18th in a series of articles by Barb Siddiqui
Making anything from solid wood is obviously an assembly process, a putting together of parts into an eye-appealing whole. Individual boards are not pulled from a pile at random and joined together to make a sofa table, unless of course, it is to be painted over and the wood grain obliterated.
Wood has character, and some species have more character than others. After surface planing and squaring up the stock you intend to use for a given project, it is wise to lay it out on an assembly table, or on the floor, and take a look at what you have, considering how it all goes together. An overlooked hodgepodge mismatch of grain directions can be very jarring when a piece is viewed as a whole.
One way to prevent this is to always have more stock on hand than you specifically require for the project. Cutting individual parts longer than necessary may produce some waste, but those pieces can be saved for smaller items later, and the overall care taken with the initial project will prove itself worthwhile.
If assembling a tabletop, for example, cutting pieces over-length will allow you to slide them up and down against each other a few inches, looking for grain matches along the adjoining edges to give the appearance of a continuous flow across the wood surface.
When assembling parts for a frame and panel cabinet door, consider the inner panel: is there a prominent cathedral figure that should point up rather than down? Or do you want a horizontal effect, carried through with matching grain on nearby doors or drawers? And don't forget the surrounding rails and stiles, where careful arrangement of arching grain patterns can lead the eye in toward the center, or give an opening effect of everything leading outward.
Another consideration in matching grain is how best to fit a drawer face into a frame or table apron. Say you are constructing a sofa table with a single inset drawer along the front apron. A common practice is to select one 6" or 8" wide board, make two thin-kerf rip cuts along its length, spaced apart the height of the drawer, and then crosscut the center piece to the width dimension of the drawer. When the two center end pieces are edge-glued back onto the top and bottom boards, the drawer face is fitted to the opening, and since it is all cut from one continuous, straight-grained board, the figure is a near perfect match throughout.
Making boxes is another area in woodworking where close grain matching is an aesthetic concern. Resawing a board and opening the two halves like the pages of a book will often yield beautiful patterns to display on wood surfaces, but many woodworkers don't realize a long board can also be opened end to end after resawing, rather than opening it edge to edge. This allows a long flow of matching grain pattern, useful for surrounding box sides or narrow table aprons.
Grain matching in high-end furniture making can become a prime and tedious occupation of the craftsman's art, but even in simpler projects such as shop cabinets, it should be a consideration. Allowing a little extra time and effort, to plan how the pieces of an assembly will look together, may make a huge difference in whether or not a project looks sloppy or is done with care.