Chris Schwarz's Blog

To Get Perfect Seams, Remember: Don’t Stop

Perfect Seams

One of the best pieces of woodworking advice is, “Go slow, it’s faster.” But that doesn’t apply to gluing up narrow boards into panels.

When I have to glue up panels, I start in the morning by jointing and planing the stock to its finished thickness (assuming I’m using machinery), and then I immediately joint the boards’ edges and glue up the panels that same day.

By compressing all that activity into a short period of time, there’s little time for the wood to distort. A board that moves even a few thousandths of an inch can be difficult to tame with clamps. And mismatched seams in your panels can add hours of work and frustration to the construction process.

Perfect Seams

I have enough clamps in my shop to deal with about five average panels at a time. So by the time I glue up five panels, I’m ready to remove the clamps from the first panel. That’s why I always scrawl the time I clamped up the panel on its edge.

Not everyone can devote six hours to this process. If you can work in short bursts only, consider tackling a project a few panels at a time – say, the sides and bottom in one session. The shelves in a second session. The door stock in a third.

That’s how I work when I dress stock by hand. I plane up the faces and edges of the boards in a panel. Then I joint the edges and glue them up immediately. I set that panel aside and begin planing up the stock for the second panel.

Either way, I end up with panels that need almost no additional flattening and seams that are perfectly aligned.

— Christopher Schwarz

8 thoughts on “To Get Perfect Seams, Remember: Don’t Stop

  1. jeberle

    I spent four hours yesterday gluing up panels and hand planing and got up at 4:30 this morning to finish the planing. I was sweating like a fool this morning but damn I enjoyed it. I filled up a 40 gallon garbage can with shavings but those panels are flat!

  2. chodgkin

    It appears from the photo that you put your clamps on only one side of the board. However, I have always read that in gluing up panels, the best practice is to alternate the clamps on the front and back sides. Is this advice wrong or unnecessary, or are you not following best practice?

    1. rwyoung

      1) Get the joint so it closes neatly with just a little pressure. Now you don’t need to wail on it with pipe clamps which can make thing buckle.

      2) Cabinet clamps tend to clamp more squarely than pipe clamps (observational only, it may be that I’ve never had good pipe clamps).

      3) See #1.

  3. dknott

    Chris,
    Thanks for the timely advice: I’m about to begin a project in which I’ll use your process.
    Meahwhile, in photo #1, I noticed all the clamps are on the same side of the workpieces. Did the old rule of alternating clamps become outdated with the advent of parallel-jaw clamps? Thanks for your time.
    Don Knott

  4. tsstahl

    I learned to do the same mill and glue process from (bad) experience. Though, I still have a dickens of a time getting the boards in perfect alignment. I’ve read tons about it; I’m sure it will click some day.

    1. gilgaron

      If you use hand planes you can cheat and glue them up rough since you don’t care how wide the final panel is as with a power planer. Cauls keep them ‘good enough’ and then you don’t as much thickness as if you finished them and then had to reflatten an imperfect glue up.

      1. gumpbelly

        I can see your logic about not caring how wide the panel is as compared to a thickness planer, wonderful tools BTW. What I’m having trouble chewing is without either side flattened your gluing up a pig in a poke. I’m going to stick with a statement Chris made above as being Gospel. “And mismatched seams in your panels can add hours of work and frustration to the construction process.” I’m probably not old enough to have seen it all, but I would love to see 2 sided rough stock that is consistent enough that you can just glue them up, and not be all over the country with them. Did I mention planers are wonderful tools 🙂

        1. REFFI

          I have the luxury of using the school’s w – i – d – e belt sander on panels that may be slightly mis-aligned. When not in school, the only recourse is a hand plane or belt sander.

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