breadboard ends on table tops

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by gfadvm posted 04-20-2011 02:23 PM 15571 views 2 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2686 days

04-20-2011 02:23 PM

what is the function of these?Are they used primarily on larger tabletops?How are they made/attached?I know someone out there has these answers as I see breadboard ends on a lot of the tables posted.As always,thanks for taking the time to answer my queries.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

8 replies so far

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3154 days

#1 posted 04-20-2011 02:43 PM

Breadboard ends keep your individual boards from warping and cupping over time. Just because the table top is laminated doesn’t mean that the wood won’t continue to move, especially if the wood still has some moisture in it. Aesthetically, it’s also a good way to conceal the end grains of the boards…not that you have to, but it’s provides a nice, clean look if you aren’t doing something like a mitered skirt/trim for the top.

-- jay,

View Furnitude's profile


380 posts in 3503 days

#2 posted 04-20-2011 04:18 PM

As an experiment several years back, I glued up several boards to make a small panel and then added breadboard ends. Instead of letting the boards move freely within the breadboard end, I glued them along the full length of the breadboard end. Within a year’s worth of seasonal movement, the boards cracked. I will post a photo when I get home tonight. I use this as a visual aid when talking to people about the benefits of breadboard ends.

The whole point of breadboard ends is to provide a mechanical guide, like Anji above was describing.

Cr1, I’m not sure I’m reading your comment correctly. Are you saying that the breadboard end itself will change in length? If so, I would disagree with that. Wood movement is almost exclusively in width and movement in length is negligible if not nonexistent. Anyone please feel free to jump in and correct me there, but nothing I’ve ever read in designing furnitude ever allows for wood changing in length. Now, there is an issue of the width of the top changing while the length of the breadboard end stays the same. Is that what you’re getting at? That can create a gap, though incredibly small, over time. One thing I’ve done myself and have seen others do is make the breadboard end longer than the top’s width. That way, the width of the top will change as before, but since you’ve built a gap into the design, you can’t really perceive the change in the gap. Here is a table I made several years ago where I used this technique. You can’t see it well from this angle but I’ll try to find a better photo to add later. This table is about four years old and was made for some friends so I get to visit it from time to time. The top is still flat and there has been no cracking.

coffee 1

Regarding your drawing above, I would think that this design would result in the top cracking. The stability of plywood isn’t the enormous amount of glue surface. It is the alternating grain orientation. Again, anyone feel free to correct me.

Good discussion.

-- Mitch, Also blog at

View HerbC's profile


1755 posts in 2855 days

#3 posted 04-20-2011 04:20 PM


The joint on your large breadboard joint design will eventually fail. Not only would the main panel expand and contract laterally, stressing the joint, additionally the wide/deep breadboard end would expand across its lateral dimension, adding stress perpendicular to the grain of the main panel member of the joint. The result would actually be worse than if you used a shallower joint…

Most experts that I’ve read indicate that while a breadboard may minimize the appearance of cupping of the entire end panel that in most cases it can do little to prevent cuping of individual member boards of the panel. Hence quartersawn lumber is preferred for table top panels if the species is subject to high probablity of cupping of flatsawn boards. Also, narrower boards will have less tendency to cup. The experts I’ve read seem to classify breadboard ends as more of a cosmetic and design element, hiding most of the main panel end grain and adding to the “look” of the piece (for example green & green frequently used highly styled breadboard on table tops, nightstands and dresser tops, Darrell Peart’s rendition of a Greene & Greene 3-drawer Nightstand is an excellent example of this use of breadboard ends.).

Your reference to plywood style alternation of grain direction in large suface joints overlooks the fact that the reason plywood alternating grain glue “works” is that the layers of wood are thin enough that the glue bond is stronger than the stress that the thin layer of wood can generate.

Bottom line, nothing wrong with “thinking outside of the box” but in this case the box is a bit bigger than we think…

Good luck

Be Careful!


Mitch: (1) Quality plywood with thin plys balances the stress produced by one thin layer trying to expand laterally against an opposing stress produced by the expansion of the cross-grain layer(s) adjacent to it. The thinner the individual layer, the less stress produced by latteral expansion. That’s why the better grade of plywood has more, thinner plies. Another factor is that using the same species of wood for all the plies would increase the likelyhood that each layer would move by the same amount which overall would improve the stability of the product.

(2) Nice table! Great design and well executed.


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View HerbC's profile


1755 posts in 2855 days

#4 posted 04-20-2011 11:16 PM


Your inlays are beautiful. I look forward to seeing your dartboard project complete. Perhaps you could also blog the construction details?

If it (the table) were my project, I’d use fairly wide breadboards (to hide/minimize the main panel end grain and to minimize overall cupping of the panel…) and put a “minor” inlay along the top surface grain of each breadboad pice and then a “major” inlay centered in the main panel runnign with the grain… Perhaps even an inlay pice to “bridge” the joint between the main panel and the breadboards on the edge, similiar to what Green & Green did with the ebony keys…

Keep up the good work.

-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2922 days

#5 posted 04-20-2011 11:43 PM

I have personally seen the breadboard ends in the Gamble House as well as 26” wide kitchen counters that haven’t moved in over 100 years.

We don’t have as much access to old growth lumber as they did at the time, but I have made and seen others made that are still solid and have not exhibited any of the movement you discuss here.

May also depend on humidity in each area, in Alberta we get drastic changes in temperature, but humidity is relatively low year round.

Fine Woodworking video on Door construction by Andy Rae shows his method of constructing breadboard ends and how he deals with the attachment method. That might be helpful.

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2686 days

#6 posted 04-21-2011 04:22 AM

Holy cow!Ask a question and you get answers!I REALLY appreciate the input but Im not sure if I need breadboards on my 22” widex44” long Brazilian coffee table.Top is three 5/4 pieces glued with TB3.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


601 posts in 2903 days

#7 posted 04-21-2011 05:58 AM

What a great thread. Thanks guys.

View HerbC's profile


1755 posts in 2855 days

#8 posted 04-21-2011 04:27 PM


So, to some the original question(s).

Function: (1) Provide some additional stability to solid wood panels, generally table tops, including both large tables and smaller tables and consturcts such as coffee tables, end tables, night stands and dressers. Generally the breadboard will probably NOT prevent individual boards from warping (cupping) but should in most cases minimize total panel cupping. (2) The breadboard is a significant design element in many styles of furniture. It conceals the wider end grain of the main panel, thereby minimizing problems with endgrain tearout and other milling and finishing issues.

How are they constructed / attached to main panel: Most frequently through use of hidden mortise and tendon joints. The tendons in the ends of the main panel and the mortises in the side of the breadboard piece. Generally you use a technique where one point of the joint is tightly constrained by use of glue, screws, pegs, etc and the remainder of the joint is allowed to move fairly freely, thereby allowing the main panel to expand and contract across the width with changes in humidity levels in the environment.

Do you NEED to use breadboards? No, in most cases you don’t but they may add to the design elegance of a project.

Good Luck with your project!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics