Cuts, Grades, Color & Matching

We realize the many variations of wood veneers, cuts and grades available can be a bit confusing, not to mention the different wood species you can choose from. And you want to make sure you and your client know exactly what to expect when your doors arrive onsite.

That’s why we’ve gathered your most frequently asked questions on the topic of Wood Veneer Cuts, Grades, Colors & Matching and provided our answers below to help you clear things up.

Depending on the species you’re looking at, there are up to 4 possible veneer cuts available. For all wood species, you can select from Plain Sliced (Flat cut), Quarter Sliced, or Rotary Cut.

If you’re looking at Red or White Oak as your species, then you can also select from Rift Cut or Comb Grain.

The following illustrations will help explain the differences between the cuts (arranged from the most economical to premium): 

Rotary Cut Veneer 
Rotary Cut veneer is the most economical cut you can specify. 
As shown in the illustration, the veneer is taken from the outside of the log in a lathe-like fashion. (Like a paper towel coming off a roll.) This provides wide sheets, broad patterns and difficult matching.
This method gives the greatest yield from each log and produces consistently wide leaves. 
Because of its random, non-repetitive grain pattern, it can’t be used for sequence matching.

Plain Sliced or Flat Cut Veneer 
Plain Sliced veneer (sometimes called Flat Cut) is the most popular cutting method you’ll see. 
It provides a pleasing look, as well as yielding a good amount of material from each log depending on the log sizes and placement in the flitch. 
The illustration shows the typical “cathedral” grain pattern or arches that appear in this veneer cut.

Quarter Sliced Veneer 
Quarter Sliced veneer is one of the most desirable cuts, in terms of aesthetics. 
This cut produces a tight vertical grain, eliminating the arches and cathedral looks found in Plain Sliced veneer. 
The oak species can show a flake pattern when slicing through medullary rays in some species.

Rift Cut Veneer 
Rift Cut is only available in oak species. 
This cut is specified when you want to reduce the “flake” effect on Oak, by angling the cut to 15 degrees to the radial.
Aside from that subtle difference, it provides a similar look to Quarter Sliced veneer

Comb Grain Veneer 
Comb grain veneer is a variation of rift cut veneer and is therefore only available in the oak species. 
It’s the portion of rift cut slices with the tightest & straightest grain. 
Comb grain has limited availability and is a costly veneer.

In all the veneer cutting method illustrations (except Rotary Cut), you’ll see either a “half-log flitch” or a “quarter-log flitch” which is cut from the log before splicing the veneer.

The flitch is the name given to that section of the log from which the veneer is sliced. After slicing the section, all leaves of the sliced veneer are kept together in a flitch. The flitch size varies, depending on the size of the original log. But the minimum flitch/component width is determined by both veneer grade and the cutting method specified. 

Yes. The cut of the species you specify can help manage costs while bringing the greatest value to your client. The following gives you a general idea of how the different cuts range in cost:

Plain Sliced / Flat$$
Comb Grain$$$$$

As shown in the diagram below, the heartwood is the center portion of the tree. Obviously, that means it’s the most mature part of the tree, and is sometimes referred to as the “dead” part of the tree.

The heartwood will be a darker color than the outer portion of the log.

The sapwood is the outer portion of the tree, and it will be lighter in color. It will also tend to be more consistent in color than the heartwood, as well.

When you specify Natural, the veneers can contain unlimited amounts of sapwood and/or heartwood. Regardless of whether you’ve specified A- or AA- Grade. Which means the wood can be taken from any portion of the log, so your veneers may have a wild variance in colors, as shown in the images below…

If you only want the dark color (heartwood) in your veneer, specify as “red.”

If you’d like to stay with the light (sapwood) color, specify your wood as “white.”

Exceptions: Some wood species are named “Red” (like Red Oak), but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s from the heartwood portion of the tree. In these cases, be sure to specify if you want sapwood or heartwood.

Book Match Veneer
Book match is the most common veneer leaf assembly. The consecutive veneer leaves are “opened,” like a book, creating a mirror image of the previous leaf as they’re spliced together. This matching gives an aesthetically pleasing continuity of the wood grain. Since one side of each leaf can reflect light or accept stain different than the other side, there can be a light/dark contrast. This phenomena is called “Barber Pole.”

“Barber Pole”
This condition starts at a cellular level in the wood and is caused by how light is absorbed and reflected off the face of the veneer.
This striped effect is not considered a defect, but can be minimized by specifying slip match (described below). 
Not every book matched door will have the barber pole effect. 
It is, however, particularly common in rift cut red & white oak. It can also be more pronounced when darker stains are used.

Slip Match Veneer
Slip match is the second most popular veneer assembly. The consecutive veneer leaves are “slipped” in sequence without flipping them. All the same face sides are then exposed. This means the grain pattern has a repeating effect as shown in the image here. 
This can result in a sharp color contrast at the splice joints (especially when “natural” faces are specified). 
Slip match is often recommended for quarter-sliced and rift cut – to minimize the barber pole effect

Running Match
Running match is the most common and economical option.
The panel face is made from components running through the flitch consecutively. Any portion of a component left over from a face is used as the beginning component or leaf in starting the next panel.
The resulting door panel will not always have a balanced look.
This match provides the best yield of all matches at the lowest cost.

Balance Match
Balance match should be specified when you want each veneer face assembled from veneer leaves of uniform width before edge trimming.
This gives your door panel a balanced look. But can have either an even or odd number of leaves.
This match provides a medium yield of all the matches and results in a cost increase over Running Match.

Center Match
Center Match is one of the most desired, but most expensive, of the matching options.
Door faces are built from the center line of the door by assembling veneer leaves evenly on both sides of the center point. Center matched door faces always have an even number of leaves.
This match provides the poorest yield of all matches.

Random Match
The last veneer matching option is random matching.
The door panel is assembled in a completely random pattern with no concern for grain or color match. The veneer leaves can come from several logs, so pair or set matching is not an option.
Specify this match if you want the “board-like” appearance of a rustic or old world look.
An important note: random match is sometimes specified to reduce cost, but can often add costs.

There are two primary quality standards referenced for wood doors:

  1. Architectural Woodwork Standards (AWS)
  2. Window & Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA)

For most commercial projects, ANSI/WDMA I.S.1A-13 is the current industry standard for interior architectural flush wood doors. But AWS standards can also be specified, if the designer prefers. Always specify the current version. Otherwise, you could end up with older standards that could increase your door costs significantly.

The difference between “custom grade” and “premium grade” comes down to the veneer grade, veneer assembly, and the overall aesthetic of the door. The table below provides a comparison.

You’ll also see that the AA grade veneer requires wider minimum widths for face components (flitch/component leaf widths) for plain sliced and rotary sliced.

What you need to be aware of is that “premium grade” doors have requirements that can significantly affect door costs.

Construction Grade

Construction GradeVeneer GradeVeneer MatchVeneer AssemblyNominal Minimum Width of Face Componenets
Book or Slip
Center Balance
Plain Sliced – 5 inches
Quarter Sliced & Rift – 3 inches
Rotary Sliced – 5 inches
Book or Slip
Running, Balance, or Center Balance
Plain Sliced – 4 inches
Quarter Sliced & Rift – 3 inches
Rotary Sliced – 4 inches

There are only two veneer face grades to choose from today for wood veneer doors: ‘A’ or ‘AA’. These grades are adopted from the HPVA panel veneer grading tables and refer to the veneer character allowed and size of the components being used in the overall door face.

The table shows the major differences and considerations.

Veneer GradeEconomicsLead TimesNominal Minimum width of Face Components
+10% to 30% upcharge to ‘A’
May require extended lead time or not available
Plain Sliced – 5 inches
Quarter Sliced & Rift – 3 inches
Rotary Sliced – 5 inches
Normal market pricing
Normal lead times
Plain Sliced – 4 inches
Quarter Sliced & Rift – 3 inches
Rotary Sliced – 4 inches

It’s important to note that you can specify premium grade construction with an ‘A’ face grade.

Construction Grade & Face Grade are two separate sections within an industry standard and you should specify each to clearly show the design intent for your project.

In most commercial building projects, face grade ‘A’ is the recommended standard. Reserving ‘AA’ for projects where the highest degree of aesthetics are required (such as executive board rooms, courtrooms, and other high-end projects or spaces).