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What are Medullary Rays?

Often referred to by luthiers as ‘silk’ or silk figure, medullary rays are cellular structures which in coniferous, softwood, are easily recognizable on the surface of the quartersawn face. Luthiers like to see silk in their topwood as its presence is a guarantee that the wood is well-quartered. It’s possible for well-quartered wood to not show any medullary rays, but wood with visible medullary rays is most certainly quartersawn. Silk figure is also very attractive and is strongly reminiscent of the curl figure we sometimes see in Maple and other woods but on a much smaller scale. It adds a subtle, three-dimensional shimmer to a finished top.  In different woods, the visual effect can differ quite a bit, but in the Spruces, Redwood and Cedar we use in lutherie, the appearance is roughly the same. We do see it occasionally in some of the hardwoods such as Mahogany, Sapele and even Ebony. The patterns show where the trees cellular structure is aligned to distribute water and other nutrients from the center of the tree out towards the bark.