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Matching Wood Grain

Discover six surefire tricks for achieving the best look from the boards you select for projects.

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Steps 1 - 3
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Steps 1 - 3

I've met a lot of woodworkers who have a good handle on the mechanical part of their craft. They build projects that are square and sturdy, with parts that fit precisely.

Yet, many woodworkers overlook the more subtle art of matching grain direction and color. As a result, their well-machined and finely fastened projects fall short in the appearance department.

While building the CD cabinet (below) and the accent table that appeared in the November 2000 issue of WOOD, the importance of grain matching really hit home. For both projects I carefully selected, cut, and joined workpieces for best appearance.

In this article I'll share some tips for grain- and color-matching. You can use these same tricks when building many of your own projects.

- Chuck Hedlund, Master Craftsman

1) Single out one board for small projects

When selecting stock for a small project, say a keepsake box or picture frame, try to use wood from the same board. Although grain and color can vary even in a single board, with careful selection you should be able to cut parts that match closely.

2) For large work, choose compatible stock

For larger projects, I like to use boards cut from the same log. And that's possible if you have your own tree custom sawn. Because most of us have to buy wood from a lumberyard or home center, here's how I go about finding matching boards at these outlets. It takes a little time, but pays off in good-looking projects.

First, I cull the boards that are free of warp and have as few defects as possible. Then, I stand them up side-by-side, and take a step back. Next, I reshuffle their order for best color match.

Finally, I select the boards with similar color that have grain that I can envision being matched as I build the project.

Grain refers to the pattern of lines on the surface of a board produced by the orientation of the wood's annual growth rings. I look for boards with grain lines spaced equally apart and oriented in the same direction.

3) Go straight when looking at grain pattern
3) Go straight when looking at grain pattern

For most project parts, especially those I cut from oak, ash, or hickory, I like to use straight-grained boards. That's because wavy grain can give a project, particularly a tall one like the CD cabinet, an unbalanced feeling. Wavy grain can create an optical illusion where a perfectly constructed piece of furniture appears out of square or plumb.

To get straight-grained pieces for projects, I choose the widest boards available. Why? Most boards are flatsawn at the mill today, meaning they typically have cathedral-grain figure toward their center, and straight-grain figure toward their edges as shown above. It's been my experience that wide flatsawn boards yield a higher percentage of straight-grained stock than narrow boards.

Continued on page 2:  Steps 4 - 6


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