Invisible Panel Joints - #203

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Blog entry by thewoodwhisperer posted 06-13-2013 04:00 PM 4344 reads 3 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Whenever I glue multiple boards together, my ultimate goal is to hide the fact that it is indeed a glueup. If I can make it appear as if the panel was cut from one super wide board, I’m a very happy boy. The first step in achieving this lofty goal is to make sure the edges are milled properly. If the two mating surfaces don’t complement one another perfectly, you’ll have a noticeable glue line. But if the two edges are clean and square, the joint will have minimal visual impact. You’ll also have the added benefit of a solid glue bond and a panel that won’t fall apart 100 years from now.

While the joint itself is an important factor, it isn’t the primary thing I’m looking at when trying to create the illusion of a single wide board. For me, it’s all about the grain. If the boards are properly color-matched and the grain is aligned so that it looks like it continues through through the joint, the average person will NEVER know the joint is there. Of course, woodworkers should be able to spot it. But I’m not building my furniture for woodworkers. I’m building it for regular people. So if I can make a joint that meets a woodworker’s approval, I can be confident that the vast majority of the population will be fooled by my efforts.

Here are two good examples. Below you’ll see two table tops that are being used for my Tilt-Top Table project in the Guild. Can you spot the joints? Click the image to see a graphic that shows you exactly where the joints are located.


Now let’s take a closer look. In these two images, it’s still pretty difficult to make out where the joints are. When you have to strain to see it, you know you’ve hit the mark.

cherry-joint walnut-joint

So how did I accomplish this? It’s all about color, grain, and distraction. If the color and grain look the same on both sides of the joint, it becomes harder to notice the glue line. Also, if you can draw the viewer’s eye AWAY from the joint, you essentially nullify its visual impact. If you’re clever and careful, you can also create visual “red herrings” as I did in the examples above.

Match the Color and Grain

The first step is board selection, and this is something that should be happening well before you cut any wood. While selecting your boards at the lumber yard, think about the most visible glueups in your project and plan ahead. Inspect each board for color and grain. If one board has straight grain and another board has wavy grain, you probably don’t want to use them together. If one board has an overall lighter color and a second board is darker, again, these are not good bedfellows. Always try to select boards with the same color and similar grain patterns. If you can, use chalk and a tape measure to mock up your eventual cut plan. As long as you plan on buying the boards, the lumber yard won’t care much if you mark them up.

Use the Same Board
I certainly can’t claim to have a highly-developed eye for color and grain matching. I am getting better and I’m always trying to hone that skill. In the mean time, I like to cheat! Well, it isn’t so much cheating as stacking the cards in my favor. Instead of trying to match color on a board by board basis, I always try to get my smaller boards from one larger board. Since most boards retain grain and color throughout, there’s a good chance that any child boards that come from a parent board will be similar.

Use Distraction
The secret to being a good magician is using distraction to divert the onlooker’s attention. So I try to be a woodworking magician. If possible, I like to include visually prominent elements in the vicinity of the joint line. Whether it’s a knot, some sap wood, or even a dark streak of grain, anything along these lines will help distract the eye from the dead straight glue line and will cause it to be lost in the shuffle.

panelsSo now let’s take another look at those two table tops. To ensure color and grain matching, the smaller boards were cut from one long board. The boards were flipped and rotated in various positions to find the layout that looked the most natural. You’ll also notice I relied heavily on the distraction concept. I really wanted to showcase the sapwood in the cherry boards and the light streak in the walnut was too cool to resist. So by including those features right at the joint, the glue line becomes invisible. We aren’t always able to employ distraction, but when done properly it can indeed be a magical thing. At the very least, mill your joints accurately and match up your color and grain and you’ll be well on your way to invisible panel joints.

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7 comments so far

View toddbeaulieu's profile


815 posts in 3176 days

#1 posted 06-13-2013 07:30 PM


View DrDirt's profile


4492 posts in 3914 days

#2 posted 06-13-2013 08:20 PM

Nice Mark -
Is there any concern about the joint strength of the Cherry Top being in the sapwood versus heart?
Expect that the stress on the joint will be small for the tilt-top table, but any reason to worry?

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Nollie's profile


146 posts in 2958 days

#3 posted 06-15-2013 10:13 PM

Very well posted . I always look to “hide” the glue joint so it would appear to be one board that would look so much better than slapping together unmatched boards. I don’t think that the joint on the sapwood pose a problem in strength. In South Africa we used a lot of Kiaat witch have a very contrasting yellow-white sapwood in contrast with the brown color of the heartwood. Folks loved the contrasting streaks in the furniture. I have seen Kiaat table tops with these yellow-white streaks that is about 200 years old and still have solid glue joints.

-- Leon .

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


605 posts in 4355 days

#4 posted 06-16-2013 01:56 PM

There certainly could be some strength differences between heart and sapwood, but not so much that I’d worry about it.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

View Roger's profile


20949 posts in 2975 days

#5 posted 06-18-2013 02:03 AM

Beauties for sure Marc

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View woDan's profile


8 posts in 2863 days

#6 posted 06-18-2013 08:22 PM

Hi Mark do you have any tricks for glue ups using figured maple???
Thank you for all you do.

-- Colorado Dan

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


605 posts in 4355 days

#7 posted 06-18-2013 09:03 PM

Hey Dan. Well first, you want to make sure the overall color and figure is similar. Don’t put a highly figured section next to a mildly figured section. Make sure you joints are milled perfectly and use a light-colored wood glue. And finally, watch the grain direction of the boards. The way light reflects off the surface may look different depending on which way the grain is running. So if you get your smaller boards from one single board, make sure they keep their orientation and don’t turn any of them around 180 degrees if you can help it.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

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