Wenge table top splitting

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Forum topic by jsheaney posted 03-29-2011 12:58 AM 3662 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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141 posts in 3952 days

03-29-2011 12:58 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question checking splitting table top wenge repair

I posted a hall table project a year ago. I was particularly pleased with the way the top is attached using sliding dovetails as it allows for seasonal wood movement without any hardware. In fact, it seemed to work very well, as you can see from the pictures. In the winter, the dovetails poke out. In the summer they are withdrawn like the head of a turtle. Of course, it’s actually the top that is contracting and expanding.

Anyway, the ends, particularly one end, are checking. Checking doesn’t really describe it. It’s almost like shattering. I’ve included a picture.

You see there’s lots of checking going on. There’s lots of little splits that are less than an inch long that have appeared on the top and one that is more than an inch.

I’m at a loss as to what happened. The joinery is clearly doing its job. I probably had that wood in my shop for months before gluing up the top. Is Wenge prone to this sort of thing? Does anyone have any suggestions for fixing it?

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

10 replies so far

View Loren's profile (online now)


10250 posts in 3611 days

#1 posted 03-29-2011 01:08 AM

Very hard woods sometimes have very long drying times. Krenov
writes about the disappointment of opening up a board he had
for probably over a decade and having it start to check immediately.

The denser the wood the harder it is to get dry and stable in general.

In building guitars with backs and sides of wenge and other exotics,
it’s essential to use binding and glue to seal the end grain.

My guess is you should have used a bread-board end. You can still add
them of course.

The surface checking can be filled with a variety of patches, but I like
shellac burn-in sticks.

View CampD's profile


1653 posts in 3450 days

#2 posted 03-29-2011 01:12 AM

The table came out nice.
I 2nd Loren’s comment, I breadboard end looks like the fix, thats is if you still have some leftover pieces.

-- Doug...

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#3 posted 03-29-2011 01:13 AM

What a shame. I would also check your joinery to make sure you have allowed for wood movement.
I remember an oak table that I had this problem with I put a kerf in the middle of the edge and added a “T” shaped end cape made out of ebonized maple . This hide the ends and it looked like a design element.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 2781 days

#4 posted 03-29-2011 01:13 AM

I agree with loren and wenge is particularly brittle and prone to this problem. I always use breadboard ends in this circumstance. A retrofit should be possible.

Best of luck


-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View drewnahant's profile


222 posts in 3052 days

#5 posted 03-29-2011 01:19 AM

what kind of finish did you use? if the wood isnt completely sealed, it is possible that the ends are expanding and contracting enough to crack the finish, particularaly the difference between expansion in soft and hard grain could cause this. can you tell if the wood is actually cracked, in the photos, all I can really see is the cracked finish. ive never worked with wenge, but ive seen this in a few projects that used air dried lumber rather than kiln dried, I suspect that the wenge may be air dried, or it may behave like this as a property of the species.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3708 days

#6 posted 03-29-2011 02:11 AM

That’s a very nice and well designed table. The joinery is most likely not your problem. As already mentioned, if the board was improperly dried, it could have “case hardened”, which will cause this problem. Not sure how this table would look with bread board ends. Maybe some on the thin side would look alright. I believe if you fill the cracks, it will continue to crack with climate changes.

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 3952 days

#7 posted 03-29-2011 06:59 AM

I’m confused by the breadboard suggestions. I thought that was intended to keep a panel flat while allowing for wood movement. I think the sliding dovetail should be doing that job, although it certainly isn’t right at the edge. I didn’t think of putting a straightedge on it, but I didn’t notice any cupping.

The wood is definitely cracking under the finish. The picture I posted didn’t stay full resolution, but the cracks are visible. It may just be hard to believe. The very thin white lines all over the end grain are the cracks. The pattern looks like safety glass. Only a small percentage of them reach the top, but that’s still about eight cracks in the finish. I think only one of them extends more than an inch from the edge at this point.

All of the wenge for this table came from one 8/4 plank: about 8’ x 8”. The top was something less tan half that length and resawed open for a bookmatched top. That means one end of the table was close to the end of the plank and one came from the middle. As it happens, it looks like the other end of the table does have a few tiny cracks, but none reach the top. It’s definitely nothing like this end. Maybe that is further evidence of a drying problem? I guess I’m not sure which part of the board would correspond to the problem end. Obviously, I had to lose some material off the end, but maybe I should have cut more.

I do remember the wood being quite brittle. Hard and brittle.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3708 days

#8 posted 03-29-2011 01:25 PM

The suggestions for bread board ends is not so much to stabilize the board, but to hide the cracks.

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 3952 days

#9 posted 03-29-2011 06:06 PM

Ok, that makes more sense. So, the hope is that the checking stops at some point and new problems don’t start showing up at the shoulder created by the breadboarding.

I don’t have enough of that wenge left, but maybe it would be interesting to use the cherry. Sounds like a very tricky bit of joinery.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

View bromick0's profile


1 post in 1278 days

#10 posted 04-11-2016 02:38 PM

Beautiful Table. I particularly love Wenge. The “checking” on the end grain really isnt a problem. The problem is the white appearance to the checked finish. What I’ve done to fix this type of condition without spoiling the natural appearance of the end grain is to wipe down the end grain with Cyanoacrylic glue (thin viscosity works better than thick). Three coats works best (Several hours between coats for proper drying). The glue will track into the endgrain filling the end grain somewhat and penetrating into the cellular structure of the wood fiber stabilizing the end grain and making it more impervious to moister entering the wood thru the endgrain; helping to reduce future checking. What the glue does best is diminish (usually) completely removes the white cracked appearance of the end grain (of coarse wiping it down with a wiping varnish would do the same, but, it does nothing to stabilize the end grain). IF the checking is open enough that the cyanoacylate doesnt fill the cracks, then, after sufficient time foe the glue to dry, use a burn-in shellack stick and burnish smooth. You’ll be better pleased with your results than you would be with all the added work of retro-fitting breadboard ends and the resultant change to your original design.

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