Right, I am going to try to explain open and closed grain, once and for all. Why? Because it has taken me far too long to get my head around this, and it really isn’t that complicated!
Now, the difference between open and closed grain sounds pretty obvious, the clue might well be staring us in the face. But let me explain. The first thing you need to know is that grain isn’t either open or closed. It is better to think of open and closed as a scale… a visible scale.
If the individual grains of the wood are visible to the eye, then the wood can be described as “open grain”. This is typical of woods that grow much faster during the Spring months than during the Summer months. The grains, or fibres, that grow in the Spring are large and visible, the Summer growth, not so much. Examples of wood where the grain is obvious are Oak, Ash and English Walnut. When you look at a board of any of these timbers the grain pattern is strong and well defined.
If, on the other hand, the individual grains of the wood are not visible to the naked eye, then they are considered “closed grain”. This is typical of wood that doesn’t grow fast, and doesn’t grow a great deal faster in the Spring months than the Summer months. So, not really closed at all, just very, very fine. Examples of closed grain woods are Cherry, Maple, Birch, and American Black Walnut.
So, when considering wood for a certain piece of furniture, knowledge of whether a species is open or closed grain can be very important. A very fine jewellery box should, arguably, have a very fine, high lustre, finish. This is much harder to achieve with an open grain wood. This might be why you don’t see many oak jewellery boxes!
On the other hand, a large piece that requires a lot of wood, like a large dining table, for example, will be far more cost-effective if it is made from a wood that grows rapidly during the Spring. Here the relatively inexpensive and fast growing Oak and Ash are natural contenders.
Lakshmi Bhaskaran, 2018.
Lakshmi studied at the Rowden Atelier in 2008, following on from a successful career as a design writer and author. It was at Rowden that she met her husband and business partner, Jonathan Walter. The pair set up Bark Furniture in 2010 and now run a successful furniture business, based in Cornwall, with clients all around the world. Lakshmi has written for renowned publications including Wallpaper and has authored five books in the design area.