Wood Movement

Over the past few months, I’ve been making these Ohio signs and selling them in my wife’s booth. They’re a simple thing to make. Just cut the wood in the shape of Ohio, then glue and staple the pieces to a plywood back. Originally I used old pallet wood to make the signs, but the past few batches I made them with old fence boards.

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Last week, when I was helping my wife move things around in her booth, she told me that some of the signs had warped. Worried, I grabbed a few of the signs to look at them. Because we had such a hard cold spell, the antique store was kicking up heat to stay warm. Apparently, the dry heat sucked all the moisture from the signs making them bend up. Even the top of an old bench my wife was selling warped.

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When examining the sign, I realized I made two rookie mistakes. The first mistake I made was that I painted the wrong side of the fence board. I should have fastened the wood crown-down so that the board wouldn’t warp upward. The second mistake I made was that when I fastened the boards on the plywood, I spread glue all over the plywood back making the wood unable to expand and contract. Embarrassing to admit I know. When I first made these signs, I made them from old pallet wood that was a lot narrower than the wide fence board I used here. I thought my wood was dry enough to make them in the same process, but I was sorely mistaken.

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Wanting to fix the sign, I ripped apart the plywood back and removed all the staples from the wood.

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After cleaning the back of the pieces, I saw how the widest board on the sign was warping in conjunction with the others.

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I decided to shave off the high spot in the middle with my scrub plane so the warping wouldn’t be as noticeable when I remade the sign.

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Then, instead of spreading glue all over the plywood back, I laid a bead of glue down the center of each piece of wood so the wood could move. I then attached the plywood back to the pieces with 1/4″ crown 5/8″ long staples.

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With everything back together, I was happy how the sign laid flat again. I really don’t mind if the boards warp a little bit. After all, the sign is supposed to look old and rustic. I just don’t want the whole thing to curl.

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2 thoughts on “Wood Movement

  1. Professorss12

    Don’ think that gluing down the enter will work. There is nothing to keep the edges from popping up. I once made a Federal style demilune Pembroke table with folding hinged top. I prepared the the top pieces were 18” wide Honduras mahogany which I flattened with hand planes. Very flat! I decided to use a water based poly finish. As I spread the finish over the wood it quickly curled – a lot. Panic ensued, but dissipated quickly. When the surface dried to the touch, I flipped the board and coated the opposite face and the board flattened immediately. What had eased my panic was remembering the rule that both sides of a board have to be finished with the same material and the same number of coats. Similar seasonal movement problems are observed in panels veneered with real wood unless an appropriate rigid adhesive is used. In your case , painting.both front and back should minimize the problem.

    1. I thought about that as well. I won’t mind if the individual pieces curl a little bit as the sign is suppose to look old. I’m just hoping the whole sign won’t warp again. If it does, I’ll either paint both sides of the fence board to create equilibrium or I won’t use wide planks with cathedral grain. I think using narrower stock will keep the warping down to a minimum. I also will pay more attention to the moisture content of the wood and not use it until it’s dry.

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