George Vondriska

Allowing for Wood Expansion on Solid Wood Tops

George Vondriska
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Duration:   3  mins

Wood moves; there’s nothing you can do about it. Even after the tree is down, the wood has been dried, you’ve got it in your shop, and you apply finish, wood is gonna move. It’s a living, breathing thing. If you don’t allow for wood expansion, you’re going to have problems in the future. Problems being cracking, splitting, maybe even blowing a leg and rail assembly apart. Let’s not let that happen.

Do’s and Don’ts

To give solid wood pieces plenty of opportunity for wood expansion, here’s a list of things you should and shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t glue a solid wood top to the rails in the base.
  • Don’t screw the top in place, unless the screw holes have sufficient wiggle room to allow for wood expansion.
  • Do use tabletop fasteners. They’re easy to use, and allow wood movement by sliding along a kerf in the rail as the solid wood expands and contracts.
  • Don’t worry about plywood or other man-made slabs. They don’t have the seasonal movement that solid wood does.

Direction Matters

Wood only expands and contracts in one direction; perpendicular to the grain. Depending on the specie of wood you’re working with, it can move as much as ¼”, or even more. You don’t need to worry about expansion and contraction parallel to the grain.

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15 Responses to “Allowing for Wood Expansion on Solid Wood Tops”

  1. Walter

    So with the carcass of lets say a tv cabinet and your using dovetails how wood wood movement work?

  2. Richard Reynolds

    Question regarding wood expansion. Example a table top that is, in your example 24x24x1, the expansion is perpendicular to the grain. Is there expansion in the vertical direction? It does not matter for a table top but other construction scenarios it could affect the thickness if it expands vertically and is in a critical location.

  3. christopher

    great video about using top clip and also about grain direction

  4. SCOTT


  5. Denis Lock

    Milled lumber is not a living, breathing thing. In fact even long before a tree is felled a high percentage (the heartwood) is dead. Cellulose is hygroscopic - that is why it shrinks and expands. Movement with temperature change is negligible - don't even mention it. Please stop propagating these old wood-wives tales.

  6. David Iklé

    We have a beautiful dining table with a solid distressed top and a heavy metal base. The top seems to be made of 4 glued boards with 4 metal strips screwed across and underneath to each board and 3 threaded rods run through holes drilled in the boards and bolted on the exposed and recessed ends. So, this thing is seriously held together mechanically across the grain and has showed no signs of expansion or contraction in the 2 years we have had it. I am building another one for our sun room out of 2x8 solid oak floor joists that have been planed to about 1 3/4" thickness and was planning on mechanically connecting these boards kind of like our other table, but maybe without the threaded rods. So, my questions are will our current table explode some day like someone below said their's did and am I crazy to want to emulate our current table's design which seems to be holding up?

  7. Brandon K

    <strong>NB Ticket 16848 Hi, what if I created a table top out of 2x6s, secured together by pocket-hole screws + glue ("farmhouse" style coffee table). Basically I have 7 2x6s side by side, with 2 other 2x6s on each end to create a square table top. I'm noticing pretty decent gapping starting to form between the 2x6s. Is this just a nature of creating tables in this way? Any suggestions for if and when I decided to give it another shot? Thanks for the help!

  8. Chris

    I'm just getting started on a sofa coffee table and am so glad I saw this video as the plans called for pocket holes all along the perimeter. One question I have though, the plans call for a lower shelf that is not quite as deep as the lower stringers. I'm guessing I should allow for the same expansion/contraction on the lower shelf as the table top itself. Would the best way to place the kerf in the middle section of the stringers be to drill press and chisel them? I guess I could alter the plans and make the shelf the full depth but I like the look it offers being slightly smaller.

  9. Matt Thie

    How would you incorporate this into a table with a round base, especially circular? If the shape is more of an oval or if the radius of the circle is large enough, then I would assume you just don't put the clip all the way into the kerf so that it still has a little room at the tip to move within the curve? What about when you have a tight radius at the end that would be perpendicular (or a tangent line would be perpendicular) to the grain, for instance if you have a long narrow coffee table, sofa-back table, bar top, etc.--cut a deeper kerf (if possible) to give more lateral room for movement? Also, you said not to glue or screw the top to the table base, and in another comment you advise against putting in even a single screw in the middle--how is this different from breadboard ends, where you have said in other videos to glue only the center portion (center 1/3 or so) in order to allow for expansion at the edges? Wouldn't a solid top and a top made from multiple pieces glued along the edges both expand and contract similarly? Why glue one in the center and not the other?

  10. keith

    As someone who's repaired a lot of furniture, the Chinese furniture factories either need to know this or need to care. I've had customers who say, "We awoken in the middle of the night with what sounded like a gunshot. We came out and found this giant crack all down the top of our dining table. "You can't control wood movement, you can only account for it."

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