Since the disappearance of wide boards woodworkers have been forced to glue up panels for frame and panel construction, table tops and anywhere else wide boards are needed. I’m not going into the actual glue-up here. There have been many articles written on this subject over the years. Bob Vandyke, the director of the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, wrote a very good article for Fine Woodworking Magazine last year. If you need a primer that would be a good place to start.
For this article I would like to pass on what I have learned over my years in the woodshop. The first thing you want to do is select the best boards for your panel. Try to get the entire panel from the same board. This will give you the best possible color and grain match.
I’m sure we have all heard the old “rule” to cut your panel boards to 3” to 4” wide and alternate the growth rings so in one board they are up and the next they are down etcetera, etcetera. This method is supposed to produce the most stable panel possible. I’m not convinced that this method adds to the stability of the panel. I am convinced that it adds to the ugliness of the panel. Does this rule mean that I should take a beautiful 12 ½” wide cherry board and rip it into quarters and then glue it back together? In my mind that is absolutely insane! I always work with the widest possible boards. The fewer boards in a panel the better the panel looks. After all isn’t the goal to put together a panel that looks like it is one board? As for the up and down growth ring part of the “rule” simply forget it. Work with the widest boards that you have. Flip them, rotate them and swap their position in the panel until you have the most pleasing panel possible.
Once you have settled on the best position for the boards in your panel mark them in such a way that you can reassemble them in this position. We now need to joint and plane these boards to their final thickness. If you are like me and have only a 6” jointer how do you flatten the first face of your boards if they are wider than 6”? There are two ways to accomplish this. You can use a hand plane to joint the first face or you can use your planer to do this jointing operation. That’s right I said your planer.
Last week I was building a twin screw vise out of rock maple. This maple was by far the hardest maple I have ever hand planed in my life. I was behind schedule and I was in a hurry to get this vise delivered to my customer. My goal was to do as little hand planing as possible to save time and my arms. The solution was an old trick I hadn’t used in a long time. I cut two quarter sawn rails from some scraps of that maple and milled them about 4” longer than the longest board and about 1/8” thinner than the thickness of my boards with the grain running vertical. If you have material thick enough you can make these rails as thick or a bit thicker than the board to be jointed. By doing this you plane the rails and the board. This virtually eliminates planer snipe.
The picture above shows the method I use to attach these rails to the rough board. Set the board to be jointed on a flat surface between the rails with the rails extending an equal distance in front of and behind the board. Clamp the rails to the board and be sure the board/rail assembly doesn’t rock. Using screws long enough to penetrate the board 3/16” to ¼” attach the rails to the board.
In the above picture you see the board/rail assembly entering my planer. Take light cuts until you have the board face cleaned enough to sit flat on a flat surface with no rocking. Just as with your jointer the jointed face need not be perfectly clean just flat and stable on a flat surface.
The picture above shows the board face after being flattened by the planer. From here you remove the rails and continue milling the board as you would any board that has one jointed face. When the board is milled to the desired thickness joint one edge. Then rip the other edge parallel and joint that edge also. You now have a wide board ready for gluing into a panel. Your only limitation on board width now is the capacity of your planer.