Internet woodworking forums are great places. You can observe or enter into a debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and you can follow that on a tangent about what’s the best type of pin for the angels to dance on, and someone will likely come along to sell you exactly the right pin. Every now and then, useful information gets passed along. One technique appears with regular frequency, so often in fact that I’ve been convinced that it’s a right of passage that almost every woodworker goes through when they decide to design something on their own. Something about the arrangement in the image is appealing, it looks cool, and while it takes some skill, it isn’t that demanding. So a lot of people try it, even though the execution of this usually leads to a hard lesson in wood movement. This could be a door, or a table top; a solid wood panel surrounded by a contrasting wood mitered at the corners. If you’re thinking about it, think again.
There was an interesting example of this recently on Lumberjocks, and an interesting bunch of responses. This could actually work, if the wood were perfectly acclimated to its environment, and the humidity of that environment stayed absolutely constant. In the real world, however, that pretty panel is going to shrink or swell, most likely it will do both. When it does, something will bend or break. This is the nature of the material, and like most natural forces, its pretty powerful.Think of this as rookie mistake number one-The Panel of Doom.
Woodworking isn’t just about buying the right tools or learning the right techniques, you also need the ability to understand how the material works, and to realize that it often has a mind of its own. Someone once told me that each piece of wood is like a child, there’s a tremendous potential in each one, but they are all individuals. We can work to shape them and hope they turn out well, but there are some things we just can’t control.
If you have a story of wood movement gone horribly wrong, feel free to share it as a comment below.
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