Framings and Panels

Framing, panelling and book-matching embraces the reality that we must have wide expanses of wood and that that expanse must be either free to move ‘float’, or be semi constrained within some kind of frame. Through the centuries we have learned what that takes. We’ve refined the methodology through our understanding or at least acceptance of a couple of key facts; in some cases a wood and panels, especially panels, must be allowed to move or to ‘float‘ as we call it, or be constrained. Like the weather, we have learned to work with it and not against it.

Tabletops are a good example of ‘floating’ panels. Most often we anchor them to an under frame on legs, posts or stanchions depending on the design. Turnbuttons are the most commonly used and these little blocks attached to the underside of a tabletop pull the top the the top rail while still allowing the panel to expand and contract at will. Why is that important? Wood will often give somewhere if it’s prevented from shrinking.and the give results in a crack or series of cracks and especially does this happen when the wood itself is unevenly dry. Uneven dryness can occur after drying so the ends can absorb and release moisture at the ‘open’ end of tabletops through the endgrain pores and expand (result below). Conversely they can release moisture and dry more than the centre section which may be unable to release moisture at the same rate of release. this very often results in splitting or, if panels are glue up as a lamination, separation along the joint lines.

Whereas if you shrink the wood to its lowest level by additional placement within a controlled heat source and then frame it, provided the frame has the strength in wood and joint, the frame can readily constrain the panel to prevent expansion. If the panel is so reduced then it is unlikely to shrink less and even if it does it will be so minimal not to cause splitting as the wood itself does have some ‘elasticity’ or stretch within the fibres. If the panel is too high in moisture it will invariably continue to move by some degree throughout its life – breathe in, breathe out!

Panels of wide solid wood must generally be allowed to expand and contract as they take in and release moisture that comes from any water source be that steam, spillage, rain or the atmosphere surrounding it. Any heat source apart from steam causes the wood to first expand as any moisture in the wood’s internal fibres expands until the temperature then forces the water out by the pressure expansion causes. From then the wood continues to release its moisture and the internal fibres continue to shrink until the fibres reach equilibrium with the surrounding atmosphere. Consider a panel to be anything from a tabletop of any width on through framed-in panels held in a channelled frames, things like a door, hatch, cabinet panelling and wainscotting. Although today these panels are more likely to be made from man-made or engineered sheets like plywood and MDF, many of us prefer the look, sound and feel solid wood gives to us.

One of the great advantages to panels is the ability to create wider panels from narrower stock. Above you see two pieces slabbed off from 2 1/2″ stock to create a five inch panel. If you rip down thicker, four inch material like a two by four (below) then you can create a more symmetrical book matched panel 7-8″ wide that’s balanced in colour, shade, and grain configuration. This gives you great control in establishing a balance approach in a project. If you have a thick enough piece you can gain repeat facings either as solid sections or as veneers to be applied to a sub-wood. Whereas many ‘disconnected’ experts often say veneers are used to save wood and the forests, that is only true in part and in the realms of mass making where its done to hide the ugly innards of MDF and pressed fibreboard. In its origin that was not the case and neither is it in the case of many makers today. No. We mainly want to control colour and grain configuration to give balance and uniqueness to our work. That is the same as those in times past who often veneered fantastic grain onto sub-wood of the same species but a more plain variety.

Even a skid from a truckers stack of pallet supports can be split to make a book-matched panel taking it from 4″ wide to 8″. Double that and you have 16″ and so on up.

The methods we rely on mostly are unframed panels as in the tabletops, breadboard ends and then framed panels that can be single frames, as in top and bottom rail and two stiles, or multiple-opening frames as in wainscotting, display panels as in notice boards and the like with signwriting. Think panels with team names as in years of cup winners and such.

Breadboard ends rely on more complicated and therefore additional work that might well make the project prohibitively costly in time, but, also, in many projects they are unnecessary. Solid panels, unframed, as in tabletops can expand or contract by sizeable amounts ranging from up to or down by 1/2″, depending on the original point of expanse.

Adding breadboard ends is an option for constraining the mid section of wood by capping what is usually the ends of the panel to keep tabletops from undulating because of grain orientation but, well, it’s complicated, as they say. I have had great success with the offering in the drawing below however but the method does rely on dried down panels fitted within the frame. Down to 5-7% would be good I would say though I cant recall measuring with a meter so much as by weight. To get them down that low means a dehumidified atmosphere and the dry heat you get from radiators, underfloor heating and such. This is best done slowly and with moderate heat increases.


  1. Paul, the picture you showed with a crack forming in the table top, will a “bow-tie/butterfly” inlay help to prevent splitting further, or would it be too late at that stage?


    1. It’s one of those things you try in case it works and if it didn’t work you at least tried. It’s not a new thing to inlay dovetailed patches to anchor parts close. I have seen it done on victorian piece on the underside of tabletops to prevent a crack traveling through to the top face itself. In the two cases I have seen it worked fine as there was no checking on the top side. Mostly it depends on the moisture levels in the wood and a couple of other factors like where the wood is exposed to elements like radiators, windows and then general heating in very dry rooms with say air conditioning and so on.

  2. You wrote in this blog, “I have had great success with the offering in the drawing below …” Unfortunately, I don’t see the drawing, as in pencil marks on paper. Or do you mean drawing (I am speculating here) as in joints produced with drawboring and pins?

  3. I work at a mill and people often bring in table tops to have us sand. They usually all have trim boards omg the end grain, and when I talk the them about movement they usually respond saying that they used glue and nails and so there’s no way it’s going to go anywhere. What do you think will happen to these?

  4. @Paul, Should turnbuttons fully seat into the depth of the apron mortise or be given a little play? Also, in the first image in this post I see the turnbutton’s large face is not flush with the bottom of the table top. Is that to help draw the table top to the apron as the screw is tightened? This is a timeley post, I just finished my first mortise and tenon table. Thank you, Jon

    1. They should/can be a little loose unless you plan to use the turnbuttons to remove the tabletop occasionally and they can then be quite loose. Yes, the gap is to draw up tight.

  5. I’ve painted many a heavy 21/4″ finished thickness Victorian door with raised and fielded panels. So many times I was faced with cracked paint as the ‘loose’ panel went into a groove in all four sides. Some times old hard putty filler could be 1/4″ round with a large crack due to panel movement….. mainly on width of panel.
    Even though I would use “flexible” oil paint, the finish was only as good as its base. Even though I sometimes had to work to a price, pride in my work would see me burning off old lead paint ( whilst wearing a mask keeping “most” of the fumes out of my lungs )
    Talking about old doors Paul I did mention, one time, about reducing side styles to doors…..boring to some, I’ve been left with admiration for past tradesmen. I doubt many people notice them on old doors?
    Thanks john

    1. John, english is not my native language, would you care to elaborate on the panel going “into a groove in all four sides”? You mean it got stuck in the frame? Thanks in advance.

      1. Hi Rodrigo… are doing well with your written English.
        A large panel in a door or a decorative panelled wall inside a building would be made with vertical and horizontal timbers with panels set into a groove, rather like a picture frame but a picture frame supports the picture in a single rebate, like ‘L’ at the back. Whereas a wooden panel is set into a groove like U. As Paul has said these panels would be allowed to expand and contract in a groove because if constrained they would split. That’s were I came in as a painter because as the panels moved the paint would crack…….try and read ” the ragged trousered philanthropists” amazing read about painters in UK before WW1
        All pieces would have been made with wooden planes…..and wood would be pitch pine. Straight grained knot free and given off a lovely smell of pitch when used …..a joy to work with
        When working ( now retired) I would marvel at the skill tradesman would have had……enjoy your woodworking, as I do. Cheers john

  6. How did you give the wood such a glossy finish? This project turned out beautifully, thank you for sharing!

  7. I wonder whether anyone has any advice on a kitchen counter-top that is bowed upwards. Presumably moisture from above has caused the bowing, and it has cause the plastic anchor points under the top to break. Some say that adding an equal amount of moisture from below, and adding heat from an iron might help? But I wonder whether it might simply bow back to the original position when the moisture from below dries out.

    1. Dry it out by not using it and allowing no water. try it for a month, to get the moisture levels down. If it does go down then you can coat with a full protective finish, something you might not want or like. But then do both sides of the counter top. If oit does not go down then you must plane, scrape and sand flat and then coat with something.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.