All the furniture building videos I have seen so far, the grain of the wood on the side panels is top to bottom. The grain on the top panel is left to right. By grain I mean the long threads that make up the natural wood and that split when we cut the wood.

Is the reason for this only aesthetics or there is more to it?

2 Answers 2


Why is furniture built with side panel grain being vertical?

The main original reason was purely a practical one, to more easily allow for wood movement. Wood expands/contracts largely across the grain (movement along its length is tiny and can safely be ignored in virtually all furniture work).

This vertical grain is now a convention and is followed when furniture has a veneered surface, e.g. in cabinets made from plywood1. I should say followed most of the time2.

When building in solid wood, to understand why this is important, just imagine if you had a chest of drawers which changed height through the seasons:

  • At its 'widest' (tallest) the gaps between drawers would increase.
  • At its 'narrowest' (shortest) it's possible the drawers would be so tightly squeezed they couldn't be opened, and there would be other problems.

The grain on the top panel is left to right.

The grain on tops was aligned to match that of the sides so that they expanded and contracted along the same axis.

When building in solid wood if a table, bureau, sideboard etc. had the grain oriented the other way the piece would change width through the seasons, causing havoc with any drawers or doors in their openings, plus literally scraping any feet across the floor (a surprising distance in wider pieces).

1 Historically this was important even in veneer work because the substrate was solid wood, e.g. pine boards, which needed to have their grain oriented vertically, not just to match the movement of the veneer on top but for the structural reasons outlined here.

2 As furniture is increasingly designed by people with no formal training or grounding in historical furniture, just made ad hoc by the maker with no specific design intention, or deliberately to look different or 'be modern' we can expect this convention to be increasingly eroded..... as a lot of furniture principles have been and continue to be in modern times.


Well in general it does look better other than for specific effects you might be going for. That being said...

The grain of wood (the direction you are talking about) is how the wood grows, that is the length dimension. You can have a board 40' long if you have a big enough mill to cut it, because that is the direction the tree is growing. Across the grain is the width of the tree, and you will always be much more limited to how wide the tree is. Saying all this to say that it is much easier to get boards that are long with the grain in that direction.

Now why do really long pieces still generally have the grain going up and down? probably partly esthetics and partly, the internal frame of the piece allows more easily to attach the slats vertically, and also provides more structural stability (more triangles).

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