A customer has asked me to replicate a dining room table that she found a picture of. The rectangular top has a herringbone pattern in the center with a +/- 4" band around the perimeter. Dimensions will be approximately 3 1/2' x 8' - thickness will be whatever makes it stable. Oak would be the preferred material. The picture appears to be solid wood as opposed to a veneer.
How would you construct such a table? Substrate with wood flooring nailed through the tongues, much like a traditional flooring installation? It would seem that this table would move in all directions.
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor F:
I would use veneer or not do the job. It's not worth what could happen otherwise. If the client insists on hardwood and you still want to do it, explain the consequences. But the way I look at things like this is, when things go sideways, they're not going to remember they gave the go-ahead, and you are the bad guy or gal all of a sudden.
Regarding "like a traditional flooring install," such installs allow space for expansion at the long-grain sides of the room. You can't build a solid wood table trapped in a solid wood border (frame). Solid wood panels will move with changes in humidity and any attempt to restrict that movement will result in failure of the structure.
Safe way to do this is with veneer. The backer, ideally, would be identical to the face, but I have found that if the herringbone is on a 60 degree grid, then a simple straight grain backer works. A hardwood edge can be glued to the veneered panel using biscuits. As long as it's not too wide (4" or less), it should work fine.
When I made these tops, I did the same on the back of the MDF as on the front, but not as pretty. I used to make my own plywood for these tops - most at 30" x 45" or so - but started using MDF as I adopted it for the regular veneer work.
I actually started doing this (30 years ago) in red oak solids with 45 degree drops from my day job building curved stairs. Those tops moved in all directions and did come apart. Then I resawed the solids to about 1/8" and started gluing them up into herringbones and such, then cold-pressing onto a substrate. I knew that at some point between solid and veneer, the wood might still work like solid (edge join, saw, etc.) but could be laid up irregardless of grain direction (like veneer). Once I learned about balanced panels, I started adding a similar back and felt confident building bigger. As I said, never a problem. Some of these older tables have moved all over the US with the customer, and still look good. Heck, they have aged better than I have!
Yes, I guess it does break some rules. Or more accurately, approaches the threshold where the rule may or may not apply. I make cutting boards for all the kitchen type tables we make. Quartered hard maple, about 12" wide by 18" long, with glued breadboard ends t&g on, and mineral oil finish. Some of these are over 15 years old and have not self-destructed. They definitely break the rules, or the 12" quartered is near the point where the movement doesn't matter. We also make large pattern grade Honduras mahogany exterior doors with 11" wide bottom rails with 9" x 3" tenons, coped and stuck, clamped and glued to the stiles - cross grain construction. After 5-6 years we may notice at most a 1/16" projection of the rail beyond the stile, but don't see a paint or stain crack. This definitely breaks the rules, but the wood, the joint, the application all work together.
Perhaps I should amend my post to say that the method works, but the discussion should center on determining the threshold of the rule. This would include all the variables - species, M/C, width, quartered or flat sawn, thickness, etc. I'll leave that for someone else to work out.
As stated above, this may be treading the line between veneer and solid wood, so go carefully. I have seen these types of dining tables in catalogs/stores, and wondered if it is solid, veneer, or just plain MDF with lots of finish. My gut leans to solids, in that the country of origin doesn't have the tech or know-how to work with thin solid and MDF, and solids can be caulked and filled with finishes that crack and open, "revealing the character in the wood," as the catalogs say. A doctor friend/woodworker calls the cracks "bacteriological breeding grounds."