This doesn’t make sense! (poplar tray)

You’re not supposed to capture solid wood and prevent it from expanding and contracting. If that’s the case, which it is, what is going on here??


  1. Hi Jay, I hope you realize you’ve just committed yourself to being around 40 years from now so you can give us an update on how this tray survived. :)

    My guess, it survived because of frequent applications of BLO.

  2. I’m going to go with the many layers of oil on the wood that keeps it from absorbing moisture.
    Good to see you doing wood work without the cnc.

  3. @Robert
    Jay may very well be here 40 years from now to do a follow up, but it is highly unlikely I will be here to see it.

  4. Given that the side walls of the drawer are poplar as well as the bottom, could it be that the longer sides expand the same as the bottom and that the sideways expansion across the grain of the bottom isn’t that much different than the expansion with the grain of the two smaller end panels? So the whole thing expands and contracts more or less together?

    • Linear expansion (along the length) is negligible (fraction of a percent), Radial and tangential is whole percents.

  5. 2 things to consider with that box. 1 The wood will have long since reached equilibrium with the surrounding moisture. 2 The front and back would have still moved though less than the bottoms width and this will still allowed for it to move without damage. Add those in and you have an indestructible box. Samurai Carpenter in Vancouver B.C. says project destruction from wood movement is a myth that has long since gone the way of the dodo bird.

    • I have repaired many pieces of Asian-made furniture that contraction caused gaps and/or cracks because it was made in a humid environment. A lot of it was still in the showroom. One particular case was a dining table with breadboard ends. The client said, “We heard what sounded like a gunshot in the middle of the night.” The was a crack from one end to the other and you could see the floor through it.

  6. I was taught solid wood can expand/contract 1/8″ per foot. Even ply can do the same but like you mentioned a lesser extent. A bit perplexing but I agree maybe the care of applying coats of linseed oil made the difference. I’ve wondered if air dried vs. kiln dried has an influence.

  7. According to USFPL’s “Wood as an Engineering Material” chart 16-3, q.v., Linseed oil has 0 moisture excluding effectiveness (MEE) after 14 days if 3 coats, Zero at 7 days for one or two coats. So no.

  8. Jay, I’m definitely not an expert on wood movement, but I often wonder if some of the older period builds were less prone to expansion because of the old growth timber that was used that had much tighter growth rings due to slower growing environments. Timber today is grown specifically for market so as to facilitate faster harvest dates, if that makes sense. Just my thoughts on the matter. BTW, I assume the piece you are working on is some of the Civil War period items you have been doing in the past? Anyways, nice job. Always enjoy and learn more each time I watch.

  9. Quarter-sawn stock will have about 1/2 the wood movement as plain-sawn. (general rule of thumb is radial is half tangential for most woods). Most of the movement is along the annual rings, so it tends to get thicker. Still, the base is 1/2″ thick but 14″ wide so in this case not as much of a consequence, but the 14″ side could move half as much if quarter-sawn vs. plain-sawn.

  10. Interesting 3 hole handles – never seen that before – would it be easier to get the drawer out of a chest?

    Also interesting is the large hole in the base – what was that for?

  11. Not sure if it’s an illusion but @13:45 the recreation looks a lot shorter than the original, that unusual for a duplication project. Any reason?

  12. Maybe another factor is the age of the tree the lumber was milled from. I’ve noticed that today’s milled lumber is less quality than the lumber from 40 years ago. Lumber is milled from too young and immature trees today, greatly reducing the quality. I also think the hole in the center of the bottom might be a factor as well, though more than likely it was a finger grasping hole to lift the box when stacked.

  13. Jay, I noticed on your box the large fingers are on the side, and on the original, they are on the front/back. Or, maybe I’m looking at it wrong

  14. The environment inside a chest is pretty stable even with changes in humidity on the outside. Also, if the chest is full of blankets, clothes or other items the effects of humidity changes would be reduced as there is more mass to absorb any increase in moisture.

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