Understand Wood Movement

(Fig. 1) In the drawing, the medium brown parts have grain running with that of the case (the reddish brown). Those grains run vertical. The lighter brown represents the drawer runners (horizontal grain). Movement of the narrow applied pieces is minimal, so the cross-grain orientation worries of those runners is reduced.

I’ve been studying a few examples of chests for an upcoming article in 360 Woodworking. One of the subject pieces was built by John and Thomas Seymour who were Federal-period cabinetmakers in the Boston area – quite possibly the best shop of the time.

What I’ve discovered in their work is a shop that understood wood and wood movement, and made amends to preserve their furniture. One thing with which the Seymour shop experimented was the connection of drawer runners to case sides. The normal cross-grain connection, which often resulted in cracked case sides, bothered them, so they developed a technique to reduce the affect. (Fig. 1)

The Seymour shop built-out the insides of some cases with wood frames that matched the vertical grain of the case sides then they attached runners to those frames. It was extra work, but few of their case sides have split throughout the 200+ years since.

In a recent 360 Woodworking article about building a period Tea table, Chuck Bender, also a furniture maker who understands wood and wood movement, shared a glue-block process that allows tabletops to expand and contract without the blocks being knocked off, something that often happens with period furniture.

Chuck uses a split glue block with one part attached to the apron, and the second part attached to the underside of the tabletop. Hold remains intact regardless of the seasonal movement. (Fig. 2)

(Fig. 2) Split glue blocks allow for seasonal movement without breaking loose the glue bold or block hold.

— Glen D. Huey

This is just one of the great woodworking tips & techniques that you find in 360 Woodworking articles. If you’d like to read the entire Tea Table article, or other great articles in which our authors share insider information, click here to join as an Enthusiast or Fanatic.


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3 thoughts on “Understand Wood Movement

  1. Another reason Chuck Bender is a guy to follow.
    That is an excellent idea.

    It’s one to be a top notch craftsman, but to be a technique innovator as well, is something else.

    Thank you for the tip.
    This will be put into the bag of tricks to help preserve my work.


  2. And here is another thing, you wouldn’t believe how much I’ve learned by clicking on the “Related Posts” links at the bottom of these posts.
    Sometimes I’ll get lost in just sitting and learning, and the next thing I know, it’s an hour later.

    Thank you again.

  3. Great article!
    I never picked that up about the Seymours.

    Another great example of their consciousness to wood movement is seen in this amazing dressing chest with glass on display at the MFA in Boston http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/dressing-table-with-looking-glass-44462

    They used (uncharacteristic, for the period) frame and panel construction for the side panels so that the exquisite crotch mahogany, sitting between those wonderful reeded and carved legs would not develop unsightly cracks over time. And they didn’t.

    Yet still, they insisted on those sectional, cross grain glue blocks on their drawer bottoms. They didn’t work, but their attempted solution – of attaching end-butted, shorter blocks together into one long block by applying a runner veneer which they would plane off after the glue dried – showed an engineered attempt, respectful of wood movement, to both keeping the bottom in the slot and preventing cracking.

    Frank Vucolo

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