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What is End Grain?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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End grain is a type of pattern produced by the growth rings in a piece of wood. It is the opposite of face grain, which occurs when woodworkers slice a section of wood off the end of a log. If that same log is cut lengthwise along the middle, the end grain of the wood will be revealed. To understand the difference between these two patterns, picture the growth rings as the veins of a tree. Face grain shows the outside of these veins, while the end one cuts provide a view directly into the center of these veins.

Because of the way most pieces of lumber are produced, the longer edges of each piece reveal the face grain of the wood. To examine the end grains, one must examine the short end of the lumber. By cutting against the grain and sawing off a section of this short end, woodworkers reveal fresh patterns.

While end grain is used in many types of applications, it's particularly common with wooden cutting boards. The ends of multiple pieces of lumber are fused together to create a checkerboard pattern. Not only does this result in an attractive and unique cutting board surface, it also maximizes the strength and durability of the wood.

One of the primary advantages of end grain is its unusual and interesting finish. It offers a look unlike any other type of wood grain pattern, and can vary dramatically by species and color. It also produces the strongest cut of wood, especially compared to more delicate face grain cuts.

Because of the difficulty in manufacturing end grain wood products, this pattern tends to come with a fairly high price tag. It's also harder for wood crafters to work with, and takes longer to shape and form. These patterns are also unpredictable, and can be difficult to match or replicate.

End grain patterns pose additional challenges when it comes to staining. Because this pattern exposes the ends of the growth rings, the wood tends to soak up stain very rapidly. This can cause the edges of the wood to be darker than the face, and often results in an uneven finish, To prevent this phenomenon, craftsmen often choose gel stains or shellac, which are less likely to soak into the growth rings than traditional stains. Others treat the ends of the wood with special products designed to dilute the stain and prevent excess darkening.

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Discussion Comments
By gravois — On Aug 12, 2011

@Ivan83 - I had no idea that there were two kinds of grains inside of wood. It makes me wonder if there are other ways you could create a grain?

Would it be possible to use a rotor and make a three dimensional cut from the center of the tree? This method might produce a combination of the two grains and reveal an interesting interplay between the patterns.

By Ivan83 — On Aug 12, 2011

I am a sculptor that works primarily with wood and I try always to use end grain patterns. I think this basic choice is a fundamental part of where my art comes from.

The face grain is the dominant grain that we see in the world. For most of us, that is the way a tree looks inside. But that is false. Its a human construction.

By choosing to highlight the end grain I reveal a section of the tree that often gets covered up or obscured. My art returns it to the same position of respect that it had when it was in the ground. It is, fundamentally, a tribute to the tree

By backdraft — On Aug 11, 2011

My dad was a cabinet maker but he made a little money on the side by making and selling his own custom cutting boards. He mostly used the scrap lumber he already had around his shop and then constructed it in artful ways.

They really were beautiful cutting boards. He had an eye for the way that wood grains and colors worked together from a life spent making cabinets. He had a little bit of a following in our city and a few small cooking stores sold his cutting boards regularly. I always told him that he should go online but he is stubborn and insisted on being old fashion.

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