Combining Teak and Holly in a Table Top

Considering the wood movement issues when building a table-top of Teak with Holly accents. June 30, 2007

I was discussing my teak/holly dining room table project with a friend. We were both concerned about telegraphing through the finish. The table is supposed to be a copy of a yacht sole. 2" strips of teak alternating with 3/16" holly (hard maple is more typical now).

Will the difference in hardness/expansion be a problem between the teak and maple? Another friend mentioned using Alaskan yellow cedar because it's similar to the teak in hardness. He seemed to think that it is white enough to pass. I'm skeptical. I'll be topcoating with Eurobild.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
I am familiar with Alaskan yellow cedar. It is more of a very light yellow than white. It is most certainly not similar to teak in hardness. Yellow cedar is a softwood species. It has a very different set of working properties from teak. It does finish to a very silky surface and I used to love the way that it stained with my burgundy water stains. The stains would blotch and streak in a most delightful manner, giving it the look of an exotic timber. Those properties combined with that silky finished surface made it a bestseller when I was making picture frame moldings.

I am thinking that you will have difficulty with variations in expansion and contraction in any scenario where you mix wood species in alternating bands. It will be hard to prevent some joint reveals (whether cracks or lifted edges, etc.). It might be best to treat it as they do with pre-finished flooring... They use a micro-bevel on the edges to obscure any unevenness.

The tongue and groove type construction is also useful in controlling such variable wood movement and utilized in flooring installations. Traditional yacht decks are more likely to utilize screw and plug systems (sometimes with splines in place of tongues and grooves).

From contributor R:
3 requirements needed for success.

The moisture content must be consistent along the length of each board - so a board doesn't expand or contract more in, let's say, the middle than the ends.

The way that you attach the top to the base should allow for the whole top to expand and contract unimpeded - use elongated screw holes or sliding dovetails, etc.

Seal the underside of the top - you don't want to have a moisture imbalance between the top and bottom surface.

Once you have glued the piece up, it will expand and contract like an accordion. You won't have a problem unless you interfere with its movement or let one area take on or give off more moisture than another. This type of construction has been around for centuries.

From the original questioner:
I was asking specifically about telegraphing. I am quite familiar with proper table construction. I am concerned that you will be able to literally feel the variation in thickness due to expansion/contraction of the two woods.

From contributor C:
Okay, here is another idea... If you do not require a very smooth surface for your table, how about using a hand scraped texture as many floors are doing now? The texture would make any surface variations much less noticeable and/or unattractive. Combined with a slight bevel or softening on the edges, this might make a really attractive table surface.

From contributor R:
Sorry - telegraphing, to me at least, refers to splits along the grain.
Coefficients of shrinkage (%)
Teak 2.5 Radial 5.8 Tangential
Holly 4.8 Radial 9.9 Tangential
Sugar Maple 4.8 Radial 9.9 Tangential

Use plain sliced teak and quarter sawn sugar maple or holly. Then everything should move the same.

From contributor S:
Last year I attended a boat builders' show in Maine and saw teak plywood with holly accent just as you describe here. Maybe you can use ply-core and wrap edges in solid stock.

From the original questioner:
Life would be a lot easier if we could build everything out of plywood. However, I can't imagine trying to get a flat table out of plywood.

Contributor R, your second post was exactly the info I was looking for. I lent my copy of 'Understanding Wood' to some friend awhile ago. Those numbers reflect teak's renown stability. The soles and decks are typically done with quatersawn teak for skid resistance and economy. The typical method is to run 8/4 through a wide belt and then slice edges. You can end up at -1 7/8.

I'm familiar with soft and hard maple. Is sugar maple as white as hard? Will it be easy to grab a board from my lumber distributor?

From contributor C:
Sugar maple is hard maple. Soft maple tends to be less white but both types can vary quite a bit... which is why maple is often sold color graded for the higher end projects.

From contributor M:
There is an article in this month's "Closet" magazine about a closet that was done to look like an old boat deck with teak and the holly stringing. He took the teak and ran kerfs in it, then filled them with a white 2 part marine epoxy, then multiple coats of a marine finish. This might eliminate the 2 wood movement problem. Try a test board.