Canadian Woodworking

An introduction to stringing and banding – part 2

Author: Bill Perry
Photos: Bill Perry
Published: February March 2012
Stringing and Banding
Stringing and Banding

Here’s how to add a high-end accent to your furniture projects without spending a high-end fortune on tools and materials.


In this article, Bill Perry covers how to install and finish the stringing, as well as how to use pre-made bandings to dress up your next project. Perry covered how to produce the stringing material and how to cut grooves in wood that will accept the stringing in our Dec/Jan 2012 issue.

Prepare your stringing by planning a slight bevel onto one edge. This matches the bevel cut by the scratch stock while you were making the groove and makes it easier to fit the string into the groove, even if the groove was routed and has vertical sides. Then plane a bevel onto the other edge, checking the fit as you go. (It’s easier if you plane the bevel onto the edge of a wider strip of wood and then rip the string off of it when it fits.) Have all your tools and materials laid out and ready, and be sure to test-fit all the stringing before you start.

The choice of glue is up to you. Standard yellow glue works fine, while white glue gives you a bit more open time. Hide glue or fish glue are also good choices; they have the added benefit of being reversible with warm water should you make a mistake. How you apply the glue is also up to you. A glue syringe is a good choice. A small bottle that lets you squeeze out a small bead of glue also works well, or you can dab glue into the grooves using a toothpick or splinter of wood. There’s no need to be especially neat; the stringing and any glue squeeze-out are scraped flush with the surface once the glue dries.

With glue applied, press the string into the channel. It’s important to work at a good pace here: the glue will start swelling the wood so you want to get the string in place quickly. Tap it gently into the groove with a hammer and a block of softwood, then burnish it down until it’s well seated. Once the glue dries, use chisels, planes and a scraper to bring the stringing flush with the surface of the wood.

On larger pieces of furniture, your stringing often won’t be long enough to fill a groove and you will have to join two shorter lengths. In such cases, a scarf joint yields a better result than a 90° butt joint. Trim the end of one piece of stringing into a long bevel using a very sharp chisel. Glue this piece into its groove. Then carefully trim the next piece of stringing to match the bevel, checking its angle against the piece that is already glued in place. When you have a good match, glue it down.

Another situation where you may have to join multiple pieces of stringing is when you have it extending across the grain of a panel. This gives you the classic dilemma where the cross-grain panel expands and contracts with changes in humidity, while the long-grain stringing does not.

It’s a little picky to deal with, but not difficult. Take a piece of the wood you’re using for stringing, and crosscut 1/16″ offcuts using the table saw and a zero-clearance crosscut sled. This produces wafers of end-grain wood. Use a wide chisel or plane blade to chop these wafers into shorter slices that will fit into the groove. Bevel them as necessary. These end-grain sections can then be glued end-to-end into their groove, where they will move seasonally along with the rest of the panel.

So far, I’ve been talking about straight or slightly curved stringing. Tighter curves require you to bend the stringing first to prevent it from splitting so this presents an opportunity to try out hot pipe bending.

With this technique, you soak your stringing in water for a few minutes and then gently bend it into a curve around a hot pipe. The heat softens the lignin, which binds the wood’s cells together, allowing it to be bent. Once cooled, it holds its shape. (See Scotty Lewis’ article in Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement #70 for a complete how-to on this technique.)

A Slight Chamfer
With a block plane, cut a slight chamfer on the bottom edge of the stringing. It will fit into the mating groove more easily, as glue tends to swell the wood fibres and cause problems while inserting the stringing.

Light Pressure
A softwood block is a good tool for applying pressure to the stringing. You want the stringing to seat properly in the groove.

Flush Things Up
 Plane the stringing flush with the rest of the wood surface.

Cross Grain Stringing
When inserting stringing across the grain of solid wood, expansion can cause major problems. Cutting strips of stringing, splitting it into smaller pieces and inserting it will allow the stringing to move with the wood’s seasonal movements.

Hot Pipe Bending
To get a tight radius try using a hot pipe. You’ll be surprised how enough heat will cause wood to be easily bent.

Banding Adds Character
While you can make your own banding, it’s not easy. Dozens of banding styles can be purchased, and they add a lot of character to a piece of furniture.

A Simple Alternative
A router plane offers a quieter, less risky way of removing wood to form the groove or dado. In addition to this full-size model, Veritas also has small (1/4-inch blade) and miniature (1/8-inch blade) versions of its router planes. They excel at small runs of precise work such as cutting the channels for this banding.

Start With a Chisel or Knife
 Hand tools are great for doing smaller work, like this leg cuff. The first cut should create a square score mark (above). The second cut should reference off the width of the banding.

Friction Fit
The fit should be just enough to hold the banding in place while turning the workpiece upside down. Any tighter and water in the glue will cause swelling and the banding will be too tight.

Angle Jig
 Using an angle jig to trim any mitered ends will help to ensure a precise fit.

A Scraper Works Wonders
The perfect tool for the job, a sharp cabinet scraper will bring the banding perfectly flush with the rest of the surface, without muddying the surface, like sandpaper.

Look Closely
When complete, banding or stringing will be examined very closely by anyone who sees it. What they will find here are mismatched miters at the top corners (top left comes to a point while top right is squared off), and a sloppy joint at the bottom apex of the loop. It’s time for more practice.

Add Some Curves

So far, I’ve been talking about straight or slightly curved stringing. Tighter curves require you to bend the stringing first to prevent it from splitting so this presents an opportunity to try out hot pipe bending.

With this technique, you soak your stringing in water for a few minutes and then gently bend it into a curve around a hot pipe. The heat softens the lignin, which binds the wood’s cells together, allowing it to be bent. Once cooled, it holds its shape. (See Scotty Lewis’ article in Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement #70 for a complete how-to on this technique.)

Working with bandings

While string inlay provides a very fine accent, sometimes you might want something a bit more robust. Bandings are combinations of veneers assembled into patterns and then cut into strips, typically from about a quarter of an inch wide to even an inch or so. You can make your own bandings, but that’s the subject of a whole other article. If you’re just getting started with this, you can find a good selection of pre-made bandings from several suppliers, usually with online ordering. (See suppliers list.)

Since banding often runs across several components of a piece of furniture – around the legs and across the apron, for example – it’s best to insert it into each component before final glue-up. Once your joinery is cut, dry-fit the components together and mark the positions of the banding from one piece to the next. Then you can disassemble the parts and cut the grooves knowing that the final positioning will be just right.

The grooves can be cut using a router with a straight bit and mounted in a router table. Match the size of the bit to the width of the banding, and set the depth of cut by making test cuts in some scrap. Then set up your cut by positioning a fence on the router table, and again check for accuracy using scrap. Once all is in place, you can rout the grooves.

Slow Things Down with Hand Tools

Although the test cuts minimize the risk, routing these shallow grooves is still white knuckle stuff. I’m a lot calmer using a lower-tech tool: the router plane, designed to cut accurate grooves, rabbets and dadoes. Stanley has manufactured its number 71 router plane and the smaller 1/4″ number 271 for more than a century. These can be bought new or found at used tool auctions, but recently Veritas has introduced its own versions.

The Veritas planes sport some improvements over the Stanleys –particularly the blade adjustment mechanisms – while providing the flawless fit and finish we have come to expect from this manufacturer. About all you need to do is take a few minutes to hone the blade to your very best edge before you start work; the time spent will pay dividends.

To use the plane, use a marking or cutting gauge to define one edge of the groove for the banding. Then, with a knife, deepen the gauge’s mark. Align a piece of banding with the knife cut, using it as a spacer to position the knife for a second cut, and make that cut, with a straightedge guiding the knife. When cutting into long grain, the knife will tend to follow the grain of the wood, so it’s important to keep the cuts light.

With the edges defined, set the router plane’s fence to bear against the workpiece’s edge so the plane’s blade is centered between your cut marks. Adjust the blade to take a very light cut. Then, starting at the far end of the cut, make light passes with the plane.

The channel opened up by the plane’s blade directs the blade and helps keep it on track with each successive pass. Work carefully, keeping the fence firmly against the workpiece while gradually increasing the depth of cut. Stop when a piece of banding can be pressed into the groove, sitting just slightly proud of the surface.

Dadoes for short lengths of banding such as that forming a cuff around the bottom of a table leg can usually be cut by hand. Use a piece of the banding as a template to guide your knife or chisel when you make your layout lines. This all but guarantees a perfect fit. Define the edges with deep, clean cuts, then work slowly and precisely with the plane, taking light cuts until the dado is deep enough to accept the banding.

Banding that wraps around furniture components must be cut with the ends mitred for a neat joint. You can cut these mitres by hand with a chisel, but a simple jig consisting of a block of wood cut at a 45° angle will improve accuracy.

Scrape the bandings flush

Bandings are quite delicate, so a scraper is your best choice for bringing them flush with the furniture’s surface. A plane risks tearout due to the changing grain directions, while sandpaper grinds sawdust into the banding’s surface, muddying its appearance. (The same applies to smoothing string inlay: scrapers yield a crisper appearance than sandpaper.)

Once you’ve completed your project you need to choose a finish. If you use an oil-based finish that warms the appearance of the wood, it will do the same with the string and banding you have inlaid.

If you’re seeking an antique patina, this may be the best choice. However, if you want to keep your holly stringing looking a nice bright white, you may be better off using a water-borne finish, or sealing the stringing first with super-blond shellac. Use a fine artist’s brush to apply the shellac.


A wash coat of methyl hydrate (wood alcohol) will give you a preview of how the wood will look with a finish applied. It evaporates within a couple of minutes.

You don’t need to stop with just basic stringing and banding.

The precise depth adjustment of the Stew-Mac router base allows you to excavate cavities into which inlay can be glued. This opens up possibilities of using figured woods, metals, colored epoxy, mother-of-pearl or any other materials as decorative elements. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but keep the following tips in mind.

One: Less is more. A few understated lines of stringing can elegantly highlight details of a piece of furniture; a hodgepodge of stringing, banding and inlay running off in all directions is just visual distraction.

Two: There are only three secrets to doing fine work here. The first two are patience and practice. The third is more patience and practice. Remember that the nature of this work is to invite people to examine it closely. So when you’re mitering two pieces of stringing to form a tiny, perfect joint, and you cut one piece just a hair too short – maybe only 1/64″ or less – if there’s a gap big enough to bother you, scrap the piece and make a new one. This is the one place where close enough isn’t good enough.

That isn’t meant to intimidate you. If you like fine work you’ll have lots of fun with this. And even if you’re still more comfortable with a chop saw than a chisel, you should find this well within your ability. I hope you’ll give it a try.

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