth, and also the growth in each season. In general, trees that grow rapidly (and thus have wide rings) produce timber that is not as strong as a tree that grows slowly. The fast-growing tree produces a coarse grain, the slow-growing tree a close or fine grain. These refer to the cross-section grain of the tree, of course. The grain made by the vertical fibers is referred to as the straight grain—the one that is most usually worked in carpentry.

Coarse-grained woods that produce a rough-textured surface include oak, walnut, and chestnut. Fine-grained woods that make a compact, smooth surface include maple, birch, and pine.

Most lumber used at home presents a flat-grain surface. For burl design effects, a cross grain can be used. A further distinction in the way wood is cut is reflected in the grain pattern. When the timber is sawed so that the annual rings form an angle of 45 degrees or more with the wide faces of the board, the term quarter-sawed is applied to hardwoods, and vertical or edge grain to softwoods. When the angle is less than 45 degrees, the term plain-sawed is applied to hardwoods and flat grain to softwoods.

Source: Robert Campbell and N. H. Mager, How to Work With Tools and Wood, New York: Pocket Books, 1952, page 133

image from stanley's 1927 how to work with tools and wood
spiral grain from how to work with tools and wood 1952

The image above and the quoted passage below comes from the 1927 Stanley Tools woodworker's manual; the image on the right above comes from the 1952 Stanley Tools Woodworker's manual.

CHAPTER II: How to Become Skillful

Craftsmanship is a combination of knowledge on how to use tools and of skill with the hands. An old carpenter has more tricks of the trade than he could possibly teach and no two carpenters' tricks are the same in every instance. These tricks are a part of the day's work. They come from cut and try or the trial and error method. You could start today and in half an hour learn all by yourself several things about tools and wood. If you took a plane to a piece of white pine you would discover shortly that when you attempt to push the tool against the grain you would not make a smooth cut, yet when you push the plane with the grain you make a smooth cut which, with a sharp plane, is almost as smooth as though you had sandpapered it down.

Lesson One. You have learned never to plane a piece of wood until you have examined it to see what way the grain runs. You will learn to plane always with the grain unless you have a special finishing job requiring a special type of work. There is no way of learning such facts except by trying.

Source: Stanley Tools, How to Work With Tools and Wood -- For the Home Workshop New Britain, CT: Stanley Rule and Level Plant, 1927, page 11.


(Note: Be assured that I know what "grain" in wood is; I am, however, enamored of the efforts by such woodworkers as Walt Durbahn, and wish to do what I can to sustain the heritage that he and numerous others leave in our past tradition of woodworking.)

Sources: Stanley Tools, How to Work With Tools and Wood -- For the Home Workshop New Britain, CT: Stanley Rule and Level Plant, 1927;
Walter E. Durbahn and J. Ralph Dalzell, Dictionary of Carpentry Terms. Chicago: American Technical Society, 1947;
Robert Campbell and N. H. Mager, How to Work With Tools and Wood, New York: Pocket Books, 1952;
Paul Harrel, "Designing Along the Grain", Practical Design: Solutions and Strategies -- Key Advice for Sound Construction from Fine Woodworking Newtown, CT: Taunton, 2000;
Harvey Green,Wood: Craft, Culture, History. New York: Penguin, 2006.


Device for keeping a keen edge on a tool made of steelchisels, plane irons, and the like — the lumbering grindstone, running under dripping water and turning ever so slowly, could do a lasting job.

No grindstone should be exposed to the weather; it injures the woodwork, and the rays of the sun will harden the stone, so that in time it will become useless; neither should it be allowed to run in water, as the part remaining in it softens and wears away faster than the other portion. The water should be dropped or poured on.... By attending to these rules cabinet-makers will be saved much vexation and expense.

Source: Richard Bitmead; Aldren Watson, Country Furniture New York: Crowell, 1974.