Edge to Edge Joint Questions From a Novice

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Forum topic by Mtnbiker26 posted 03-02-2009 12:09 AM 7381 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 3399 days

03-02-2009 12:09 AM

Topic tags/keywords: edge to edge butt butt joint im an idiot

I’m planning on making some small tables and a TV stand for my living room and I’m unclear on the “best” way to make the tabletops. I’ve always noticed that most furniture is made up of smaller boards combined to make a larger “panel” but I’ve never understood the exact process. How is a “typical” edge to edge butt joint done? Is it usually just flat glued edges, tongue and groove, or doweled? Also, how do you keep the boards on the same plane? If I’m off by even 1/32” there’s going to be giant seams across the top where the edges join. I’m assuming that most home workshops don’t have a planer wide enough to level off a panel so there must be a trick? Thanks in advance.

12 replies so far

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3782 days

#1 posted 03-02-2009 12:43 AM

To help keep the boards in the same plane, you could use biscuit to help keep the edge alignment. However, some have said that the biscuits can telegraph their position to the surface of the wood. I have found that by allowing the biscuit glue joint dry for several days before surface sanding, I haven’t experience this problem. Even with biscuits, you may still have some slight variations that require sanding.

From what I have read, the glue (Titebond II) is sufficient to hold pieces together provided the edges make full length contact without any clamping pressure- prior to gluing. Straight, full length contact edges are critical for a strong joint. When gluing, use only enough pressure to bring the boards together and cause moderate squeeze out of the glue. I have read two schools of thought about the pressure used to clamp the boards. One group says that there should be only “moderate” pressure applied to the joint- they fail to say how much is moderate but indicate there should be some squeeze out of the glue. Another group feels that you cannot over clamp the edges more pressure is better. I am sure folks here could advise you on which is best.

Glued up panels- regardless of how they are joined- are really better than one wide board because they are more resistance to cupping (more stable)- provided you can “alternate” the growth rings on the boards. When looking at the end of most boards, the growth rings will probably arc sort of parallel with the wide portion of the board. Alternating the boards so that one arcs up and the next down will have the effect of helping to cancel much of the possible cupping that might take place on a wider single board. Of course you can buy boards that have been cut so that the growth rings run at right angles to the wide edges. These boards are very stable, but much more expensive.

Regardless of what method you use to make a wider board (biscuits, dowels or just glue), you will probably find the glued joints won’t be perfect and will require some sanding/scraping. Some folks, that have planers, will glue up sections that will fit thru the planer. Make enough of these to create the total width required. Plane each partial glue up to the same thickness then glue up the panels. This will reduce the number of joints that have to be “hand” worked.

Hope this helps,


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 3842 days

#2 posted 03-02-2009 12:53 AM

Glue is enough IMO. I own a biscuit joiner and used it once. It was one of those things I just hadda have but didn’t really need.

What you will need are

1. Flat milled stock. There are many ways to accomplish this. Planer and Jointer. Hand Planes, Various router techniques. You might find a cabinet shop willing to mill the boards for you. The important thing is that they are flat, of a consistent thickness and that the edges are flat and square to the face.

2. Clamps, lots of clamps.

3. Cauls (and more clamps).

5. Glue.

Once you get it all together you will need to scrape, sand or plane it flat again. Like you stated, there are always some little deviations where the boards come together even in the best glueups.

Good luck.

-- Scott - Chico California

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3468 days

#3 posted 03-02-2009 01:12 AM

People use dowels and bicsuits to keep panels on the same plane during glue up. There is some argument as to whether this adds strength or not but modern glues are plenty strong enough without it if you want to skip that step. Biscuits are probably the easiest for alignment purposes. It,s more important that your edges are straight and square, if you get this wrong then no amount of alighning will help. Some people are lucky enough to own big planers and widebelt sanders, but for those of us that don,t, care and attention to the flatness of the panel during glue up is essential or you will be beltsanding or planeing off too much stock trying to flatten your panel.
Basic rules are, make sure your stock is “four square” before you start, no bow or twist in the board. Have your clamps laid out and ready before any glue is applied. Have your clamps on a dead flat surface to start with. Start with the center clamp first and work your way to the edges. Don,t overtighten the clamps or you will squeeze all the glue out of the joint. If you have used dowels or biscuits then alighnment should take care of itself as long as you were accurate with the joinery, if butt jointing then the boards can be manipulated useing hand pressure or a rubber mallet just before that last twist of the clamp
Hope that helps.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3848 days

#4 posted 03-02-2009 01:30 AM

One note I would add to the discussion is that with modern glues the long grain joint you are discussing is stronger than the wood itself once the glue cures out. I am like Scott in that I have gone both ways with biscuits and simply butting the joints together. I now just use simple butt joints and only use biscuits when I have alignment issues.

But I have never had a panel glue-up that has come out perfectly flat, even using cauls. Be it my technique, the wood itself or simply the alignment of the stars all my panels have needed some clean-up following the gluing process. I usually use a card scraper to remove the excess glue and to level ridges of the boards. Here and here are a couple of videos about using a card scraper that I found to be pretty helpful. After the card scraper I follow it up with sanding (100 to 220 grit) without skipping grits.

One last note I would add is that for your panels to glue up correctly the edges must be dead on 90 degrees to the face. If there is any bow or warp then it will show up in the joint line for the board in the panel.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Randy Moseley's profile

Randy Moseley

113 posts in 3465 days

#5 posted 03-02-2009 02:26 AM

The above advice from the LJ’s is excellent. Let me throw out another option for table tops. You could use cabinet grade hardwood 3/4” plywood with solid wood rails around the edges, and rout a V-groove between the solid wood and plywood for an accent. Plywood is great looking, doesn’t warp or cup, and doesn’t have movement problems solid wood does. It’s also very strong if you’re putting a TV on it. This way you get the flat surface without all the sanding of the joined boards. For the solid wood rails, I’ve used both biscuits and dowels to attach to the plywood. While I agree they don’t add a lot of strength, they do help in alignment. The self-centering dowel jig is good to align the boards. See links below. I’ve been using this technique for years on table tops with good success. This is one of my tabletops using this method.

-- Randy, DeKalb, Illinois

View Catspaw's profile


236 posts in 3842 days

#6 posted 03-02-2009 03:36 AM

When we glue up panels, we almost never use biscuits. They are handy for the basic alignment. But, the way we do panels is to glue up trued edges of skip planed wood. Skip planed wood is rough sawn planed to an average or general flatness. After the panels are glued up, we then plane them to final thickness. If you don’t have a wide planer then this method can be a problem. But, it eliminates the proglem of alignment.

The object here is to get the wood together….THEN surface it to finished size…rather than trying to put together finished peices and try to keep them lined up.

Generally speaking most table top planers are going to be 12” wide. So you can start with 12” glue-ups. Once those are made, then you might consider biscuits to keep your alignment. After that….yer on your own as far as smoothing.

-- arborial reconfiguration specialist

View hokieman's profile


186 posts in 3780 days

#7 posted 03-02-2009 04:03 AM

I agree with Catspaw. I have a biscuit joiner and never use it. I have dowling jigs and never use it for panels. Key is proper milling and edge jointing works fine (just plain ole glue on the edges and clamping them in place). I start off by planing boards down on my jointer/planer and make sure I get the flat. My jointer can only take 6 inch boards. I plane them flat on one side, then run then through my 12 inch planer to get them flat and parallel on both sides. I keep them proud of the desired thickness and then I glue up boards to 12 inch widths. Then I run those through the 12 inch planer and plane them down to desired thickness. Then I do the final glue up of the 12 inch boards to the final desired width of the table top. You will still have to use a hand plane to get the final top flat as you will still have a small “lip” at the edge joints on the final table top. Once you hand plane it all down, it is usually very flat and pretty close to perfect. All edge jointed, though. Key is proper milling.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4245 days

#8 posted 03-02-2009 04:22 AM

A lot of good info has been given. I’ll just add that I’ve rescued some very uneven glue-ups with my trusty belt sander. You just have to be careful to sand the entire surface and not just the joints. Otherwise, you’ll end up with valleys.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 3814 days

#9 posted 03-02-2009 03:49 PM

It is conversations like this one that makes this site so awesome. What a great resource! Not much to add but a tip to help keep your boards aligned. It won’t work perfectly and you will see some deviations, but I find that using a clamp across the joint helps to hold the boards in line with one another. If doing a wide table top, you can clamp both ends flat and then use a deep clamp or cauls in the middle to hold the boards that way. Start with medium clamping pressure on those clamps then add the clamps along the glue joint that will actually provide the clamping pressure, tightening those up slowly in tandem with the “flattening clamps”

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

View Mtnbiker26's profile


2 posts in 3399 days

#10 posted 03-04-2009 04:34 AM

Holy cow, thanks for all the replies! I thought that I was going to get laughed at for asking such a fundamental question. I do a lot of mechanical tinkering like maintenance on my cars and motorcycles and even a little welding so I’m not new to working with my hands but I’m discovering that there’s A LOT to know about woodworking.

I made some speaker stands last summer and I used dowels on the edge-to-edge joints but the platforms were only about 8” X 8” so I just had to join three pieces of 1” X 3”. I had just brought home a drill press and I wanted to play with it so I used the drill press instead of a doweling jig and wound up spending some time with the random orbital sander to the get them flat. It’s amazing how much work 1/32” deviation can create. That’s when I realized that there had to be another method.

I’m thinking that cabinet grade plywood is going to be the way to go for the TV stand since this will be my first real project and I don’t want to get in over my head, plus a planer and jointer are still on the list of tools to accumulate.

I also plan to make a wide, shallow lamp table to put under the window in the dormer so it would make a great project for my first attempt at gluing up a panel. It’ll be about 12” X 40” so it should be just the right size to shoot through a planer.

View PirateOfCatan's profile


57 posts in 3426 days

#11 posted 03-05-2009 01:53 AM

Mtnbiker26, mostly people here just laugh at jokes. We all started out knowing nothing and learned from others on the way.

If you are working with smaller sizes (like 8”x8”), then just buy the larger boards (1×10) and rip them down. Saves a lot of work with glue and sanding. On the slightly larger TV stand you could always rough cut your boards long and screw them to a flat surface until they are dry. Make sure you put down plastic (messy) or just be careful with your glue. Evenly put weight on the middle section to they don’t become un-level. Clamp the boards together before you screw more than the first one down.

Good Luck.

-- P.O.C.

View cabinetmaster's profile


10874 posts in 3585 days

#12 posted 03-05-2009 02:00 AM

Looks like you got more than enough answers. The plywood was also what I was going to suggest. I build tops all the time with plywood and add solid wood edges and they look fantastic. And with a router you can add many different edges to a top.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

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