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Over a decade ago, my father made a breadboard-style kitchen table for my mother and I have since inherited the table. It was his first (and only) table of that style and so the breadboard joinery didn't turn out as well as he hoped.

First, the dowels/pins on the end of the table buckled as the slots in/for the tenons weren't long enough for the seasonal movement. These were shaved down and spot-refinished, but the surface and finish quality around them are poor. We are considering a full sanding/refinish of the table to improve this, and are wondering about fixing a second, more severe issue at the same time.

The second issue, appearing several years later, is that the central portion of the table cracked along its full width. The crack is about 1/8 of an inch wide, and the two sides of it are not at the same level in the center of the table (some twisting/warping of the tabletop perhaps?):

picture of crack

I would like to attempt a repair at this. My naive attempt would involve buying a couple long clamps, and gluing the two halves back together, however I would assume that the table would just tear itself apart again. I would like to avoid trying to disassemble the tabletop by drilling the dowels (although fixing the underlying issues with the joinery would be preferable) as I don't trust myself to not make it worse. Or are we better off with our current solution of having a thick runner over the crack?

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  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Woodworking. I was all ready to post my Answer when I realised that we could do with seeing how the tabletop is attached to the legs/aprons or whatever the understructure is. With 'breadboard ends' the natural thought is they're the cause of a crack, but it's possible they aren't since if you attach a tabletop poorly to the aprons that can do it too.
    – Graphus
    Oct 5 at 21:50
  • It's attached with biscuit slots cut into the aprons (3 spots on the sides, 2 on the ends, each), then small metal brackets that screw into the tabletop, but only clamp against the biscuit slots. I'm not sure if they could be over-tightened to cause the cracking, but I know they were chosen to allow the tabletop to move. Oct 5 at 23:29
  • OK that sounds fine, so it is probably the 'breadboard ends'.
    – Graphus
    Oct 6 at 7:01
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I would like to attempt a repair at this. My naive attempt would involve buying a couple long clamps, and gluing the two halves back together, however I would assume that the table would just tear itself apart again.

Yup, your assumption is likely correct.

This cracked because something in the construction was wrong, and glueing the crack closed is just a bandaid unless you solve the underlying cause1. And this is IF it will actually close with clamp pressure, there's no guarantee it will.

As I think you know, the 'breadboard ends' need to be fitted correctly to allow for expansion (and contraction). If some aspect of them is not done correctly2 then it constrains seasonal movement and something has to give; despite the sceptics who think warnings about seasonal movement are exaggerated, even that it's all some kind of myth, at worst you can get a crack as your photo amply illustrates.

I would like to avoid trying to disassemble the tabletop by drilling the dowels (although fixing the underlying issues with the joinery would be preferable) as I don't trust myself to not make it worse.

Unfortunately the thing you want to avoid doing IS the solution, sorry.

If you don't mind losing the length I would suggest just sawing the ends off entirely and be done with them. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of 'breadboard ends' and don't care for them on tables of any decent width3, but my suggestion is also very much from a practical standpoint.

If the ends were glued on over-enthusiastically they may be impossible to remove without significant damage to them, one or more of the boards that make up the tabletop, or just the tenon(s). Even if the tenon(s) only are damaged this presents a real problem, since it may mean sawing them off and fitting one or more floating tenons, which is not an easy job to do well even if you have the tools necessary. And it must be done well or there's no point.

Far simpler to just saw the ends off and leave them off; simultaneously it almost guarantees that you can separate that crack, clean it (vital!), glue/re-glue it and clamp it back together (using plenty of clamp pressure) with far greater chance of a level result.


We are considering a full sanding/refinish

By all means refinish if you want to (although it's likely it's not absolutely necessary after only 10 or 12 years, varnish jobs usually last a good 2-4 decades) but if you do want to go back to bare wood and start again, strip, don't sand! As I've touched on many times previously here, sanding is basically the worst way to remove previous finish — despite how often you'll see earnest YouTubers doing it! — with almost any other option to be preferred.

If the table were in good condition otherwise I'd have suggested a top-up finishing (coincidentally touched on in a recent Q&A) using wiping varnish, as a faster, lower-effort option. But with this significant structural issue there's a decent chance you will end up going down to bare wood somewhere, and you may need to finish the end grain from scratch, so a full refinish of the top is likely to be needed anyway.


1 Just to be clear, if you glue this well that crack won't open up again (because glue joints are stronger than wood). It'll just crack elsewhere.

2 Too much glue used (i.e. glue applied too far from the centre); slots for the pegs made too short; tenon too thin; tenon just a single, plain projection nearly the full width of the tabletop. Or a combination.

3 Because there seems to be about two weeks in any year when they're the same length as the main field of the table is wide.... blink and you'll miss it :-)

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  • That's what I was worried about. Thank you, this is all incredibly helpful information. The breadboard ends are on the long sides of the table, so cutting them off would take it from 56x40 down to 56x32, which, I think, would make it awkward for a kitchen/dining table. It's sounding like repairing this would be as difficult as the original construction, and I don't have the tools or skills to undertake it. We may be living with this crack. Oct 6 at 11:05
  • An option, @GodricSeer, is to cut off the breadboards, glue the crack back together as instructed here, then add on a new breadboard end to regain the original length. This time, just make sure you do it correctly and allow plenty of room for expansion.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 6 at 12:39
  • @FreeMan, yeah OK fair enough I didn't think of that. But if you saw off the current ones carefully they won't be damaged, you'll lose only the kerf width of the saw. And original or new you're left with exactly the same tricky work — don't know about you, but I don't fancy creating a mortise (50mm/2" depth minimum?) much less then replicated in position (and possibly depth) on the top itself.... working sideways no less! Much, much easier for a nervous OP to ditch the ends, especially as they may serve no actual purpose (and if they do, that can be replicated far more easily with battens).
    – Graphus
    Oct 6 at 15:39
  • The battens idea is interesting. The seam where the breadboards meet the top run right along the top of the apron, so fitting standard battens inside the apron would be difficult, but perhaps I could "extend" the aprons that are perpendicular to the breadboards beyond the table leg to act as a batten supporting the breadboards, once they are cut off, and simply have the breadboards completely disconnected from rest of the tabletop? It's definitely easier than fixing the original joinery. Oct 7 at 11:52
  • @GodricSeer, just to emphasise: battens may not be necessary. It's perfectly normal (in fact far more common, just look at most tables) for the attachment to the aprons to do all that's necessary to aid keeping a tabletop flat. And in your case specifically there are 2 metal clips along the short sides of the apron no? However, if you do want to add battens for peace of mind there's no downside, as long as you install them properly (i.e. plain hole for middle screw, slots for the screws at the ends). Note they can be installed inside the apron, so nobody will see them or catch a knee on one.
    – Graphus
    Oct 8 at 9:07
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How about building a shim of the appropriate size and color and glue it into the crack? Of course it won't fix the level issue, but it may be "good enough" for your expected result and intended effort

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  • I was wondering if simply filling the crack prior to the refinish would work (wood putty rather than a shim, but a shim would give a much better look). Do you have an idea if I would run into the same issue as above, with the shim essentially causing the tabletop to crack somewhere else? Oct 7 at 11:54
  • @GodricSeer, shiming is an appropriate fix for a crack that is A, stable and B, can't be closed up with clamp pressure. If it's not stable (it changes width, even slightly, from season to season) you're just introducing another issue the tabletop has to contend with as it tries to move seasonally. Aaaand, shaping one and fitting it properly is not trivial! After all the crack is neither dead straight nor does it appear to be of uniform width. I sure wouldn't want to make one ^_^
    – Graphus
    Oct 8 at 9:17

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