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Making Large Solid Panels

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  • Making Large Solid Panels

    I am relatively new at woodworking. You folks are not! Can anyone answer this?

    I would like to make a solid hardwood computer desk. I don't plan on using any MDF or plywood at all! Not even for drawers. Solid hardwood only.
    Time is no consideration for me, I have a desk right now to use, and no other projects are pending.

    I would like to make all large panels solid. (i.e. the sides, top, etc...) but I'm afraid from articles that I've read that these large panels will eventually crack if they cannot expand and contract. I understand that the desk top should be "Floated" with tabletop mounting clamps, but what about the sides and back?
    Does anyone know how to do this properly?

    I've read that the reason for raised panels with rails and stiles is exactly for this reason. And MDF and Plywood were also invented for this reason. But darnit, I like solid harwood!

    Thanks for any advice.

  • #2
    I've read that these large panels will eventually crack if they cannot expand and contract

    You have read correctly. I'm sitting about 20 feet from a small antique Walnut bookcase with both sides cracked due to improper construction.

    I could probably describe in words only how to do this, but it would require at least knowing what style of construction you intend to use. Alternatively, I could suggest "Illustrated Cabinetmaking" as an excellent book that shows multiple pieces and their proper construction. Perhaps your local library even has or can borrow a copy.



    • #3
      I'll second the emphasis on building with solid wood the correct way.

      Here's the full title of the book that Dave Arbuckle mentioned:
      "Rodale's Illustrated Cabinetmaking: How to Design and Construct Furniture That Works"
      by Bill Hylton. This is a great book: it takes you through all the different types of joints, educates you about correct terminology, tells you all about the right proportions for various joints, provides construction notes, and contains several examples of furniture projects. Another book I would recommend is "The Glue Book" by William Tandy Young, which does an AMAZING job educating you all about different types of glues, their uses, and correct application.

      One thing you might discover is that different wood species behave differently. For example, maple responds to the environment to a pretty high degree, but poplar is very stable, reacting very little to seasonal changes. Also, how well you finish the wood will affect how it moves. If you do a really good job at finishing, you'll experience less movement. Notice I said LESS; I did not say that you can avoid movement altogether.

      Hope this helps!


      • #4
        Thanks for the good info. I looked all around the house last night for solid wood panels, and all cabinets with large sides were made of hardwood plywood, but I did find that my wife's antique dresser had a large solid top. I looked inside to find that it was screwed down, and a closer inspection revealed a crack in the top.
        Guess this issue needs to be taken very seriously.

        I've found the book you recommended on Amazon.
        Sounds like a good addition to the wood library.