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To alternate, or not to alternate? (annular rings, that is)

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Neil

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I've always thought that when gluing up boards to make something such as a table top, the standard practise is to alternate the annular rings across the table top. I was having a 'look inside the book' on Amazon.com at 'Making Contemporary Wooden Tables' by Thomas Stender, and in the introduction his advice is to align the annular rings, justifying this by saying that it is possible to apply sufficient leverage with screws through rails to keep the top flat. He says that the wavy surface which can result from alternating the rings is much harder to control with screw pressure.
At the end he writes the following:

'So the general rule is this: Under usual circumstances, with a well-supported table top, align the annular rings of all the planks in the same way. When a top will be difficult to control because of its thickness or inadequate support, alternate the rings and use relatively narrow boards'

Does anyone have any thoughts/opinions on this?

If anyone wants to see the full text, it is here

NeilCFD :?
 

Chris Knight

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Neil,

It is an argument/discussion nearly as old as the hills I think. I guess those in favour of alternating outnumber those that don't by about two to one.

FWIW, I have given up worrying about it and go for the look I want in terms of figure and grain. and in practice have had no problems. I do however take care to use wood that is well acclimatised to its intended resting place.

This month's Popular Woodworking has an interesting article by Bob Flexner that argues that in the long run it makes no difference if you finish both sides of a table top or not. The argument is too long to repeat here but it makes sense to me and in part it suggests that table tops (and deck timbers) will eventually cup (concave side uppermost), whatever the grain/heartwood orientation.

For my money, it is important that the grain/figure look right and for many boards, this cannot be achieved if they are alternated.
 

Alf

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waterhead37":2klmg3ey said:
FWIW, I have given up worrying about it and go for the look I want in terms of figure and grain. and in practice have had no problems. I do however take care to use wood that is well acclimatised to its intended resting place.
Not for the first time; wot he said. :D

'Course trying to get all the grain, or the majority of it anyway, going in the same direction also tends to be a factor for the plane user.

Cheers, Alf
 

Aragorn

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I agree with Chris and Alf - and this reflects what I do, to an extent.
Most of the table tops I make are not well supported, as table rails are not the fashion in contemporary furniture (amongst my customers).
I therefore lay out the boards to get the best overall figure, matching colour and grain, but also prioritise alternating the annualar rings. Almost always I can get a good figure and alternate the boards, but the prioirty has to be the overall look.
I would agree that the best way to minimise the chance of warping with well acclimatised wood is to narrow the width of boards in the glue up.
 

SimonA

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I would have to agree with what everybody else has said and go with what looks best. If you can alternate the boards then all the better, but I wouldn't worry about it, just make sure that they are well dried!

SimonA
 

johnelliott

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Another point to bear in mind, especially if we are talking about dining tables, is that some movement is very acceptable, especially among the cognoscenti. Nothing gives away a veneered table more than a dead flat top. Antique furniture, on the other hand, is rarely flat and people who like good stuff accept this.
John
 

Midnight

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I would agree that the best way to minimise the chance of warping with well acclimatised wood is to narrow the width of boards in the glue up.
NOt trying to be argumentative... personally I agree with what's been said so far.... but personally I try to use quartersawn boards for tops whenever possible.. they basically negate the cupping prob, leaving me to focus on allowing for seasonal movement...
 
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Anonymous

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Neil

An interesting point and link

I have often thought about aligning the rings as I thought bowing and cupping would result in a wavy top which would be horrible to say the least. However, I have not had any tops bow or cup at all so far and thus do not see that it matters too much (as Chris said I think).

Mike's advice seems to be the best bet with quarter sawn stock if you can get it and don't mind the small price premium.
 

Alf

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Aragorn":2l05z3r3 said:
I would agree that the best way to minimise the chance of warping with well acclimatised wood is to narrow the width of boards in the glue up.
Quite a recent solution to the problem, though. In days of old when knights were bold and the poor blighters didn't have a power tool to their name, it appears the widest possible boards were used to minimise the amount of work required to joint the edges. I've been visiting quite a few NT properties this year, and it's been fun to spot the genuine furniture from the much later copies. The width of boards used is a frequent giveaway. Further to John's point about the movement actually being a feature, there's a long table in Trerice House (I think. They sort of run together after the first 4 or 5...) that has the most beautiful upturn to its corners caused by the wood movement. I can't recall exactly, but it must be at least 15ft long, mebbe 4 boards wide? And wide boards too. Beautiful. I just wish the National Trust would spend a little money on restoring some of their furniture, providing better information about it and so forth. It's interesting to see how a long case clock moulding was built up from 3 separate pieces, but not because it's literally hanging off at the corners... :cry: Sorry, I've wandered a bit haven't I? I'll go. :oops:

Cheers, Alf
 

ike

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err...yes... but in an interesting direction :)
 

ike

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pipper these quotes! :oops:

Sorry, I've wandered a bit haven't I?
err...yes..etc etc.

..I'll get my coat :oops: :?
 

Neil

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Several very valid points which make a lot of sense.

In terms of the aesthetics of a cupped table top which John & Alf touched on, I have a farmhouse-style kitchen table (bought, not made) with a 1.5" thick pine top (made from an old telegraph pole, I believe). The boards, which are around 6" wide, have been glued up with the rings alternating, and the table now has a very pronounced wave which I find very irritating. I would much rather see a gentle cup over the entire width of the top.

I think when I make a replacement for the table, I'll go for best figure as Chris suggests, and make an effort to get quarter-sawn boards (thanks Mike). For some furniture, though, I must admit I quite like the Scandinavian-style of using fairly narrow strips, glued up alternately as Aragorn suggests. I guess it is horses for courses...

Thanks for all the advice, everyone :)

NeilCFD
 

Aragorn

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Just to be clear - I don't use narrow boards myself. I don't like the look. I always go for the widest my machinery allows me to surface - currently the Jet 60A, so only 8" boards :cry:

Alf - it wouldn't be UKW without a bit of wandering. Please stay!
 

Alf

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Aragorn":14mvd0pr said:
Just to be clear - I don't use narrow boards myself. I don't like the look.
Hmm, good point. Although it does depend on the timber used (doesn't everything? :roll: )

Wandering back, Alf :)
 

Pete W

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Neil":3525ase0 said:
the table now has a very pronounced wave which I find very irritating.
Sounds exactly like my dining table (a characterful old pine model that came with the house). Makes dinner parties somewhat amusing as guests try to find a level spot to balance a wine glass :roll:.

When I eventually acquire a No 6 or 7, I might do something about levelling it. Until then it's, um... very characterful :).
 
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