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.
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!
The solution is to make your own wide boards.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I like to mark the edge of the board I just jointed so I won’t forget which edge it was.
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.
It’s very satisfying to see how perfectly boards fit together once they are jointed!
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.
Biscuit Joiners: Are they worth it?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I also add clamps on the top side of the panel to help prevent the boards from cupping upward.
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.
I used this one for the bottom of last week’s picnic tray.