A well-designed piece of furniture has proper function, form, and beauty. Each of these three points can be a book in itself but I want to focus on the topic of beauty. Beauty consists of the right size, look, color, and even the correct wood choice. And when choosing the wood choice to make up the project, the proper use of wood grain direction and pattern can make or break the piece.
The most common place where mismatched wood grain happens is when gluing up boards. More often than not, our project will require a wide board. If a wide board isn’t available, gluing up a couple of boards is the answer. A glue-up can meet the dimension, but it might compromise the overall look.
I notice this a lot, especially on factory-made cabinet doors. Because the factory is set up for producing volume, they don’t take the time to make it look aesthetically pleasing. It simply meets the requirements and moves on down the line. The result is grain mismatched, and improper matching of color tone. In my opinion, this looks terrible. However, this can serve as a great lesson for us to improve our woodworking.
When proper grain matching is done most people won’t even notice. Here is an example of a table I made for a Woodcraft video series last year. When people look at this the first thing they notice is the lights. What they don’t notice is more important. The drawer front and the front rails are all cut front he same board. This way the wood grain flows naturally. However, if a different piece of wood was there it would stick out like a sore thumb.
So how can we help to prevent improper wood grain in our piece? Well, it takes a little more time in preparing before we build. Having a measured drawing and cut list when going to the sawmill definitely helps. Most people, when buying material, know the total amount they will need for the overall project. Buying wood in this manner will result in the individual back in his shop, randomly guessing to glue his pieces together to meet the measurement requirements. However, having the cut list allows the person to purchase wood for the individual pieces to the project. Many times at the sawmill I will already be labeling the boards for my intended uses, such as top, legs, side, etc.
Besides paying attention to the straightness of the boards, pay attention to the color and grain direction. Try to get all your material from the same tree. This helps with maintaining a consistent color tone. It’s worth mentioning that wood from the same tree can also have a wide change in color when going form the heartwood(more dense middle) to sapwood (outer area of tree).
And one last tip I would suggest is buying extra material. This is a good idea in case a mistake is made or a change in design is made. Plus if you don’t use it, you can have some in stock for another project.
If you are interested in learning how to design your own unique pieces of furniture, check out this 15-page ebook. 6 Rules for Better Furniture Design.
Chad Stanton-Owner Stanton Fine Furniture