Breadboard ends are attractive, and functional. They cover the end grain of a panel and, because they’re applied long grain to cross grain, they help the panel remain flat. However, the long grain to cross grain connection can create a problem, if the ends aren’t properly applied.
Even after a tree has been cut down, converted to lumber, and the material dried, wood continues to be a living thing. As temperature and humidity change throughout the year, solid wood panels will expand and contract. The wider the panel, the more movement it’s likely to experience. There’s no stopping this. The panel must be allowed to go through its seasonal changes, or it can crack.
Breadboard end techniques
Breadboard ends are typically joined to the panel by a tongue and groove joint. When it comes to cracking the joint isn’t the problem. Cracking happens if the ends aren’t properly glued to the panel. It’s all about judicious use of the glue, and knowing how to glue wood together.
Where they’re used
The traditional use of breadboard ends is on cutting boards. But many woodworking projects can take advantage of what the ends offer, including table tops and box lids.
Hi. I have a coffee table that has these ends with what appears tongue/groove joins. Problem is the ends are separating and I need to pull it apart to redo them. How can I remove the ends without damage? Thanks
Thank you for contacting us.
If the joinery is glued, it’s unlikely that you can pull it apart without damaging something. You can try applying some steam, but modern glue is not great at being “undone”.
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If you were to use dowel ‘pins’ instead of glue, would you be better off pinning in the middle like the glue shown, in about a 1/3 area, or could you pin the ends using oblong holes in the table top to account for the movement?
Hi Ernie. You can pin the middle in fixed fashion, and at the outer edges with elongated holes.
Does this apply to plywood as well? As if you were to apply a solid wood onto the end grain side of the ply for a shelf?
No, the approach would not apply here. There is no concern over movement if you are attaching solid wood to plywood, as long as you are orienting the solid wood so that the long grain edge is attaching to the plywood. This is because there is not much movement in hardwood along its long grain, and there is virtually no movement in plywood, so this is considered a stable joint.
If you are doing breadboard ends on a project that will only be viewed from one side, say perhaps a sofa table or hall table that you never see the back side of the top with any regularity, could you glue instead the front 1/3 or so so that you dont get the misalignment of the front breadboard and field on a regular basis? Or would that lead to cracking, and/or misalignment still?
Yes, that should be fine. Keep in mind that the back will experience all of the movement, so you should elongate the hole for your dowel appropriately with that in mind.
If you apply finish to both sides of the panel will it still expand & contract & possibly crack.
If you follow the procedure that George has provided in this video, you will minimize the potential for the panel to crack due to expansion and contraction. If you apply glue across the entire span of the breadboard edge, you will increase the likelihood that the panel will contract, and the likelihood will increase exponentially in relation to the width of the panel.
Applying finish on both sides may help to marginally slow the expansion and contraction of the panel, but it will not provide any significant help in minimizing the potential for cracking. If you are creating a breadboard edge on any panel that is wider than 10″, I would follow the procedure that George has provided out in this video and finish the panel on both top and bottom to further stabilize and protect the panel.