Woodgrain - Medullary Rays


One of the questions we receive from our customers are those asking about the strange marks that they believe look like watermarks or lacquer splashes on their newly purchased oak cabinets. People get concerned as they believe these marks to be a defect in their cabinet, however in reality this could not be further from the truth.

These mystery marks are a natural occurrence called "medullary rays" and are something which adds a character to all oak items. These rays are caused by plant cells which extend vertically at an angle that is perpendicular to the tree's vertical cells or growth rings as they are more commonly known. These ribbon-like cells allow the conveyance of sap through the trunk, making them an essential part of the growing process of the tree. When the trunk is cut, the cells produce silvery slithers and markings across the sawn area that become particularly prominent when the oak is polished, varnished or oiled. Medullary rays are present in all trees but it is only in Oak that they present in the contrasting colour that makes them stand out.

Far from being a sign of damage or flaws, these medullary rays are in fact an indication that the item you have purchased has been crafted from the finest and most expensive quarter sawn oak. In logging and carpentry, oak trees can be sawn in two different ways. Tangential or plain sawing is a process that yields the most timber from the trunk of the tree. It is the faster form of timber production and it provides far less waste making it the most common timber harvesting technique. Quarter sawing on the other hand is a much slower process that produces lesser board footage and is far more expensive to produce. Due to the ring growth direction, quarter-sawn timber is far greater in strength and shows off the most medullary rays on the surface.