A Lesson in Wood Movement

A few months ago I made a backer for my desk. Turns out I made a huge mistake by gluing pieces of hardboard (not shown in any of the original build pictures) to the back of the oak, hoping to add strength. When the weather started to turn here in Michigan and humidity levels changed, the different materials shrunk at different rates and it caused major problems.

When I removed the screws a lot of stress was released. Yikes!

When set on my work table you can really see how much bend there was.

I’d spent so much time building these desk backers. I felt sick and hoped I could save it all. It was very easy to separate the hardboard from the oak on half; not so easy with the other half. Below is the first half I worked on.

I used a chisel to scrape off the bulk of what you see in the above picture and sanded the rest. After that, I purposely broke the worst joint separations so I could sand the edges and glue them back together stronger. The hardboard didn’t come off the second half in large pieces and I actually got out the electric hand plane to help with the job. What you see below is this second half after cleaning it up and breaking the weakened joints.

Here’s a comparison between the first half (near me) after I fixed it and the second half with the hardboard still attached.

Far from perfect, but good enough. I’m so glad I was able to save the pieces. It was probably 4-5 hours of work though.

Since the oak panels are screwed to the desk, without anything allowing for movement, I could still run in to issues with expansion and contraction. Hopefully it’ll be minor and not cause any other epic failures though.