A breadboard end like this adds a certain classic look but has practical value too. I made this as a small computer table a few years back and because the tabletop is hinged for storage beneath, the breadboard ends serve to keep everything true and flat.

I am often asked about breadboard ends on furniture. I think mostly because they do trim out flat tops and tables nicely and they also help to constrain tabletops to prevent movement such as cupping. The main issue mostly is that the width of wood expands and contracts across its width but so minimally in its length it is barely discernible. Therein lies the conflict we must somehow resolve. Adding a very visible feature such as a breadboard end necessitates that we woodworker face the nightmare of opposites cause by counter grain direction. It’s the expansion and then the contraction of the wood you see; where one part must expand and the other cannot. If you install what we call a breadboard end to a tabletop and glue the joint you just might be lucky enough that the tabletop remains pretty static and not expand. But it is chancy and it is unlikely that you will get away with it too. In your own home you have a degree of humidity control and can place the piece to where exchanges of moisture in the atmosphere are kept to a minimum, if you are selling your work though, that is less than likely. Few things cause a more daunting thought than a phone call saying my tabletop’s split! What to do?

Oak makes for a fine breadboard end piece.

My tabletop here and at top is not the size of a desk or dining table. It measures 15″ in width whereas a dining table will be perhaps as wide as 42″ and a desk nearer but not restricted to 24″, plus or  minus. At the upper extreme a tabletop can expand or contract by 10mm though more likely, if dried well and made with the wood constrained by hidden tenons within the breadboard ends, as in my case here, it will not decrease because it is rare that work and home atmospheric moisture content drops to levels that affect the wood. Constraining wood between fixed points means that the wood is prevented from absorbing levels of moisture it might be able to if free too. Think compressed sponge wicking up moisture freely from a saucer and then compressing and constraining the sponge in the same saucer filled with water but held between immoveable cauls like say the jaws of a vise. The sponge absorbs still, but not the same quantity because it can’t expand.

In this design brief the tabletop was to elevate for stowing a laptop, keyboard and other such paraphernalia.

Breadboard ends serve two purposes. One, the groove in the breadboard end, if indeed it’s the breadboard end that’s grooved and not the tabletop, which indeed it could be, keeps the main tabletop flat and it does this, one, by the strength of the walls of the groove and two, the application of the breadboard end slows down the intake of moisture into the tabletop through the end-grain itself which if left uncovered absorbs moisture very readily. Of course it also releases moisture readily too. That is why placing tabletop end grain adjacent to any source of heat is generally a no-no although people do it all the time. Radiators and stoves, sun through a window, things like that, can cause furniture to crack and mostly this is because the central section of the tabletop retains its moisture content levels. It’s this discrepancy in levels that results in splits but even so, there are special methods that help out if we want to use breadboard ends.

Choosing breadboard ends is a good choice in my book, although I have used them mostly on more special pieces. They go back a long way and of course its name implies where it was used most. Some years ago we made a favourite piece of mine when we replicated a breadboard made from sycamore belonging in the kitchens of Penrhyn castle where we used to have our workshops. My very favourite piece using a breadboard end on a wider piece was when we replication an early table that just taught and taught me so many things about woodworking.

The centre peg hole is a true draw-bore pin technique dead centre on the centre through tenon. The outer two draw bore holes are elongated to allow the main top section the ability toe expand and contract. Anchoring the centre section by the fixed means of glue and pin means expansion is evenly distributed to both sides.

Here you can see the elongated hole which can be as wide as you want as it is never seen and makes no difference how oversized the elongation is.

Make the pegs longer as it takes little extra work to make them and cut them off.

For the table I was making I glued and pegged the centre section and that was to keep the tabletop and breadboard ends centred, so that expansion and contraction took place evenly either side of the fixed centre point. To the outer extremes I created elongated holes. The piece was made in 2012 and since then the wood seems to have settled. There is barely any discernible difference at the extremes of the breadboard ends and the tabletop is always dead flat and the joint lines are always tight. In this case I made the centre tenon a through tenon but then, within the breadboard end, I added two more tenons either side. See how I glued the mid section

Making the pegs in a drilled hole or washer is about as good as a dedicated peg maker.

Oh, the prototype desk I am making just now will knock your socks off. I am just loving the design and it is going ‘nearly according to plan!


  1. B Power on 14 March 2017 at 8:24 pm

    This is very nice but you are not making my “hunny-do” list any shorter. 🙂

    • Joe on 14 March 2017 at 10:01 pm

      Mine keeps growing as well. The upside is that at least it becomes a bit easier to “justify” a hand tool purchase when there is tangible results for my spouse.

      Paul, please don’t share how few tools we really “need.”

  2. Joe on 14 March 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks Paul.

    Out of curiosity, how do you manage all of your photos (digital ones)? What sort of systems do you have in place to ensure back up?

    Given the nature of your work, photos are important and I can see where being able to find things in your archives could be important as well.


  3. FarRed on 15 March 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Living in Arizona, I avoid bread board type arrangements completely. I brought a small oak coal bin from East Anglia. In the last 15 years the 10-inch lid shrunk over a 1/4 inch. The back shrunk so badly it split in several places. Fortunately, after watching Paul’s video on disassembling the occasional table, I was able to take it part and repair it, replacing the back with a frame and panel. I left the lid shrinkage as is–it makes for a good conversation piece and reminder of shrinkage.

  4. Graham Glover on 16 March 2017 at 10:49 am

    Hi Paul
    A quick question, Where do you get your Dixon pencils from?
    I think that’s what you use. There seems to be some cheap copies out there.
    Thanks for all your vids and blogs.

    Graham in Cheshire uk

    • Paul Sellers on 16 March 2017 at 11:21 am

      They are called Ticonderoga by Dixon, number 2 (HB). Just round the corner from you but via ebay. Here’s the link They are based in Merseyside and give free 1st class shipping.

  5. Randy on 21 March 2017 at 2:03 am

    What about the outer mortises? Do you make them wider than the tennons to allow for expansion, as you did with the elongated holes?

    • Paul Sellers on 21 March 2017 at 2:20 pm

      That’s not right really as the wood will be constrained from expanding by the tenons in the mortises. The problem is not expansion but shrinkage. If the wood is constrained from expansion by something stronger there will be no problem of splitting but if prevented from shrinking between fixed points the wood will split. We do however extend the mortise hole on the inner edge so that the tenon can move down with the shrinkage of the board.

  6. Anthony on 21 March 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Why is the mortise in the middle a through mortise?

    • Paul Sellers on 21 March 2017 at 8:02 pm

      I suppose why not? On the original it was a through mortise so just preserving the tradition really.

      • Anthony on 22 March 2017 at 1:51 pm

        I didn’t know if it was used to help prevent splitting. Looks neat.

  7. Tassos Aristidou on 31 July 2017 at 11:42 am

    Beautiful! Lovely Work!
    Thank you Paul for sharing this with us!
    Tassos from Cyprus

  8. Tassos from Cyprus on 5 August 2017 at 12:02 am

    Paul can i ask,
    Apart from stowing the laptop, does this design serve as a compartment underneath the table top or is it just open.? Also how did you attach the table top ? is it with hinges similar to the ones we made the dovetail box? (from your book?) If so did you use two hinges or one long one to attach the table top?

    I love the design of this desk ! i am currently making a desk putting together many of your wonderful techniques you taught us and i just love this design but i am thinking of also making a compartment underneath and would love to see if this has one and how you put the bottom of the compartment (if so, would you place it as you place the undeside of a drawer? or is there something to look out for?).

    Im definately making breadboard ends now that i see their technical importance as well as thier lovely aesthetic look.

    Anyway thanks so much Paul for this post!

    • Paul Sellers on 5 August 2017 at 10:52 am

      The tabletop lifts up and has a stay that fits in to offer the laptop at an angle slightly. You can also lift the tabletop up all the way and leave it up for fuller access. It has panelled bottom that grooves into the aprons at the bottom but within the arching and I can stow my laptop, mouse and remote keyboard as needed. Of course it’s a pain when you have others in the family putting flower vases and lamps on it! I have two hinges and the underside of the top, hinged into the apron rail. I hate piano hinges altogether. They are dead ugly no matter how well made they are.

  9. Tassos Aristidou on 5 August 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you so much for your answer Paul.
    I will be making two small desks for my two children (….one desk became two after i announced it!!). No flower pots or lamps on these ones. Just books, pads and pencils!
    The bottom that grooves into the aprons is definately happening now!!. Thanks Paul.
    Also I will be trying to find “a stay that fits in” as you mention in your lovely desk Paul. Did you order yours online or did you find it locally?
    Anyway thanks so much for all your help Paul. When completed i will be definately be sending you some photos to see it. This will be a good challenge for me.
    Until then,
    Thank you so much
    Kindest Regards
    Tassos Aristidou from Cyprus

  10. Walter Barnes on 1 May 2018 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I’m working on a workbench that I can place on my kitchen table and it will be 36″ x 18″ and 2″ thick. Is this thick enough to prevent warping/cupping or should I add breadboard ends? I have seen photos online of thick tabletops and workbenches with breadboard ends but don’t know if this is merely for aesthetics or is needed to keep them flat.

    Also, the top will overhang the legs by 5 1/4″ and the legs themselves will be 3″ wide and 1 1/2″ thick. The legs will be set into the underside of the top using a sliding dovetail joint with the width of the legs running perpendicular to the tabletop. With this arrangement perhaps the workbench top will stay flat?

    Thanks for the great post and also the series of videos on the breadboard ends cutting board.

    Walter from California.

    • Paul Sellers on 2 May 2018 at 8:16 am

      I’m not sure I would worry. Laminated tops usually oblige with retained flatness. The rest you suggest is again not worth worrying about as all things are fixable and the likelihood is that nothing will happen.

      • Walter Barnes on 3 May 2018 at 7:35 pm

        Actually, I was planning on gluing a few 4 to 6 inch wide boards together edge-to-edge as this kind of lumber for furniture is easier to find in my area. However if a laminate like your workbench videos would be better then I’ll consider that instead. If necessary, I’ll make my own 2″ wide strips from 4/4 or 6/4 lumber.

        Thanks for your reply,


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