Quick Tips — Questions & Answers 5

Buying lumber a bit at a time

Q: I am considering building a classic highboy for my wife out of cherry, maple, or walnut. What impact would it have on the piece if, due to the cost, I bought the wood at various times throughout the project, rather than all at once?

A: IF YOU CAN’T BUY ALL THE WOOD for your project at once, you won’t get a full set of matching boards. But if you buy the lumber wisely, you can maintain consistency within each element of the highboy at least.

First, make sure materials for the major elements are covered in your initial purchase. For your highboy, buy enough lumber that matches in grain and color to make the sides of both the upper and lower cases.
It’s also essential to keep the grain and color on the facades of the two cases consistent. For both aesthetic and structural reasons, pick straight grain for these components and, if possible, make them from the same board.

You can buy drawer-front stock separately, but use extra care in selecting the boards. They should be similar in grain and color. If two drawers will sit alongside each other, cut them from the same board with the grain flowing from one front to the other.
All the molding stock should match as well, and can be bought separately. Secondary woods for the upper case interiors, the case back, and all of the drawer sides and bottoms can be purchased later.
Finally, as you build the highboy, keep the completed sections out of direct sunlight, even covered, to minimize discoloration until you can finish the entire piece.

Jig for bed-bolt mortises

Q: I would like to make Christian Becksvoort’s trestle table, which uses bed bolts to attach the stretcher. These bolts require very long holes in the ends of the stretcher and a small mortise for each nut. Is there a surefire way to locate the mortises in the stretcher even if I drill slightly off line?

A: Yes. I use a sImple jIg for bed bolts. Insert a bolt into the stretcher, and the jig hugs the bolt to align itself with the hole you drilled. The jig’s di-mensions are determined by the length of the bolt you use and the thickness of the post.

Make the jig from scrap. Two tabs on the underside, equal in length to the thick -ness of the post minus the counterbore for the bolt head, will straddle the bolt.


Designate a front end of the jig, insert the bolt between the tabs, then mark and cut a notch in the front edge at the point where the bolt protrudes. In use, the notch will be aligned over the bolt’s centerline, and halfway along the threaded area.

Mark the stretcher at the notch to establish the nut-mortise location. Using a square, mark in the mortise dimensions, then drill and chisel out the mortise. Repeat the process for the remaining bed bolts.

A simple bed-bolt jig finds the proper spot for the nut that will secure a trestle-table stretcher.

Guide the jig with the bolt. Demonstrating with a bed rail, Becksvoort aligns the jig over the protruding bolt, brings the jig up to the rail’s end, and marks at the notch, which is centered over the threads of the bolt. Then he uses a square to scribe the dimensions of the mortise that will snugly seat the bolt’s nut.

Outdoor glue for oily wood

Q: I want to build a garden bench out of ipé, and I’ll have to laminate some pieces. Given the density and natural oils of ipé, what type of glue should I use? And would it help to apply acetone to the surface prior to glue-up?

A: use a waterproof pVa glue. In our recent test of different glues, the strongest of three waterproof glues tested on ipé was Type I PVA.

For a glue to be certified by the American National Standards Institute as Type I (wate rproof) PVA, the joint must survive being boiled for four hours, dried in an oven at 150ºF, boiled for another four hours, and then cooled in water just prior to testing. This extreme test is designed to simulate the many cycles of hot and cold, wet and dry, that woodwork will undergo outdoors.

Other than choosing the right glue, there are two things you can do during glue-up to reduce the chances of joint failure.

First, rather than just wiping the surface to be glued with acetone, which can draw more oil to the surface as it evaporates, lightly sand it with P220-grit sandpaper just before applying the glue.
Second, since dense tropical woods require extra force during glue-up, use as many clamps as you can, particularly when laminating large surfaces.

Working with green lumber

Q: I am making a fireplace mantle from a cherry log that has been left outdoors for two years. The wood still seems very moist. I’d like to mill it down to 6 in. thick by 10 in. wide by 66 in. long for a single-piece mantle. Can I use this over my fireplace after I seal it?

A: IF THE LOG IS NOT DRY when you install it, the mantle will warp and check along its length whether you seal it or not.

Even indoors, the log will take years to stabilize. Heat from the fireplace will only increase the problems as the exterior of the timber dries more quickly than the wetter interior.

Bring the log indoors and let it dry for as long as you can wait. Cut the initial work-piece1⁄2 in. oversize in width and thickness and 6 in. or more in length, so you’ll have enough wood to mill away when truing it up after it dries. If you can’t wait until it dries slowly and completely, consider a trick that might limit checking.

Cut a sawkerf about 1 and 1⁄2 in. deep into the center of the back edge and another in the middle of the underside, where they won’t be visible. The biggest (with luck, the only) cracks will open along these kerfs. Once you install your man-tle, finish it as you would any woodwork.

Minimizing checks in a huge slab of cherry requires beating nature to the punch with precisely placed sawkerfs.