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Ask a woodworker to talk to you about wood grains and you are likely to get an earful. Of all the subjects relating to wood, grain is probably the most talked about. Woodworkers can disagree greatly about whether a wood's grain qualities outweigh its challenges. But, for someone buying kitchen cabinets, there are three areas to understand about wood grain: texture, direction and consistency.
Woods are either described as coarse or fine-grained. Coarse-grained woods have larger cells to carry sap and therefore have large, open pores on the surface. Wood used for oak cabinets is an example here. Woodworkers highlight these attributes by sandblasting or wire-brushing. Close-grain woods, like maple or birch, are easier to finish blemish-free but will not have as much shine. Grain direction can differ from wood to wood and tree to tree. White oak is prized for its straight grain. A woodworker tool can then cut against these lines without tearing wood.
While these woodworking descriptions apply most to cabinet makers, you should ask to see a variety of grain types before you chose. Your kitchen designer should be able to bring samples to your home so you can see those samples in a variety of light and determine which type of grain you like best. Some homeowners prefer a consistent grain in a wood, while others like to see a lack of pattern to the grain as it appears more natural to them.