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Building Kitchen Cabinets: Five Thoughts on Inlaying Wood Across the Grain

by Greg Keefer

When it comes to kitchen cabinets, you, generally, won't run into a problem with the expansion and contraction of wood used in mortise and tenon joints. But, cross-grain inlaying on other parts of your cabinet may come with some drawbacks.

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Building kitchen cabinets is a tough enough challenge without your wood splittingor dimpling due to improperly used cross-grain inlays. Here's what you need to keep in mind.

  1. Small inlays: Mortise and tenon joints use little wood, and expansion and contraction rates are nearly imperceptible. Tenons are usually two inches or less in width. That's not enough wood to make significant movement across the grain. Small inlays are the way to go.
  2. Inlaid panels: Larger pieces of wood are a different story. A panel might pull and push against the piece to which it's attached in ways that become noticeable after a period of time. Large inlays might move an eighth of an inch or more across the grain. Use big inlays sparingly.
  3. Humidity and temperature control: Wood won't flex and shrink if humidity and temperature stays fairly constant. Wildly fluctuating atmospheric conditions create problems for homemade cabinetry.
  4. Start with kiln-dried wood when building kitchen cabinets: Dry wood shows the least amount of expansion and contraction.
  5. Use a penetrating finish: An oil-based finish on your cabinets helps conceal any movement due to expansion and contraction. An oil based finish anticipates the movement and minimizes the visual impact by blending the appearance of the inlay and base.

When building kitchen cabinets, keep solutions in mind regarding the "cold creep" of expansion and contraction. This can improve the quality of your work. Glue lines create an ugly reminder that you didn't plan ahead and used too large of an inlay. Plan your cabinetry accordingly, and you'll be rewarded with beautiful kitchen cabinets.

About the Author

Greg Keefer has been a do-it-yourselfer with lots of experience in how to do things right and how to do them wrong. He enjoys sharing his experience with the hope of helping others to

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