Chris Schwarz's Blog

It’s OK if the Wood Splinters a Bit

During the last decade, I’ve built a lot of six-board chests, including the examples found in this 2013 article in Popular Woodworking Magazine. For as long as I have been building these chests, I’ve been criticized for the way I fasten them with headed nails, which can result in the wood splintering a bit.

The crux of the question is this: Do you want to assemble an item so it is cosmetically perfect when it is complete, but that it might not last forever? Or do you want to use a tough fastener that will chew up the wood a bit but ensure your chest will last 500 years or more?

For me, the answer is simple. I am willing to endure some cosmetic flaws – even embrace them – when building things in order to ensure their long-term survival. In the case of six-board chests, this means using headed nails with a shank that is tapered (cut nails or Roman-style nails are ideal). The problem with these nails is that they tend to splinter the exterior of the chest a tad.

You can get around this splintering by using nails with a small head, but they won’t hold as well. (This is akin to using a bolt and nut without a washer.)

So I use headed nails. I angle them a bit to help hold the pieces together. And I’m not ashamed of any splintering.

This week, I was reminded of this fact while visiting the Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg Austria.Like many of the great castles in Europe, this one has a decent collection of old furniture, armor and artifacts from the last 1,000 years.

I spent some time examining the chests displayed in the living quarters, which are about 500 years old, according to castle officials. One of the chests is built like a classic six-board chest as shown in the article I wrote five years ago.

What’s more, all of the joints on this high-style piece show splintering at the corners from using headed nails.

If the idea of the splintering bothers you, think of it as an artifact of a visible joint, like seeing a wedge in a tenon. It’s clear evidence that the joint was assembled correctly. And it has 500 years of history to prove it.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “It’s OK if the Wood Splinters a Bit

  1. Adroitfinefurniture

    Chris Schwarz likely could care less about these comments, as he is a respected and successful craftsman with business savvy. That being said, if I were in his shoes, I’d cut all ties with this blog. These “trolls,” for lack of a better word, are ridiculous. You should all be accountable for your garbage comments. You’d never say this to someone’s face! You should be ashamed. If you don’t agree with the man, stop reading his posts. The first comment was crazy disrespectful! I’m promising to never read the comments. Good work, Mr. Schwarz, on this post, your publishing, your shop, and your loyal following of like minded people. I’m happy with most everything I’ve read of yours, and if/when I don’t like something, I’ll silently allow others to enjoy. P.s. there isn’t a lack of a better term for the “trolls.” Just a respectful silence.
    -jack

    1. wolffullmoon

      i don’t know that i would cut ties but apparently the idea of good taste and civility is fading fast. I agree with much of Chris’s sentiments but, not all. Since this is HIS blog, I would hope readers would grant him some autonomy to write and build what he damn well pleases.
      Maybe those who object should no longer read the blog and thereby, save themselves the embarrassment of having their troll-like utterences made public.
      Please stop reading. At the very lease stifle the urge to comment on everything. This is not Facebook.

  2. paint_acrylic

    7-Thumbs, I’m glad I didn’t go to your school. Do you work at IKEA now? Perhaps you should just donate your tools to someone that would use them with sensitivity and appreciation for what they are doing… nah, your tools are probably crap too. I bet you make nice forms out of 2x4s for concrete work though.

    1. MikeV

      I build things to the best of my ability, and I continue to challenge myself to improve my skills (both in design and execution). But it matters not to me if my stuff lasts 10, 20 or 500 years. I’ve already told my kids they can burn my projects when I am gone. In fact I have already burned some of my early projects. My house, and my kids’ homes, do not need to be a showcase of my triumphs, nor should they be a catalog of my mistakes.

  3. 7-Thumbs

    “…500 years or more.” This is why I’m not and never will be a good woodworker. I observe the school of good enough (for now). I don’t care what something I make will look like or how it will hold up after I’m dead and gone.

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