When you examine the furniture record in person, you find almost endless examples of pieces of furniture that disobey the rules of wood movement – and yet have survived just fine.
I’m not here to tell you that wood movement does not exist – it does. But I think it’s important to know that you can get away with many minor sins without your furniture tearing itself apart. And the more furniture you study, the bigger the sins you can commit.
This week I got to study a table in Holland that definitely needs some time in the confessional booth. This chopping bench – used for cutting food to size in a kitchen – violates the cardinal rule of cross-grain construction. Yet it is still completely sound and ready for another 100 years of dismemberments.
What’s the sin? If it’s not obvious from the photos, the legs’ tenons pass through dovetailed battens and the benchtop. The benchtop and battens are oriented 90° to each other, and the top is about 22”-24” wide. The top should have split a little (or a lot). But the top is fine – just a little warped.
I have no idea how old the bench is. It has some fairly consistent machine marks on it that suggest it was made in the early 20th century. But this form is old. The earliest illustrated example I know of is from the 11th-century “Tacuinum Sanitatis.” And it can look quite modern – the form was the foundation for the staked worktable in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”
The cross-grain construction used in this table is also found on thousands (millions?) of Brettstuhl, which are still made today. During the last week I’ve seen at least 100 of these suckers, and none have split.
This particular chopping bench is so charming that I hope to build one just like it for our newish kitchen. I have wanted to build a table for the center of the room, but a typical dining table would be too big. A chopping bench is just the right size for dumping our grocery bags, serving meals to family members and <insert joke about dismembering cats then retract it>.
And thanks to this particular table in Holland, I am ready for some serious sinning.
— Christopher Schwarz