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Forum topic by Bill Butler posted 02-26-2008 08:05 PM 1626 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Bill Butler

74 posts in 4371 days

02-26-2008 08:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak jointer planer joining milling

I have come into a supply of what I believe are oak pews from my local church. They recently renovated by installing even older pews from a church closing down; go figure.

I promised the padre that I would make him some bookcases in exchange for the load I received.

I picked up about a dozen of the seat boards (there is a lot more to be had) (The pew being the seat, the back and the end caps). The seat profile runs just over 1 1/4” to just a hair over 3/4”. The seat board is over 9’ long. The seat board is a glue-up of 3” boards which run the full 9’+ length. There was no attention paid to the bottom of these seats during construction so that the bottom is not perfectly flat, not to mention the load of chewing gum I have to scrape off.

I am trying to figure out a good way to reclaim this wood so that I can build these bookcases.

I have thus far tried two approaches.

1. I rough cut the seat down to 12” wide and cut it in half width-wise, so that I have 2 boards about 50” x 12”. I then ran it through my surface planer; several times. I was left with some nice finished material with two problems. a. The nominal thickness is now 5/8”, and b. One of the two boards came out with a nasty cup in it, but I think this was more technique.

In using this approach my question to the membership is: Would 5/8” thick of solid wood provide sufficent thickness to build sturdy bookcases?

2. I rough cut the seat in half width-wise and ripped the leading and trailing edges of the seat along a previous glue up for about 6” of material (this is the thickest area, with the butt divot being in the middle). I ran the boards through the jointer, then the surface planer. This method produced boards that are a hair thicker than 3/4”. Of course I now have to glue up to create risers and shelves. The problem I had with with this is one of the boards has a slight bow in it. While I could rejoint the board, I don’t want to lose the thickness.

Is it ever ok to do a glue up on boards with any amount of bow? In this case there is about 1/16” over 50” Is it even worth trying to throw a few biscuits in there and do a glue up or am I just asking for it.

Thanks for your assistance,

15 replies so far

View Ryan Shervill's profile

Ryan Shervill

278 posts in 4420 days

#1 posted 02-26-2008 08:15 PM

1. Sure it is. If you’d like to strengthen the horizontal shelves, face them with strips that are 7/8” to 1” wide (but 5/8” thick). This will be plenty strong :)

2. Sure it is…..just gle the board with the bow to/in between boards with no bow, and force it straight while clamping. Provided the bow isn’t stupidly severe, this will pull it straight, and voila: Straight board!

Edit to add: I don’t know about your area, but up here old church pews sell for an obscene amount of $$. I’ve seen 8’ long oak pews go for 1000.00+ at auction (rich folks wanting to use them as entryway benches)
It might be worth you listing a couple for sale complete…you may make enough to build the shelves out of walnut and still have enough to buy a new TS :)

-- Want to see me completely transform a house? Look here:

View Bill Butler's profile

Bill Butler

74 posts in 4371 days

#2 posted 02-26-2008 08:27 PM

Thanks for the input Ry.

As to the value, I am not sure these are ones that would sell for that kind of denero. Even though the pews were original equipment in the church in ~1964, they reflected a very modernistic style. The ones they replaced these with were from a church built early this century and are very ornate. If I can I will try to get photos. I plan to try to start a blog on this project once I get the specifics worked out.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16284 posts in 4826 days

#3 posted 02-26-2008 09:59 PM

I agree with Ryan that either way can work. I would personally go with the first option. It seems like less work, and I think 5/8 would be plenty strong enough.

I also agree that you should check into the value of the pews before you start sawing them up.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4376 days

#4 posted 02-26-2008 10:26 PM

i often work on small pieces with 1/2” thickness and that is plenty strong. so i would agree that 5/8 which is 1/8 over 1/2 would be strong enough.

i also agree that you check the prices. it can’t hurt to try and you never know.

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 4455 days

#5 posted 02-26-2008 11:10 PM

Could you rig up a sled for your planer that closely matched the seat profile and then just resurface the bottom? What I was thinking is that you could use this surface as your interior/construction reference. the top or seat surface would then become the exterior of your bookshelves. I don’t know what profile your dealing with, but I do think you could have a truly unique, very heavy, sculpted and antique appearing finished product.

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 4379 days

#6 posted 02-27-2008 01:09 AM

Known for thinking outside the box…sometimes. What about selling some of the wood, using the money to purchase 3/4 material and building your “padre” his bookcases. It would be less wear and tear on your planer and your design would not be limited to the thinner wood.


-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

View Kevin's profile


291 posts in 4566 days

#7 posted 02-27-2008 04:23 AM

I don’t know what the pews are worth selling and that should be taken into consideration I agree.

However, if they’re not worth selling, I have to say that I think Harold’s ides is pure genius. That would be awesome looking for the sides of the bookcase and you could also follow the same idea for the shelves, just put the flat portion on top.

I agree that 5/8” is sufficient, but the idea of using the curves in your design could really be unique and I bet the padre would appreciate the resemblance of pews in his bookcase. I know I would.

-- Kevin, Wichita, Kansas

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4693 days

#8 posted 02-27-2008 05:58 AM

My Grandfather once got a church full of pews. Now realize that he worked mainly with handtools, he would cut the boards to length then hand plane them flat. A lot of work but when you get wood that was that old and that clean, it was worth it in the end. I think he made several dozen gun cases, morris style chairs and sofas with it. I wish I had a few of those pieces today.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View Bill Butler's profile

Bill Butler

74 posts in 4371 days

#9 posted 02-27-2008 06:24 PM

Thanks for all the great input.

I did look online at eBay to see what sort of market there were for this item. I didn’t really have high expectations myself, so I wasn’t disappointed to see a clear line drawn between those types of pews that were very ornate versus those that there little more than benches. The former were $300 and up, the latter were barely $90. My personal opinion after seeing this is that since these pews are really just simple benches that the value as reclaim is higher than the hassle of getting $90 for them. Between the seat and the back I have a little more than a standard 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood worth of solid oak; oak ply at my local HD is selling for $48+.

Harold, I really like the idea of incorporating the original profile of the seat in some element of the design. I think I will make up two prototypes, one with a more traditional feel and one that keeps the seat profile intact for the risers. The sled should be an easy option, the only challenge (read: extra hard work) is that the working side of the seat is heavily varnished and I would think I might like to strip that off so I could uniformly finish the piece.

As I said earlier, I will start a blog on this project real soon.

Thanks again.
LJs certainly rock.


View Josh Pendergrass's profile

Josh Pendergrass

123 posts in 4706 days

#10 posted 02-28-2008 10:29 PM

One thing I would suggest not overlooking is that if you rip 2” or 3” strips from the front edge you will probably come up with some good 1” thick or better strips that can be used for the facings.

-- rtwpsom2

View davidtheboxmaker's profile


373 posts in 4413 days

#11 posted 02-28-2008 10:45 PM

Sounds like you’ve got some really nice timber to work with.
I would say that 5/8” is thick enough for what you want.
If you could use the pew end-caps without changimg their profile it would be a neat way of reminding the padre where the timber came from.

View Bill Butler's profile

Bill Butler

74 posts in 4371 days

#12 posted 02-29-2008 05:58 AM

Rob, I am already all over that. The thickest is the first 3” in the front and in my initial stab at full runs through the planer, I chopped them off to retain for just such a purpose.

View gizmodyne's profile


1784 posts in 4698 days

#13 posted 03-01-2008 06:13 PM

Have you thought about laminating them back together for thicker stock?

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Bill Butler's profile

Bill Butler

74 posts in 4371 days

#14 posted 03-01-2008 06:29 PM


I was actually thinking about that, but since the boards themselves are glue-ups, I wasn’t sure that laminating them would be wise ideal. I am still relatively new to the issues concerning wood movement and such.

I would think that the movement in the long grain would be fine, I don’ know what would happen if the seam of the top board of a lamination was in the middle of a board on the bottom and there was width-wise movement. I would think this would cause the bottom board to check.

Any other comments on this idea, as I said, I am still trying to get the notiion of thinking about wood movement into my designs.


View Al Killian's profile

Al Killian

273 posts in 4361 days

#15 posted 03-02-2008 09:39 PM

5/8 would be fine for that. I have/working on a bed made from 5/8” thick stock. You can also sell them. I sold a pair 10’ long last summer for close to $300 each. Still have four more waiting to find a home for them.

-- Owner of custom millwork shop

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