Post and Solid Wood Panel Construction?


I'm a long time fan and have several of your books and articles, that I constantly reference. But now I'm kinda stuck! I'm currently in the planning stages of a set of sofa tables that feature post and panel construction. In the past I've either used plywood or frame and panel construction when joining front and sides to vertical posts. Or when using solid wood simply oriented the grain properly and used the appropriate joinery.

I plan on using vertical grain posts with relatively wide,13", bottom rails. Usually, cross-grain construction is a recipe for disaster but I've seen similar type of construction on older period pieces (Queen Ann Low Boy) for example that hasn't exploded (yet.) I've read where you have wrote that multiple mortise and tenon can help distribute the stress allowing the solid panel to flex rather than crack or split. I was wondering if you could elaborate on why this is so and if I can safely use this method? Thank's. You Rock and your Ball and Claw feet I will never get the hang of!

- Bob 
Marengo, OH

Our Expert

Post and rail construction is a common furniture technique in which case sides are mortised into the legs, or posts. This type of construction is strong because of the deep mortises and long tenons used. If the case sides are wide, as in many dressing tables for example, the wide stock can crack when the relative humidity drops during cold, dry winter months. And some woods, such as maple, move much more than others when the seasons change which can make the problem worse.

There are a number of solutions depending upon the design of the furniture piece. However, one solution is to leave one or more of the mortise and tenon joints dry which will allow the wood to expand and contract. Instead of using glue the joint can be held together by driving a wood pin through the joint. First assemble the joint, drill the hole for the pin, pull the joint apart and elongate the hole in the tenon. When you drive the wooden pin into the joint the elongated hole will allow the tenon to move while keeping it tightly assembled.

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