To breadboard or not to breadboard, that is the question!

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Forum topic by CarlTuesday posted 11-05-2013 10:48 PM 5166 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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14 posts in 1658 days

11-05-2013 10:48 PM

Topic tags/keywords: table breadboard end breadboard hickory mahogany rustic stretcher neanderthal tabletop design

Hey all, long time listener, first time caller. I’ll rudely jump right in with a question now that I’ve moved from dreaming about tackling some of this stuff to actually doing….

I’ve got a dining table build in progress, and its pretty far along: the base is done, most of the top is laminated together, etc, so it seems like this is something I should have figured out earlier but oh well. Most all of the work, outside of long rips (done on borrowed tablesaw) and squaring (2x faces done on my jointer) is done by hand – somewhat by preference, somewhat by necessity.

I can’t decide whether I want to put breadboards in, both aesthetically & whether the “flattening” benefit is particular helpful in my case. The top is long enough right now where I can omit or put them on, so I at least gave myself options. The overhang in the length is about 8” on either side, and width-wise it’s about 4” either side. Given the design and overhangs, I’m not sure

The downside to doing breadboard ends are, in my book:
  1. Time – I need to M&T, groove, etc instead of just cross cutting and being done with my first “real” big project.
  2. Skill – I’m worried I’ll screw something up and ruin my fancy tabletop…
  3. Thickness of hickory top – Given the 13/16” (~3/4”) top, any tongue is going to be pretty thin…

Base details: Design is roughly a “rustic” type table, with pine base consisting of thick (planed down) 4×4 legs, lap joints, and big stretcher dovetailed in. The half-lap dovetail stretcher between leg bases, which I assure you really exists but isn’t in the picture is the only “fancy” detailing right now…

Here is a picture of the base:

Tabletop details: Roughly 40” x 90”, hickory that is ~13/16” for field and thicker 8/4 mahogany around the edges to try and give bulk to match “rustic” base… Here it is laid out a ways back before clean up/glue up – you’ll just have to imagine what it would look like with a breadboard of mahogany (or I suppose two pieces of hickory could be face laminated together and used as well):

14 replies so far

View lateralus819's profile


2241 posts in 1884 days

#1 posted 11-05-2013 11:16 PM

Well i will say, My first real project, was a table. And i like you contemplated. I ended going with breadboard ends and using a router to route a tongue and groove. It wasn’t that hard at all. Just take your time and have confidence in yourself.

We never get anywhere without taking some sort of chance.

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


542 posts in 1859 days

#2 posted 11-05-2013 11:18 PM

If your table top is already laminated, a bread board is going to be tricky, at least in my experience.

But they sure do look nice. I’d take the risk and do it if I were you, but then again, I’ve butchered a forests worth of good wood taking a stab at things like this.

Good luck!

-- “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” ― Lenny Bruce

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#3 posted 11-05-2013 11:31 PM

A bread board end just adds class to a table. Although it does take a little time, it really doesn’t add a lot of risk. I’d add it. Make sure you pin it to allow for movement. It serves some advantage other than looks, but the looks alone is worth it in my books.

Welcome to LJs. Glad you jumped in.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View CarlTuesday's profile


14 posts in 1658 days

#4 posted 11-06-2013 12:20 AM

Thanks for all the encouragement – I’ve been leaning toward just doing it, to be honest. It also helps that my wife keeps saying “just think of it as art – if you mess up a painting, you just add some more paint and change it to something you can live with”...

UncannyValley – Not sure what you mean re: it being tricky after laminating. I can’t imagine cutting tenons onto individual boards then gluing up the top, so I assume you’re meaning some other method?

Lateralus – did you just do a straight T&G end, or did you have a haunch with longer tenons as well? I’m working generally by hand, and can confidently plow plane in a groove on the breadboard end and rabbet a tongue to mate with it but I’m mostly worried about messing up the mortises (they come out a bit sloppy on my workbench, although that was the first time I’d done them). I suppose since they’re meant to allow movement they don’t have to be “dead on” & I know having some extra width in the mortises is a good thing…

PS – assume that name is a Tool reference? My favorite album of all time, probably…

View CarlTuesday's profile


14 posts in 1658 days

#5 posted 11-06-2013 07:47 PM

OK – since I’m going ahead with the breadboards now I’ve got a “follow-up” problem… The thicker mahogany will be what is visible, but since it has thickness differences I can’t just put the groove right dead center on the mahogany since it’ll “miss” the thinner hickory’s tongue.

I’ve come up with what I think is a clever solution that makes it work well but I’m not sure. Looking for feedback on Option 1, 2, or 3 from this sketch.

Option 1: Basically #1 is to do the groove at a normal depth on the thinner hickory (1/3 of the hickory, so it is at 1/4”, then 1/4” grooves and tenons, then 1/4” more table). This places the groove “off-center” on the mahogany, but centers it for the thinner hickory.

Option 2: Instead of a full tongue, I cut a rabbett to 3/8” of the hickory, and that goes in the groove, plus longer tenon sections. I can even make the mahogany have a supportive lip underneath the rabbet in this case.

I am doing everything by hand so one issue is that my combination plane only has 3/8” or 1/4” cutter for the groove, so those are the dimensions I have to work with there (plus it matches my chisels for the mortise).

My big worry with #1 is the fairly thin tongue/tenons getting snapped off. #2 is goofier, and I’ve never seen anything like it, but gives some more meat to the construction.

Whats everybodies two cents?

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2356 days

#6 posted 11-06-2013 07:59 PM

If the wood is properly dry, breadboard ends serve no functional purpose in keeping things flat. Seasonal movement will always show a difference in table width vs. breadboard length. No aesthetic value. Not worth it, IMO.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View pintodeluxe's profile


5654 posts in 2808 days

#7 posted 11-06-2013 08:15 PM

Do it once to prove to yourself that you can.
Breadboard ends do seem to create as many problems as they solve.
Although I think they do add aesthetic value to some projects.

I used a centered tenon, 1/2” thick. At several points long the width of the table, the tenon extends into deeper mortises for strength.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View UncannyValleyWoods's profile


542 posts in 1859 days

#8 posted 11-06-2013 10:17 PM

Carl, When I cut my tenons for bread boarding and I’m laminating pieces for the table top, I always cut my tenons individually, before laminating the top. I do this mainly because it’s easier to manage one board at a time on my table saw rather than the whole top…and if I screw up a tenon, I don’t have to start over on whole new table top.

Perhaps this is not the preferred method, but it’s always worked nicely for me.

-- “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” ― Lenny Bruce

View CrazeeTxn's profile


151 posts in 1945 days

#9 posted 11-07-2013 01:14 AM

Carl -

My second project after I built a shelf for my wife was a table. That was 11-12 yrs ago. Didn’t know anything about wood, so it’s poplar, stained, and finished.

I had a jobsite table saw, jig saw, router and router table.

After I glued the boards up, I just used a tounge and grove bit to route the ends making the tenon. You could also use a straight bit and guide on each end. Then I cut about an inch off each tenon for expansion. For the breadboard, I just cut a stopped mortise using the router table and straight bit. This way the ends could expand and contract without being seen. To fasten it, I found these things called stepped dowels, but any dowel will probably work. Snugged the breadboard up, drilled the holes, and glued the dowels all the way through. Cut them flush, sanded, and away I went. That’s the only bit of glue I used on the breadboards…it was all from the box stores 3/4” stock.

Sounds like you’ve got a plan to get your tenons. I like option 1 via option 3 as it hides the tenons when they expand and contract.

Good luck,

View RobertT's profile


70 posts in 2776 days

#10 posted 11-07-2013 01:35 AM

I have done two smaller end tables with breadboards. I used biscuits and pocket hole screws with good success. Like Clint said there will always be a noticeable difference in the two pieces.

View CarlTuesday's profile


14 posts in 1658 days

#11 posted 11-13-2013 05:50 AM

Thanks for all the ideas guys – I decided to just go for it.

I went with hidden tenon/groove and option #2 (so I only had to cut one shoulder) on the top side… It took me about 5 hours to get one of them ALMOST done, and it still needs some cleanup of mortises to make it fit.

I cut the shoulder with a circular saw set to depth and then did a combination of “popping” with chisel where the wood was straight grained, cross grain paring, and sawing near the ends where I could get a saw in there. Once that was done it was mortise chopping time – my 1/2” chisel got a nice workout and so did my arms. I did have one careless slip and mash my finger into vise though…

Finally, I plowed a groove between the interior mortises with my stanley #46 (first time to use it on a real project).

It was getting late and needed to shut it down for the night, but I got it all the way to here, so I’m happy with the progress:

I’ll have to clean up the tenons a bit more to let the joint close, but I’m pleased to get this far without major incident. You might note that in the photo I’ve left the breadboard end both a little thick and a little longer than the top – given that it will always not quite match I may leave it that way, or maybe take some thickness off… Haven’t decided yet.

Thanks again for all the tips.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#12 posted 11-13-2013 12:25 PM

Any project that get the Stanley 46 in action is a good project. Well done!

You planning to draw pin it?

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View CarlTuesday's profile


14 posts in 1658 days

#13 posted 11-13-2013 04:56 PM

I guess so, at this point I’ve jumped right into so maney new and untested techniques I might as well right.

I don’t have a dowel plate or steel handy to make one out of so I’ll probably have to go look for some straight grained dowel stock and use that…

And it thought I was almost done with this last week! Out of curiosity, how does my five hours compare to others on getting one of these ends done? I’m curious how long it takes others, and especially hoping the speed of execution greatly increases with skill and experience.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#14 posted 11-13-2013 05:49 PM

I don’t typically use dowels for pinning breadboards. I take a pics of straight grained wood. Something strong like hickory or ash, or even white oak and split it. Then round it with a knife, drawknife something like that. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Make it just slightly bigger than the top and bottom hole. Of course the hole in the tabletop is elongated and slightly off set to draw. Then point the pin, drive it in. Add just a little glue before the last drive. Cut the point off the bottom, flush the top and use a damp cloth to wipe off any squeezed out glue.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

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