Master the Bookmatch

By Matt Kenney

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There’s more to the perfect grain matches than picking the right board

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the cut of a board (flat, rift, quarter) affects the quality of a bookmatch or four corner grain wrap. The best boards to use for bookmatching and four corner wraps are quartersawn boards. You can use rift- and flatsawn boards to create gorgeous grain matches, but they require more work. But even if you use a quartersawn board, like I am for the set of stacking kitchen storage boxes, you must take care when resawing the original board to create the two thinner boards that comprise the bookmatch or box sides. In other words, after you pick a great board, you’ve got to use smart technique, and that’s what I’ll cover in this post.

If you missed my first post about bookmatching, you can go back and read it, as well as the post where I lay out my plans to make a tansu-style set of boxes for my kitchen.

Ok, you have a really nice board in hand and you’re eager to cut it up and make a box with grain that wraps continuously around all four corners. How do you do it? And how do you ensure that the grain match is a flawless as possible? Today, I’ll cover the process from milling to resawing and planing parts to thickness. Next week, I’ll cover how to cut miters for the best grain wraps. But here’s the key principle of the entire process: The less material you remove the better the grain will match at the corners. Simple, right? Well, maybe, but it does require some forethought and intelligent execution.

Set up your machines and planes

Before you begin milling and resawing, set up your bandsaw with a new blade and make sure that the fence is parallel to the blade’s cut. There are many ways to do this, and it’s beyond the scope of this post, so I won’t go into it. Maybe another day. Also, check that your jointer’s fence is square to the cutterhead. I’ll mention some steps where you could use a hand plane instead of the jointer, and if you go that route, then the plane should be sharp and set for light shavings.

Start at the jointer

I get box sides in one of two ways. If the box side is less than 2 in. tall, I rip boards from the edge of an 8/4 flatsawn board, because the edge will have have straight grain. If the side is more than 2 in. tall, I find an 8/4 board that has a run of straight grain on its face along the edge that’s wider than the sides are tall. I rip that section from the board.

Before you resaw draw an arrowhead across the face of the board, so that there’s a visible indicator to help you keep the new boards in the same order they were in before being cut free.

When ripping from the edge, here is what I do. First, I joint one face of the board and then plane it so that the thickness is about 1/8 in. more the side’s height. Back at the jointer, I joint one edge. Then I go to my bandsaw and rip a strip from the jointed edge. It should be about 1/8 in. thicker than the side’s final thickness. Head back to the jointer and joint the edge again. However, when you do this, set the jointer for the lightest cut you can, so that you remove as little material as possible. This edge eventually becomes the outside face of two box sides, and the more material you remove, the harder it is to get a perfect grain match at the corners. You could substitute a bench plane for the jointer at this step, but the goal is the same: remove as little material as possible.

Go back to the bandsaw and rip another strip from the edge. You now have two thin boards. Take a look at the drawing below. The faces that you would use to make a bookmatch panel become the outside faces of the box sides.

Both of the new boards has a jointed face and a bandsawn face at this point.

Resawing for sides taller than 2 in. is similar. Joint one face and then an edge. Go to the tablesaw and rip the board so that it’s width is 1/8 in. more the box side’s height. Stand the board on edge and resaw a new board from the face, not the edge. Joint the face of the original board and then resaw a second board from it. It’s really no different than normal resawing to make veneers.

Plane to final thickness

It’s critical to keep in mind which faces of the two boards become the outside of the box. The first new board resawn from the bigger board has a jointed face and a bandsawn face. The bandsawn face becomes the outside face of two box sides. You want to remove as little material from it as possible when planing to final thickness. So, only plane it enough to make it smooth and parallel to the jointed face. (You can do this with a machine or a hand plane). The board is still too thick, so the remaining material is removed from the jointed face (i.e., the face that becomes the inside of the box sides). The second board resawn from the bigger board also has a jointed face and a bandsawn face. However, it’s jointed face becomes the outside of two box sides. So, do not plane it at all. Only remove material from the bandsawn face.

I plane both boards at the same time, but that could get confusing. You can plane them one at a time as long as the last pass on both is taken at the same time, with the same planer setting.

In concept this is pretty easy to understand, but in the shop it can get confusing. I always tell students that the techniques I use to make boxes are not themselves difficult. What’s difficult is keeping all the little things straight in your head. It’s not hard to make two thin boards from a thicker board. What’s tricky is knowing which faces of the new boards become the outside of the box sides and removing as little material as possible from them.

Well, that’s it. Feel free to ask question in the comments, or to comment in the comments. Also, please like this post if you like it, and share it with folks who might enjoy it, too. Your engagement is important. I really do want to know what you think. Next week, I’ll talk about how to dial in the grain match and miter the sides. Thanks!

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