What mistake did I make? Twisted small project

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Forum topic by tealetm posted 01-09-2017 03:42 PM 1244 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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97 posts in 1004 days

01-09-2017 03:42 PM

A few months ago I posted a finished project of a chessboard that I made for a Christmas gift. I was happy with how the board came out- admittedly there were some first time errors (mostly sloppy joinery) but it was a nice board to give to my sister. So the board sat for two months inside my house until Christmas time. Come time to wrap it, I was disappointing with what I found.

The entire board setup twisted. Two opposing corners sit about 1/8” higher than the other two, creating a twist in the frame/top and making the drawers very tight.

Now this is obviously a moisture problem but I can’t pinpoint where i went wrong. The frame is cherry, which was dry (less than 8% when I bought it in rough cut form). It sat in my barn for nearly a year until I made this project (had been sitting in a dry location for a few years prior to that). I’ve used this same cherry on numerous other projects (including approximately 50sft of countertops in the same house) with no problems. The top is wenge and maple.

I can’t figure out what pieces twisted, as no joints have opened up and nothing has actually split. These photos are pre-twist.

The “runners” on the bottom of the board were added to hide a few screw holes which were off center an looked poor.

I’m asking for some help here- can anyone help and spend a minute to look through the assembly and find any errors in construction, design or materials to help me on the next one? The top of the board had this overthought doweling method for assembling the squares. This tedious and less than perfect process was supposedly done to eliminate the top of the board from breaking with varying moisture levels. The top was screwed onto three runners going parallel with the drawer slides.

I’m going to open up the wood drawer sliders a bit to make them operate again, and somehow I’ll level out the bottom to get rid of the rocking- maybe somehow taking off the runners and just adding felt pads.

Thanks for your help!

9 replies so far

View Manitario's profile


2631 posts in 3029 days

#1 posted 01-09-2017 04:18 PM

Top screwed into the base through the runners; when the top moves due to moisture changes it will pull the whole frame out of alignment at best, at worst it will crack the top.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View tealetm's profile


97 posts in 1004 days

#2 posted 01-09-2017 04:25 PM

Thanks- the long screws going through the runners an into the tops frame were the ones I botched up and looked hideous. If I can manage to pull off those added runners on the bottom, I can pull the screws but I glued the top to the frame as well… I may be out of luck for salvaging this project?

View Quikenuff's profile


66 posts in 1015 days

#3 posted 01-09-2017 04:59 PM

Just a few questions/thoughts.

The board looks Great! love the raised style of the squares

1st thought: Are we sure the reference surface is flat?
This happened to me with a cutting board, years old rough sawn well seasoned walnut, it had rock to it after I proudly placed it on the counter top. In disappointment I went bought a drum sander to flatten it out.

After drum sanding, same amount of rock. Being very disheartned I set the cutting board aside for a month. One day while moving things around I set the cutting board on my table saw, no rock. Took it back inside, same rock. turns out my counter top has a large shallow dip on one end. Never even noticed it.

2nd thought: Are we sure it wasn’t twisted during glue up?
Uneven clamping pressure can easily twist a project an 1/8th of an inch. Was it flat after glue up before storage?

3rd thought: If we have confirmed that it rocks on multiple reference surfaces, and that it was square and flat after glue up and finishing, then we know moisture and wood movement is involved. How long did it take to complete the project, from milling to glue up?

Either the wood was not as dry was once thought or the location it resided was significantly more dry, or excessively damp. My suggestion would be to either put it back out in the shop for a few weeks, see if it straightens back out on it’s own or send the project to the intended owner, ask them to let it sit out in open air for a while and check on it in month or so.

Observation: I just don’t see there being enough material involved in this project where wood movement would be significant.( provided all species of wood used had reached equilibrium moisture content prior final assembly.)

I made a similar miter framed, but much larger chess table 20 years ago that went unfinished for at least 5 years and it was then and still is flat. I made the table in Pennsylvania and 5 years later moved to Florida where I finally finished the project.

With that said, and in my opinion, there must be external factors effecting the project.


View a1Jim's profile


117234 posts in 3723 days

#4 posted 01-09-2017 05:05 PM

Wood movement can cause lots of problems it’s good to plan for it when you make things from wood.

Here’s the best article on the subject, unfortunately you either have to have the magazine article or do the free sign up with Fine Woodworking to read it.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View HokieKen's profile


6291 posts in 1285 days

#5 posted 01-09-2017 05:06 PM

I’ll just add that one of your bottom pieces appears to have a pretty bad check at the far end (on the right side as seen in your picture). If that is a check, it’s very possible that that board is the only thing that moved and that corner is just “jacked” up a bit from the wood coming apart.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Kazooman's profile


1145 posts in 2099 days

#6 posted 01-09-2017 05:55 PM

It appears that your pieces for the field of the board are simply glued together to make a panel. I would expect that to warp with changes in humidity. If my assumption is correct, was the back side of the panel finished? That would help.

Woodsmith (Vol. 22, #132) features a similar chessboard. In that design the individual pieces of the field are all glued to a plywood substrate, leaving a tiny space between them. They used slips of paper to set the spacing.

I have made five boards following their plans out of a variety of woods. I didn’t bother with the paper spacers. All of the boards are still going strong. No splits, no forced open miters, and no warping.

Here is a picture of one made from maple and tropical walnut with curly maple veneer. This is probably my least favorite of the litter since I feel the contrast between the woods is a bit too much. It just happens to be the one I have pictures of. It is hard to see in the picture, but each square has chamferred edges and the entire field sits a bit proud of the frame.

View tealetm's profile


97 posts in 1004 days

#7 posted 01-09-2017 06:56 PM

Thanks for the input everybody.

Quik- yes the reference surfaces are flat, it wasn’t twisted during glue up as it sat perfectly flat for a week or two after it was completed, and it took me about a week to complete the project start to finish.

Kenny- The wood isn’t checked, I see what you’re looking at but its just a dark portion of the grain.

Kazooman- without having that article, that plan does indeed look very similar to mine. The way I read the plans, the short dowels connecting each individual checkerboard square (four for the center squares, three for the edges and two for the corners) allowed the assembly to grown and shrink without breaking and twisting. It was a lot of work doing it that way and seemed a bit silly at the time. So you make individual squares like I did with chamfered edges and just glued them one by one to plywood? They never pop off? Maybe I’ll cut mine apart and try that.

I am leading towards the thought that the top squares and frame portion is what twisted, and it being attached the base twisted the whole assembly. With that said, I think the board may be doomed.

View Aj2's profile


1723 posts in 1944 days

#8 posted 01-09-2017 07:35 PM

Nice looking project hope you can figure it out.
I think it’s worth it to work out the bugs and build one that behaves.
Good Luck


-- Aj

View Kazooman's profile


1145 posts in 2099 days

#9 posted 01-09-2017 07:54 PM

WOW! I had no idea so many dowels were involved! That must have been a labor of love.

The pieces for the Woodsmith board stay put just fine. They are only 3/8” thick. I do not know if the extra thickness of your pieces would be an issue.

I found some other pictures that show the chamfers better. For this one I made just the board without the box and made a backgammon layout for the reverse side. The checkers and backgammon men are from slicing dowels and rounding over the edges.

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