I’m in the process of building a new cabinet for our bathroom to hold towels and toiletries. I work on it in between work and building my shed. Because I work on it only when I have the time, it opens up the opportunity for brain farts to happen. Last Monday, I went back into the shop to start making the top of the cabinet and grabbed a board of maple, looked at the 31 1/4″ measurement I had written down on a scrap piece of wood on my bench, and cut the board into 32″ segments. As soon as I cut the board, I realized my error. The top of the cabinet is 33 1/2″ long. The 31 1/4″ measurement is the width of the 1/4″ back for the cabinet. I didn’t measure twice and cut once like Norm Abram would always tell me to do. After spewing a few cuss words, I had to decide what to do next. I had two options. I could either go back to the lumber yard and buy a new board for $15.00, or somehow make these boards work. So, I decided to “stretch” these boards.
Stretching a board is often a gag placed on an apprentice in a cabinet shop. One of the veteran cabinet makers will ask the newbie to go get the Board Stretcher. The newbie will look around the shop and then ask other cabinet makers where the board stretcher is. After a couple of minutes, everyone in the shop will turn around and laugh at the apprentice making him feel like a dumb ass. I know this story first hand.
However, you can legitimately stretch a board if you know the trick. There are a couple of criteria that makes board stretching possible. One, the board you’re stretching has to be wider than the final width you need . The second, is the grain of the board should not be pronounced highlighting the fact that the board has been cut and re-glued. This cabinet will be painted white, so I wasn’t concerned about the grain. And, the width of the three boards together is 16″ while the top only needs to be 13 3/4″ wide, so I was good to go.
The first step in stretching a board is slicing it diagonal down it’s length on a band saw. Try to make sure the cut is as straight as possible so you don’t lose more of the board’s width than necessary.
Next, plane the diagonal edge straight with a jointer plane to get a nice tight seam where the two halves are glued back together.
Bring the two diagonal halves together and slide them so that the length of the new board is where you need it. Since my top is 33 1/2″, I glued the board 34″ long. I’m sure there’s a mathematical formula that can determine how much width of board you lose for every inch you lengthen it but, I haven’t taken trigonometry in twenty years, so unfortunately, I can’t help you with that.
After the glue dries, you’ll have a little triangular shaped area you’ll need to remove with a hand plane. After you plane that area away, joint the whole edge straight with the jointer plane, and rip the other side straight on the table saw.
After I stretched all three boards and trimmed them square, I edge glued all three pieces together. This board is now 34″ long x 15″ wide.
Here’s the board after it was sized to the final dimension of the top of the cabinet and sanded to 220 grit sand paper. This top will work perfectly fine and no one will ever know I screwed up.
Here’s a close up shot of the board. If you look closely, you can see the diagonal glue lines that pass through the grain. However, it still looks really nice even if the grain of the board would be shown in the piece of furniture.
Merry Christmas everyone!