Big Panels? Don’t Tarry
Gluing up narrow boards into big panels stresses out many beginning woodworkers. Sorry to say it, but I have another stressor to put on your shoulders: Don’t tarry. Schnell. Andele.
Large panels are like manicured lawns. Right after you mow and trim your yard, it looks like a golf course or a military haircut. But within minutes or hours, the blades of grass and weeds begin to move and grow, and your lawn looks like the members of Quiet Riot on a bad hair day.
If you want to save a lot of time when gluing and processing panels, you need to commit to jointing, planing, edging, gluing and clamping them all within a short period of time. And, if you aren’t out of breath by the end of that process, smooth planing them on that same day is a capital idea.
Why? Every board is a bundle of fibers that are in tension – sometimes slight; sometimes not. And these fibers have a certain amount of moisture in them.
So when you process a stick of wood, you remove fibers that can release tension. You can expose areas that are wetter than the core. A crappy piece of lumber (that is case hardened, compression wood or reaction wood) will move in seconds and assume a terrible new shape. Good lumber will take its time and will make small adjustments – a tiny cup, a tiny bow, maybe a little twist.
But little changes will make it more difficult to glue, clamp and plane the wood. A .003” cup or twist can ruin your whole day – doubling or tripling the time it takes to get a smooth surface.
So my strategy when making panels is to do everything in one fell swoop. I start with rough lumber that is fully acclimatized. I crosscut it, joint it, plane it, edge it and glue it all without stopping. If I have daylight left, I’ll smooth plane it after the glue cures.
I know that this is contrary to a strategy where you plane all the wood to a certain size, let it acclimate again and then plane it again to final shape. This works, but it is much slower and it still requires you to work quickly at the final stages if you want to make smooth-planing easier.
I started the panels shown in the photo above at 10 a.m. (plus one more panel ) and kept at it until 4:30 p.m. with everything in the clamps and flat. Now I have to decide if I have the energy to smooth plane them today or wait until tomorrow.
— Christopher Schwarz