Residential Architecture 101: Wood Veneer

Setting out to  create a Residential Architecture 101 entry on wood seemed like an obvious topic to cover – although I haven’t been focusing on this series in a while. The first post was on Architecture 101: Materials (and the real focus was on how to transition materials and showed all sorts of terrible “don’t do this” type of pictures). The other turned out to be so popular that it’s really part of the reason I closeted this series. It’s the now infamous Architecture 101: Shutters [or "shudders" as they are now called by people who are a member of the secret Life of an Architect club - if you don't know to join, that's probably why you aren't in it].

I decided to put something together super quick on this topic simply because I had to have this conversation on site the other day and I realized there were 4 grown men standing around using their hands trying to describe the difference between book matched and slip matched wood flitches.

Don’t know what a flitch is? Then this post is definitely for you. When talking wood veneer (a thin slice of wood), a flitch is a stack of sheets of veneer all cut in sequence. If you lay them up side by side with the same side up on all of them, this is a flitch match. If you flip every other sheet of a flitch, it is book matching … got it? Pretty clear isn’t it? No, it isn’t, and I think I just made it worse.

Let’s back up a bit and start with the different cuts of wood – how you cut the wood has everything to do with how the pattern of the wood appears in the finished product. In my world, there are three main cuts –

  • Plain Sawn,
  • Quarter Sawn, and
  • Rift Sawn

Let’s start with Plain sawn since it’s the simplest version.

Plain Sawn boards


Plain Sawn [also called "Flat Sawn"]  is the most common type of lumber you can find because it is the most inexpensive way to manufacture logs into lumber because it yields the most lumber. The patterning you get what is known as “cathedraling”, which is when the rings start into the pattern and return back on themselves so as to create a point to the growth ring. (You can see this “point” in the sketch middle of the sketch above)

Quarter Sawn Boards


Quarter sawn  is more expensive than plain sawn (obviously) and is the most typical wood we specify on our projects. The boards are cut within a 60° to 90° angle to the growth rings and as a result, you get a very consistent and straight pattern that lends itself to modern design.

Rift Sawn Boards

Rift sawn is the most expensive type of cut to order and produces the most waste (least yield) from the log with the boards being cut perpendicular to the growth rings. This is also the most dimensionally stable cut of lumber.

Hopefully that makes things a bit more clear. The next tricky bit is to talk about how these boards can be “laid up” … which is trade talk for saying “how they are going to be arranged”. There are actually loads of different ways wood can be arranged but I am going to focus on just a few

  • Random Match
  • Slip Match
  • Book Match, and
  • Herringbone Match

These are the most common in my world, although you can also

Wood matching patterns - Random Match, Slip Match, Book Match, and Herringbone Match

Random Match is just what is sounds like – it’s random. This is typically done with lower grades of veneer and when budget is a concern. The leaves (or individual pieces of wood) can be of varying color, grain, and width. We never use this is our projects although my own home is resplendent in this “style”.

Slip Match is achieved when the veneer slices are joined in the same sequence they were removed from the log and without flipping the pattern. The nice thing that happens as a result of slip matching is that when you combine this with a “Rift” or “Quarter” sawn veneer, the joints between the separate pieces of veneer will not be very noticeable.

Book Match is similar to Slip matching except that alternating pieces of veneer are flipped so that they face each other just like they would if they were pages within a book. That one is easy to remember for obvious reason.

Herringbone Match is another type of book matching but is matched up with a production method that cuts the wood quarter sawn style but the flitches are laid up in a particular manner.

If you really wanted to go crazy, there is also; Balance Match, Center Balance Match, Running Match, End Match, Continuous End Match, Panel End Match, etc., etc. and so on and so on for about another 30 different types of veneer match patterns. There are endless possibilities available to choose from and you are really only limited by your imagination.

So hopefully you have a better grip on the different ways wood can be cut and the impact it makes on the resulting grain pattern. This knowledge, along with your options at the various different kinds of match techniques, really do open up a world of possibilities.

Happy veneering,

Bob-AIA scale figure