There are three basic types of wood grains produced by different methods of sawing wood. Beyond that, there are as many different wood grain patterns as there are trees. Some, like basswood and holly, have almost no visible grain, while catalpa and red oak usually have striking patterns. Different grain patterns can be found in the same tree, depending on the part of the tree from which the wood is harvested.
End grain is what shows when you cut directly across the log, board or block of wood. Plain grain is what you get when wood is cut parallel to the grain and the growth rings. Quarter grain is achieved by cutting wood parallel to the grain and across the growth rings, according to the Workshop Companion.
Butternut, pine, oak and other types of wood with large pores are considered to be open- or coarse-grained. Stain soaks into the end grain of these types of wood more readily than the rest of it, creating a blotchy look. Western red cedar, redwood, cypress, poplar and aspen have straight grain. White oak and beech are relatively straight, while elm can be figured. Walnut can range from straight-grained to patterned. Mahogany is usually straight-grained but can have unusual patterns such as blister, stripe or mottle. Ash has a wide grain, sometimes with brown streaks.
Closed- or fine-grained wood has growth rings that are close together. They take stain well without blotching. Alder has a fairly straight grain with some variance in width. Maple, birch and rosewood generally have a subtle, straight grain. Hickory grain ranges from straight to patterned while cherry and poplar have fine, straight grain. Pine has straight grain and is popular for furniture and flooring.
If you want to add a special touch to a wood project, there are many figured woods to choose from. These unusual characteristics are not specific to one type of tree. Bird's-eye wood has spots, or dimples, that resemble eyes. Fiddleback wood has a series of ripples, and is the type of figure that's usually used for the backs of violins. Fungus creates spalted wood, which has black streaks running through it in various patterns. There are also quilt, silver, ribbon, burl, crotch and curly figures. Crotch wood is found where a large branch or another trunk meets the trunk of a tree. This area can produce pronounced swirls and designs in the wood.
Many exotic woods have unusual grain characteristics. Zebrawood has wide, sometimes swirling dark lines. Lacewood, which comes from Australia, can resemble hammered copper. Tigerwood, from South America, is dark orange with a striped grain that resembles tiger stripes. Cocobolo is a deep orange with a dramatic grain with black striping. Teak has straight grain and is used for outside furniture due to its weather resistance.