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View stevejH's profile

Using wide boards

by stevejH
posted 02-06-2017 02:35 PM

14 replies so far

View Ted78's profile


408 posts in 2808 days

#1 posted 02-06-2017 03:22 PM

A lot of factors play into this, the biggest being how they were cut from the log. If they are ‘rift’ sawn boards. (the end grain will look like a ‘C’, or an arc, They they are more prone to cupping. If they quarter sawn lines on end grain will go straight across and are less prone to cupping. a building technique called breadboard ends can help mitigate and manage the wood movement as well. If they are rift sawn (most boards are) the prevailing wisdom is to alter the orientation of the end grain, the thought being a table with a wavy top is better than one that is one giant curve, but some would argue it’s a lot easier to keep a table top that wants to make one big arc flat with bread boards or some other cross member, than it is to flatten out a bunch of smaller alternating arcs. I know none of this is that helpful in figuring out how to actually proceed. I’ll let someone with more practical experience chime in on what would be your best bet.

-- Ted

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1455 days

#2 posted 02-06-2017 04:00 PM

Steve – Are they currently cupped or twisted? How long have they been drying? I have a 26” wide 5/4 rift cut yellow pine board currently as a headboard on my bed. I found this board in an abandoned wood shed about 20 years ago. I have no idea how long it was in the wood shed. To date it shows no noticeable cupping or twisting. I would just alternate the end gran and use bread-boards at the ends.

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1583 days

#3 posted 02-06-2017 04:06 PM

Ted78 is exactly wrong in his use of “rift sawn.” Quartersawn is a half-measure between flat sawn and rift sawn – flat sawn being the least stable and rift sawn the most stable. Where he used “rift sawn” he actually should have used flat sawn.

Google images easily explains.

View HerbC's profile


1805 posts in 3667 days

#4 posted 02-07-2017 03:53 AM

Gargey, you’re misinformed in this case. And you shouldn’t believe everything you find on Google.

-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View Tony_S's profile (online now)


1336 posts in 3891 days

#5 posted 02-07-2017 11:17 AM

And you shouldn t believe everything you find on Google.
- HerbC

In regards to searching ‘google images’ of rift, quartered, and flat sawn, this is especially true.
75% of the images that come up, range anywhere from misleading, to complete bullshit, plain and simple.

The most commonly accepted #’s to define each in regards to growth rings are (in relation to the wide face)
Flat sawn= 0 to 30 degree’s
Rift sawn= 30 to 60 degree’s
Quarter sawn= 60 to 90 degree’s

Some fussy bastards (me included)use even stricter #’s than that.
45-75 for rift and 75-90 for quartered
These are the number’s that I learned with ‘back in the day’....but most mills and distributors disagree with that anymore in my experience.

Here’s some pretty decent reading for those interested.

be aware also, that most common domestic hardwoods aren’t even available as rift sawn(or are difficult to source) simply because there really isn’t a distinct visual difference between rift and quartered other than the grain, or growth rings(on the face) are closer(quartered)/farther(rift)apart.
Order/buy quarter sawn walnut for example….and you’ll more than likely get quartered with some rift sawn.

The stability aspect’s can can be generalized fairly well….most to least.
Quartered being the most stable, rift in the middle, and flat sawn being the least stable.
Not a whole lot to argue about in that aspect.

-- “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

View Snipes's profile


459 posts in 3052 days

#6 posted 02-07-2017 04:09 PM

I think it depends on your table design. I would not rip them down. Are the boards dry, like 7%? I’ve used old 16” pine boards with no issues on numerous pieces.

-- if it is to be it is up to me

View Robert's profile


3798 posts in 2288 days

#7 posted 02-07-2017 04:59 PM

Is the lumber rough or surfaced? I ask because a lot will depend on whether you have to mill the boards.

If the boards are flat now and have been air drying for a couple years, then you have a good chance at keeping them that way. It depends more on how stable (acclimated) the wood is rather than how it was cut. And yes, quartersawn is the most stable, but rift or flat sawn lumber can stay flat once made flat ;-) it all depends on the wood and whether it has stress prone grain.

A lot will depend on your geographical area and the amount of humidity fluctuations. If you don’t have a conditioned shop and you live in a humid area it can be very difficult to build furniture (how do I know that?) You can also buy a moisture meter and check them. If this can be an issue, I would sticker the boards where you plan for them to go for at least a month. You may need to negotiate that :-0.

Ways to minimize cupping (besides well acclimated, cooperative wood):

1. Incremental, balanced milling processes.
2. Breadboard ends.
3. Tapered sliding dovetail tracks 1/2 the thickness across the grain on the underside.
4. Fastening to base in such a way that allows movement.

Hope this helps.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View gwilki's profile


355 posts in 2281 days

#8 posted 02-07-2017 10:20 PM

As rwe asked, are you going to mill down the 5/4? If so, how thick will the final boards be?

In my climate, I don’t chance using boards that wide, even with breadboards. The humidity swings are just too high.

-- Grant Wilkinson, Ottawa ON

View TungOil's profile


1382 posts in 1303 days

#9 posted 02-08-2017 04:26 AM

I was just at the Met this past weekend, and I was amazed by a shaker table they had on display built in the early 1800’s. I’d guess that it was 36” wide, probably 8’ to 10’ long and made from a single piece of pine. It had breadboard ends and was pretty much dead flat after 200 years. so it can be done.

If I were building a table from these boards, I would alternate the growth rings during the glue up and add breadboard ends if it suits the style you are building. Be sure to account for wood movement when you attach the breadboards as well as the base and you will be fine.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

View Woodknack's profile


13442 posts in 3188 days

#10 posted 02-08-2017 07:28 AM

I wouldn’t cut them up. Seems like this same question came up recently on either the Fine Woodworking or 360 Woodworking podcast and the answer was pretty much, ‘No way would they cut them down.’ I will add one more suggestion, finish both sides of the tabletop equally. I finish top, bottom, top, bottom, rather than trying to do one side then the other. More work but I learned the hard way.

-- Rick M,

View Matt Rogers's profile

Matt Rogers

112 posts in 2778 days

#11 posted 02-08-2017 01:41 PM

Any tabletop glued up that wide will warp and cup over time if not fastened down to a sturdy frame. Even a quarter sawn top would have a significant warp if you just had it lying on a benchtop due to differential moisture changes from the top to the bottom surface. But as long as the top is thin enough (<1>, you can still use this technique, but it means that the structure needs to be that much more beefy. Breadboards can work as well. They do add stiffness, but they also create the issue of shrinkage or expansion making the breadboard look too short or too long from season to season. Sometimes not an issue, other times it looks bad.

-- Matt Rogers, and

View sawdustdad's profile


379 posts in 1693 days

#12 posted 02-08-2017 08:49 PM

You will have to deal with two issues—warping as already discussed and cracking/checking, which has not been mentioned yet. Warping is reduced by using quartersawn wood, alternating growth ring directions in adjacent boards, using a breadboard or using battens/a stiff frame underneath to constrain the warp. (Another solution is use plywood, but that’s another thread). While constraining the warpage, you may actually cause the top to split due to shrinkage that is not accommodated in construction. If you use breadboard ends and when you fasten the top to the frame, allow for expansion and contraction of the top across its width. Depending on the moisture content you are starting with and the grain orientation, you could see as much as a half inch of shrinkage across a 42 inch table top. So allow for that.

-- Murphy's Carpentry Corollary #3: Half of all boards cut to a specific length will be too short.

View Robert's profile


3798 posts in 2288 days

#13 posted 02-09-2017 03:38 PM

Steve H,

I would like to slightly disagree with a couple posts. First, cutting the boards down is valid if there already is cupping, but will not prevent future cupping.

Second, alternating growth rings is something I no longer do because I’ve found it doesn’t matter. What matters is well acclimated lumber that behaves well (stress free). I pay no attention to growth rings because I am only interested in face grain matching and grain direction. Regardless, if cupping does occur alternating growth rings won’t magically cancel it out, you just end up with a roller coaster top.

As a corollary to what sawdust ^ said, fastening the top to the base is an often overlooked aspect that can extremely important especially in wide boards like this. Battens or cross supports can be used, but catastrophic cracking and cupping can still result, once again, if the boards are not dry, or acclimated, or have internal stresses. Internal stresses are often not evident until the milling process starts.

Cupping is not necessarily inevitable as some have suggested. If the wood is acclimated and is staying flat, there is no reason to believe dramatic cupping will take place in the future. That being said, if the wood is stored in an out building and once built, brought inside, then yes, problems are likely to occur. This is why I said storing is to important, especially once the milling process begins. Storing the lumber in the house for several months may be a good idea.

The reason you see those old pieces with very wide one board plank tops is they were using old growth wood with very tight growth rings. Lumber was always air dried and therefore allowed to de-stress for years before use. The lumber we use today is often kiln dried with stresses incorporated (or actually worsened) and as a result we have a lot more issues with wider planks.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View stevejH's profile


2 posts in 1284 days

#14 posted 02-24-2017 07:20 PM

Thanks to all who posted advice, it was all very informative. The wood will be dressed to 4/4. the boards I have are about 45 to 50 years old and have been flat stacked most of that time. We will see how it goes.

-- Humble and kind or forceful and agresive- your choice. stevejH

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