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Background

I am working on a butcher block style countertop / tabletop, and am wondering how best to glue the wood together. The countertop is unfinished maple hardwood floor, with the tongue / groove cut off, flipped on its side. So, the final result will be about 1 3/4" thick, mostly quarter sawn, 3/4" width strips. The final countertop will be 7' long and 20" wide, with the wood running lengthwise.

(To clarify: I am calling it a tabletop / countertop, as I am not quite sure what to call it. It will be installed on top of a half-height wall between the kitchen and hallway, and will be used as extra counter space, a serving area, and a 'breakfast bar'. For extra support it will have three steel beams on the underside, with grooves for screws to allow for a bit of expansion across grain. The ends will be finished with a breadboard end joint, although that is outside the scope of this question.)

For illustrative purposes, this is somewhat how the tabletop will look. Each strip is 3/4" wide:

Top view of table top

I plan on the glued-up tabletop being longer than 7', and then trimming to length.

I will be using Titebond 3.

Question

My question is how to do the glue-up in such a way as to eliminate any gaps where I glue the strips end-to-end in a given row. I am obviously going to be clamping width-wise (across the 20" side), but am not sure how to clamp each row length-wise (across the 7' side). I hope to do a handful of rows at a time (maybe 5 or so?), let them dry, then add more on.

Some Possibilities

Some possible answers I have come up with:

  1. Make a clamping block that includes some sort of padding (styrofoam?) underneath a solid board, so that you can clamp 5-ish rows at a time without applying pressure only to the longest one. My concern here is that I don't think styrofoam would provide enough pressure.
  2. Just push the rows together end-to-end while I am doing the side-to-side clamping, and rely on the side-to-side clamps to prevent any movement. I don't think that this will work, as glue-ups are always slippery.
  3. Use a strip of rubber innertube that I use for guitar body glue-ups and individually wrap it around each row. This is the most promising approach so far, IMHO - the rubber strip is very long, and should have no problems wrapping around the length of it 4 - 5 times. My concern here is that I won't have time to get it wrapped up before the glue has started to set. I suppose that starting with just a couple of rows to make sure I have time will be the answer there.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Cheers

Edit after completion

Thanks to all the responders, I did the glue-up and things are looking good. A few comments, in case it helps people in the future:

  1. 5 at a time was way too many. 3 was borderline too many; I found that 2 worked best.
  2. You need to plan your layout before gluing anything. I laid out all the pieces to ensure that the butt joints were not aligned or too close to each other.
  3. I tested my first few end joint cuts for 90 degree, and they were perfect. Unfortunately at some point after the first ones my miter saw must have gone out of square, and the later ones were slightly off. Nothing too big, but enough for a 1/16 - 1/32" gap in some places. Sigh. Wood filler has worked well for this though.
  4. As hard as I tried, I was unable to get the glue-up to be perfectly flat initially. Some of the boards were slightly higher / lower than the others (not too bad, the worst was less than 1/8", probably closer to 1/16"). This meant that I needed to plane more than I would have liked.
  5. On the topic of planing, I got the surfaces flat with a toothed hand plane. Only after it was flat did I use a belt sander to make it smooth. My limited belt sander skills would not allow for me to get the surface flat if I had just used the sander... maybe others are better with the sander, but for me the plane was the way to go. The toothed iron helped to avoid most of the tearout (laminations are very hard to plane due to the grain going every different direction).
  6. I did not end up using the steel bars - as commented by Martin, this this is already a beast. The breadboard ends will help to prevent warping over time, and from a strength POV I could jump on it without it moving at all.

Here's some pictures:

During glue-up (the laid out pieces are on the left, and the glued pieces are in the clamps on the right):

enter image description here

Here's a closer look at one of the ends before finishing (not great for looking at the glue-up quality, but decent enough if you zoom in):

enter image description here

Applying finish:

enter image description here

  • 1
    45mm thick, only 7' long, and you are planning on fitting three steel beams underneath? Is this some sort of ramp for tanks to climb up? – Martin Bonner Aug 5 at 16:47
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    I think 5 boards at a time is the right approach. However, make certain that you are keeping the boards aligned in a straight line so that when you join the groups of 5 they easily make full contact along their full length.You can do this by clamping them to the side of a known flat face board or object that cannot easily bend during the clamping process. – Ashlar Aug 5 at 20:57
  • As for keeping the butt-joins aligned: you could use splines to keep the ends square while you glue-up the rows. Metal splines you hammer into the to-be-glued sides (or side) might keep things from moving too much. Or join them at matching diagonals so the can use weight or downward clamping to keep things square. – jdv Aug 6 at 18:36
  • Thanks for the update, we rarely get them here! Looks like you did a great job. BTW the breadboard ends were very likely unnecessary, loads and loads of benches and worktops built this way without them. [Off-topic, man some pieces of that maple are dark! I don't know if I'm the only one but I don't expect maple to have that much colour variation, I know it can but I'm still surprised to see it.] – Graphus Aug 20 at 7:46
  • The breadboard ends were mostly cosmetic, the structural part was just a bonus. I used hardwood flooring as my material, and it has two small grooves cut in the bottom of every piece; these would be visible when viewed from the end. As for the color, yes, there is lots of sapwood in this maple. I personally like that look (and tried to pick pieces with lots of variation), even though maple with lots of sapwood tends to be viewed as a lower grade in general. – TBO Aug 20 at 15:34
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My question is how to do the glue-up in such a way as to eliminate any gaps where I glue the strips end-to-end in a given row.

You don't need to worry overmuch about the tightness (or not) of these staggered end-grain joints as far as strength goes because they're essentially irrelevant in that regard. Occasionally these aren't even glued, without it seeming to undermine the glued-up panel in any way1.

Really the only reason to be fussy about them being nice and tight is aesthetics, and just hammering on the ends before the clamps are fully tightened up could easily do enough — that's all that many builders do and it works fine in most cases, as we can see from the closeups of their assembled tops. And anywhere a small gap does remain it's one that's easily tackled with some basic filler work (can give a nearly invisible result with care).

However if you want some system that would guarantee these joints end up tight you could add a pocket screw to them, the screws acting as individual tiny clamps at each location. Depending on your preference these screws could be left in place or removed after the glue has dried (after which they serve no purpose). Note: if you don't own a commercial pocket-screw jig there's no need to buy one just for this project, see footnote 2 for options.

If you would prefer a clamping option for this long length and the strips of innertube prove unworkable you could use a 'Spanish windlass', basically a tourniquet, made from a long length of cord or rope and a piece of wood to wind it tight.

Obviously the end of every board within the field of the panel needs to be perfectly square regardless of what you do. If necessary shoot them square in a shooting board.

Also worth having a look at this old Question, How to join short boards to make a longer panel


1 Which makes sense, the long-grain joints everywhere in the panel are at least as strong as the wood around them so there's abundant strength throughout.

2 See Substitute for Pocket Hole Jig?

  • Thanks! Sounds great, I will give it a shot over the next week or so, see how it works, and report back. – TBO Aug 7 at 12:52
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I'd glue up the individual pieces first. Use a dowel in the end to keep it aligned and add some strength to the end grain to end grain joint. Make sure you have good, clean ends. If you are making the cross cuts with a table saw, flip every other board top to bottom. This will cancel out any slight deviation from 90°. Once all of the pieces are glued to length, then glue them together as you would solid strips.

This allows you to redo any joints that are not tight (cut them off and re-glue), eliminate a clamping axis, and allow you to make sure all of the cross joints are arranged in a visual pleasing manner.

With the final table top being almost 2" thick, there should be plenty of structure to keep it together without needing the steel beam underneath.

  • Thanks! The steel was going to be to prevent warping over time, but I may skip it depending on how sturdy things feel. With the wood being more or less quarter sawn I don't expect too much warping, but I want to be sure this lasts... – TBO Aug 7 at 12:56
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Don't worry about the end-to-end butt joints.

I think you mentioned the right answer in your question. Make sure that the ends are square, put some glue on them, then as you're gluing up the sides of the long boards, make sure to push the butt joints together firmly.

The butt joints don't have any structural significance (as long as they're staggered throughout the panel) and clamping pressure on the sides should be enough to hold them from slipping apart as the glue dries.

If you're worried about the boards slipping while the glue is wet, don't over-apply glue. The less excess glue in the joints, the less sliding around you'll have. Also, using cauls and slow, evenly applied and "not excessive" clamping pressure helps a lot, too.

  • 2
    Re. the salt trick, this comes down to us from the days of hide glue. However I think Franklin have gone on record that they don't recommend it for Titebond (sugar too). As an alternative some use a sprinkle of coarser saw dust, but good clamping procedures and processes, including the use of cauls as needed, are a better overall solution. – Graphus Aug 6 at 6:39
  • @Graphus - yeah... I always thought it sounded "old-timey" but I see guys on TV and YouTube, etc. still doing it. I have, and it seems to work pretty well without any adverse results...as far as I can tell. Honestly it usually is an afterthought... ("Dang! maybe I should have put some salt in there to keep it from slipping all over the place like that...") – Greg Nickoloff Aug 6 at 16:52
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    @Graphus - As I look into it, I do find that the manufacturer has discouraged the practice, so I think I'll revise my answer to avoid perpetuating "old wife's tales" about putting salt in the glue and so forth. – Greg Nickoloff Aug 6 at 17:03
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    Good revision *thumbsup* Just one further thing, there's essentially no such thing as excessive clamp pressure in a workshop environment. Unless the wood in question is very soft and the clamps so strong that the wood gets crushed any amount of camp pressure is OK to use with PVA-type glues. And in fact much more than is typical is what everyone should be doing as only very high PSI at the joint results in max-strength joints. – Graphus Aug 7 at 5:33
  • Thanks for the comment! I have used a few particles of fine sand before (similar approach to salt) when glueing fretboards on guitars, and it works well. The sand does not dissolve, but when clamped will dent into the wood so the joint can still be nice and tight. Anyway, I will report back once I have the glue-up completed to see how it goes... – TBO Aug 7 at 12:54

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