Open Grain Wood Vs. Closed Grain Wood

Open and closed wood grains require different preparation methods for when you work on them. This is why grain structure will always decide what kind of project is that wood suitable for. If you are having trouble differentiating in the grain structure between them, don’t worry, we got you. In this article, we will help you decide which grain structure is better as we pit open grain wood vs. closed-grain wood.

The biggest difference between open grain vs. closed-grain wood is the size of the pores in them. Open grain wood as the name suggests have pores that are larger and opened compared to closed-grain. These pores are visible to the naked eye if you just look at the surface of a piece of lumber. On the other hand, closed-grain wood has tight and narrow pores not visible to the naked eye and it also makes the surface smooth.

Now, there is no way to tell an open grain and a closed-grain wood just by looking at the tree itself. Both hardwoods and softwoods can have an open-grain or a closed-grain. So the type of wood does not matter in this regard. However, once the lumber has been sawed and milled, you can tell which is which by the look alone.

What is Closed-Grain Wood?

Closed-grain wood has very narrow pores on the grain structure. These narrow and tight pores are not visible to the naked eye and can only be seen when you put wood under a magnifying device. 

The surface of closed-grain wood is very smooth when milled and sawn. This is due to the lack of vessel members in the tree’s wood. These tube-like cell structures are used to transport sap and nutrition throughout the tree’s lifetimes.

Closed grain woods use longitudinal cells called tracheids, that transport nutrition in the tree while it is alive. These cells do not have an open-end as vessel members do. 

This causes the tree to have tight and narrow pores which makes it closed-grain. Most softwoods are closed-grain as they have these primitive cells called tracheids instead of vessel members.

What is Open Grain Wood?

Open Grain wood has large pores that can be seen without the help of any magnification device using the naked eyes. These pores are large and absorb fluids very easily, and due to the presence of vessel members. 

These vessel members are tube-like cell structures that run through the trees. These are long in size, the longest amongst all other cell structures. They have an open end which is why when they are cut leave wide-open pores.

These vessels are evolved from the primitive tracheids which also carry nutrition through the tree. But due to being open-ended and large, when they are cut leave larger pores making the surface of the lumber uneven. So open grain wood is also called large diffuse-porous wood due to the sheer size of its pores.

Differences Between Open Grain and Closed-Grain Wood

Well, the most obvious difference between open-grain and closed-grain wood is the size of their pores. The sheer size of open-grain wood pores is large enough that they can be seen without any magnification. This causes the surface of the wood to be uneven since the pores are large and popping out in the open. 

In closed-grain wood, this is not the case as the pores are tight and narrow. They are so small that it is not possible to see them without having to use a magnifying device to zoom onto the surface of the lumber. This makes the surface of closed-grain wood smooth and fine.

The size of the pores gives closed-grain wood the ability to accept most finishes without any issues. Not to mention the smooth surface gives the wood an amazing and sleek look. In the case of open-grained woods, you need to prepare them before applying any finish. If you apply stain on such wood without preparation it will be absorbed unevenly due to the large pores.

Open-grain wood however has distinct grain and patterns, compared to closed-grain wood. These give the open-grain wood some advantage in terms of aesthetics and appearance.

Pros and Cons of Open Grained Wood

The Pros

  • Textured wood.
  • Distinct grain pattern.
  • Aesthetically pleasing.

The Cons

  • Uneven surface.
  • Requires pore filler to apply stain finish evenly.

Pros and Cons of Closed Grain Wood

The Pros

  • Smooth even surface.
  • Requires less time to prepare.

The Cons

  • Textured grain in some closed-grain woods like cherry causes a blotchy finish when applying a stain on it.

Examples of Open-Grain Wood

1. Oak

Oak is one of the most commonly used open-grained hardwoods in the region around the U.S. and its surroundings. It has an aesthetically pleasing grain structure that gives a beautiful look to your home. It has large open pores throughout the lumber surface.

Red oak is used mostly for making furniture and cabinetry. Meanwhile, on the other hand, white oak is used in places where water might be in the equation. This is due to white oak’s water-resistive qualities which avoid it absorbing any moisture. So you can bet that white oak is a great wood to make boats out of, in fact in the past it was the preferred wood for making out warships.

Oak is a pretty reasonably priced wood and its wide availability makes it so that every wood store has it in stock. The grain structure is pretty decent and the pores are very wide and open. You can actually see the pores and at times it will be required for you to use a pore filler if you want to apply an even finish on your oak.

2. Hickory

Hickory is another hardwood that is in class with oak and is almost priced exactly the same as red oak is. It is used for cabinetry, furniture, and decoration. The lower quality hickory is often used in construction and as such, it can be found in both straight and curled grain. Finding the right hickory for your project might be hard though.

Hickory also has pores big enough that can be seen with naked eyes. If your lumber is not milled properly, the pore size will affect your wood’s finish. You will have to use a pore filler so that it can finish properly and have an even surface.

Some finishes, specifically stains, require you to fill in those pores so that it does not become blotchy due to the open pores absorbing them unevenly. You also need to sand the surface of the hickory finely. Also if the pores are not as big then you don’t need to apply a filler on the surface, just sanding it finely will do the job finely for you.

3. Ash

Ash is a hardwood that has large pores and is an open-grained wood. On the Janka hardness scale, it is harder than oak, making it ideal for flooring, as it can take a lot more abuse than oak or birch. It has a unique grain pattern that is slightly coarse.

If you are using it for the purpose of flooring then you might not need to apply a pore filler on it, but for anything else, a pore filler might be necessary since it has large open pores. Sanding it finely will also get the job done if you are using it for the hardwood floor.

It is slightly more expensive than oak and can be found cheaper if its quality is of a lower grade. Well-graded ash can be more expensive than most hardwoods that are commonly found in the region.

Examples of Closed Grain Wood

1. Pine

Pine is a softwood that is pretty much available at almost all hardware stores due to its vast growth in the region. It is very reasonably priced, durable, and mostly used for furniture. It is a closed-grain wood often confused as an open-grained wood by people.

The pale colour of pine and it’s beautiful but subtle grain texture works perfectly with stains. It absorbs stain evenly and gives you the most amazing look. Pine is one of the most durable woods regardless of it being a softwood species. So it can be used for a lot of purposes other than furniture as well.

2. Cherry

Cherry is a hardwood that is closed-grain, looks absolutely beautiful, and has a tight grain structure. The cherry lumber has such a deep and rich colour and grain that usually it is left in its natural state. Not to mention it ages like wine, because the colour and grain become even deeper with time.

This hardwood is mostly preferred to be used for furniture and decoration, due to its high price tag. It is slightly more expensive than walnut but is easily available throughout the United States and its surrounding regions.

3. Walnut

It is hard to not include walnut into any list, as it is one of the most preferred woods to be used by woodworkers for a wide array of projects. Black American walnut is the choice of wood for most woodworkers when it comes to making furniture due to how easy it is to work with it. It planes, mills, and cuts very easily, does not require a ton of effort, does not fuzz either.

It is a closed-grain wood of choice for many woodworkers as it is easily and widely available in the United States. Not to mention it is pretty reasonable in pricing, a one-time investment since it is very durable and lasts a lifetime if you make any furniture, cabinetry, or decoration out of it.

Final Thoughts

Knowing your wood will give you an advantage when you have to work on projects using it. Open and closed-grain woods both can be worked on without hassle if you can identify them beforehand. With preparation, both of these types of grain structure woods will do just fine for any project of your choice. Hopefully, our article helped you understand the differences and give you an idea about which one will be the best for your needs.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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