Will Wood Movement be an Issue in My Bathroom Project?

I have a question about gluing up thin panels: I have two full-size cabinets in each bathroom to cover. I will be using cherry and curly maple. Can I glue and pin nail 1/4″-thick boards to the side of the sink cabinet, forming a wide (about 2′ X 4′ ) panel and have them butt up against a 1/4″ face frame and not have to worry about wood movement? Basically, think of this as a 1/4″ laminate covering an existing cabinet. Will that work? If not, what will I need to do to make it work? – Frank Bonthron

Rob Johnstone: Any time you use solid wood, you have to consider wood movement. Any joinery you use must accommodate this. You may want to use a construction adhesive, with some flexibility. You will still need to leave at least a 1/4″ gap, or a series of 1/16″ gaps, to accommodate the wood movement — you are putting this in a bathroom, after all, which is a high humidity environment. (The good news is that, because of that high humidity, your wood will likely expand and stay expanded.)

Chris Marshall: To add to Rob’s suggestions, I would also apply finish to both sides of those wood panels in order to help balance the rate at which they absorb and release moisture. Just guessing here, but I bet a viscous, highly tacky glue like construction adhesive should still stick pretty well to a finished panel, unlike thinner woodworking glues such as PVA (yellow or white wood glue). Try it on a sample first to prove it out for yourself.

Tim Inman: First Question Answer: NO! You must always worry about wood movement. Veneer or bridge timbers — they all move. What to do to make it work? Let your new surface “float” over the old. Like a “floating floor,” just fasten your new panel (whether 1/4 inch thick or 4 inches thick) to the substrate so it can move. You can hide the moving edge under a bit of molding, or fasten with strategically placed pins. Just let it move, because one way or another, it will.

 

Posted in: