Need wide boards? How to make panels by edge gluing boards. | Woodworking STEP IT UP

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In a recent Woodworking Basics video, I discussed using solid lumber versus plywood in your projects. There are all kind of reasons you might choose one or the other and each project is different.

One reason you might want to use solid wood is if you plan on creating an edge profile, say a roundover or some other decorative shape. If you cut these in plywood, its layers will be exposed and you won’t get the same classic finished look.

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It’s easy enough to use solid wood for small projects, but what if you want to make a solid wood table top? You can’t buy a single board that would be wide enough. Most trees just aren’t that big!

Need a wide board? Most trees don't grow big enough!
Need a wide board? Most trees don’t grow big enough.

The solution is to make your own wide boards.

Making panels

Making wide panels is simple: you just glue boards together along their edges. It requires a tablesaw and a jointer, but if you don’t have a jointer, you can make a simple edge jointer to use with your table saw. More on this in a minute. You’ll need clamps, glue and a little patience.

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Start by finding the straightest board you can from the lumberyard or home center. It doesn’t need to be particularly wide, I usually use 1x4s or 1x6s. Wider boards are often warped and would require additional preparation beyond the scope of this article to flatten them out.

Figure out what the finished length of your tabletop or panel needs to be and crosscut the boards a little longer. Cut enough boards so that when they are glued together, they will be wider than you need your finished panel to be. Basically, just be sure you make your panel oversized so you can cut it down to it’s actual size later.

Crosscutting boards.
Crosscutting boards.

Even with pretty straight boards, it might look like you can just glue them together now, but resist the temptation. Most likely, the edges aren’t mating together perfectly. If you can get a sheet of paper between them, the glue won’t bond them together well and the seam will probably show.

The joint paper test
The joint paper test

Jointing boards

The board edges need to be jointed. Don’t get confused by the term. Jointing a board just means cutting its edges straight and square to the face of the board and making both edges parallel to eachother.

Board side terminology
Board side terminology

That’s different than a woodworking joint, say a dovetail joint or a box joint. A jointer doesn’t make joints, but jointed edges will meet up perfectly and create a strong connection.

You can use a specialized tool called a jointer, but if you are like me and don’t have one, you can also edge joint on a router table, or make your own edge jointing jig to use on the tablesaw.

 

 

Woodworking jointer
Woodworking jointer

 

 

Split fence on my router table for edge jointing.

Using my table saw edge jointing jig

The workpiece gets clamped down and the edge of the sled rides along my rip fence, making the cut edge parallel with my rip fence no matter how crooked the board is.

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I like to mark the edge of the board I just jointed so I won’t forget which edge it was.

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The key thing to understand about any jointing operation is that you only joint one edge, not both with your jointer. You’ll never joint one edge, then flip the board over and joint the opposite edge. They won’t be parallel.

Instead, after using your jointer or jointing jig on one edge, you’ll run that edge along your rip fence to make a parallel cut on the opposite edge.

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It’s very satisfying to see how perfectly boards fit together once they are jointed!

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Jointed boards: no seams show!

Clamps

There are all kinds of clamps that will work for gluing up panels, but I use pipe clamps. Pipe clamps are very inexpensive and available at any home center. These orange jaws are sold separately and then you buy black pipes at whatever lengths you want. Many hardware retailers will cut them to length and add the threads.

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Pipe clamp fixture

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Biscuit Joiners: Are they worth it?

Woodworking Biscuits
Woodworking Biscuits:

I want to talk about biscuits for a moment, no not the flaky tasty kind, but wooden ones. There seems to be a bit of controversy about how effective they are.

About 20 years ago, biscuit joiners (that’s Joiner without a “t”) were very popular for gluing up panels. The joiner cuts slots along the edge of a board that the biscuits fit into. The idea here is that glue will cause the biscuits to swell inside the board, strengthening the joint.

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However, most testing now seems to indicate that they actually add no strength to the joint. They can be useful for helping you to align long boards, but that hardly justifies the cost of a biscuit joiner. I no longer use one for gluing up panels. Remember, the glue is stronger than the wood.

Gluing and clamping panels

I apply wood glue to the edges of the boards, spreading it evenly along the surface with my finger.

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It doesn’t take a lot of clamping pressure to hold the boards together. If you tighten the clamps too much, the boards are likely to pop out of alignment.

Easy does it. Don't over tighten!
Easy does it. Don’t over tighten!

I like to use cauls on the ends of my panel glue-ups to ensure they are flat. These are just a couple of boards with packing tape on them so that glue doesn’t stick to them. Clamp these on the ends of the boards.

Woodworking cauls
Woodworking cauls

I also add clamps on the top side of the panel to help prevent the boards from cupping upward.

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I like to let panels dry overnight, but a couple hours is usually fine. Sand it smooth to remove any glue and cut your panel down to whatever size you need.

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I used this one for the bottom of last week’s picnic tray.

Picnic tray

14 COMMENTS

  1. Great video Steve! I love your series covering these basics. For a beginner like me, reading instructions “Glue up a panel to size” can be kind of mystifying, and this makes it all clear.

    One question: How did you made that cool edge-jointing table saw jig? I think I could build one based off of the picture, but there might be some finer details that I could easily miss. Maybe next week’s video?

  2. Hey Adam,

    I made that jig based on Steve’s video. I made mine using four clamps over a four foot length. I also left about six inches of exposed 1/4 inch plywood. That way I can joint wider and longer boards. This jig is great! Fast and easy to use. The other advantage is that you are already at the table saw to cut the parallel edge. I can’t recommend this jig strongly enough. I HAVE a jointer and I still find myself using this jig. Greatful to Steve for making this video.

  3. Hello Steve,

    I want to comment to your opinion of the curve of the end grain (±4:00 min).

    The best way is one curve up en then curve down en the next one up again etc etc..
    Boards will stil bow natural during time, so if you have all boards the curve up or all down, your whole panel will bow in one direction and if you do it up and down you get a slight wavey panel but still be straight.

    I’ll hope you understand what i mean.

  4. How do you prevent ugly black marks on the wood where it touches the black pipe? I saw that the top clamps were raised a little over the wood surface but the wood was directly on the lower clamps.

  5. Hello Steve I’ve recreated a bathroom cabinet you several months ago…. I loved it….I wanna know if you mind if I post it on my Facebook page

  6. I found the cheapest way to make wider boards is with ripped 2x4s. I built a 33″ x 18″ pendulum cradle for my daughter using only 5 inexpensive 2x4s (maybe 6) so that the total cost of lumber ended up being around $18. I looked up the cost of the average cradle online and they’re up in the hundreds, like 5-600 BUCKS! EGADS!
    Make darn sure to have a good sharp blade, preferably one with 60 teeth because you want the cleanest cuts possible. It takes a bit longer to rip a 2×4 with a 60 tooth blade, but it definitely works and having the right bar or sash clamps is really helpful. It’s really tough to beat those inexpensive Harbor Freight clamps for the job and once glued, clamped and dry it’s fairly easy to plane smooth. I just got myself a thickness planer so the tedious job of hand planing is a thing of the past for myself, but I take great comfort in knowing that if all else fails I still have my handy dandy Stanley #4. Someday I might actually sharpen the iron again..

  7. Hi, thank you for your great content. Can i translate it to my native language and publish in my web page with giving your address. Thank you.

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