Canadian Woodworking

Going Against the Grain

Author: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2012
Going Against the Grain
Going Against the Grain

If you’re working with veneered panels, you’re free to inlay stringing and banding in any direction you’d like, as wood movement is virtually non-existent.


It’s solid wood that can pose problems. When running stringing and banding parallel to solid woods’ grain, there are no wood movement discrepancies.

The problems arise when stringing or banding runs perpendicular to the grain of solid wood. One solution is to use short sections of stringing or banding, separating them with a gap or another inlaid element. It can be time-consuming, but ignoring wood movement will only create larger problems down the road.

Nice and Simple
The easiest option is to start by cutting and installing the stringing lengths. Don’t spend too much time fussing with the start and end points of each strip, as they will got covered by the plugs later. Once the inlay is dry drill holes at the end of each strip and install plugs.

Centre the Plugs
 Install the stringing, having each end terminate a specific distance from each other. Take care to fit the stringing to its groove, paying special attention to the ends, as everything will be visible. Drill and install a combination of different sized wood plugs between the inlay strips.

Heavy Metal
Using metal instead of wood will add another element to your work. You can cut pieces of metal to size and inlay them, or simply hammer in a nail and flush it to the surface. Nails are easy to install and come in many different varieties. Copper is one of my favourites.

Most woods will move at least 1/8″ per every 12″ in width. With that in mind, I like to keep the inlaid piece no more than about 4″ long, but less is preferable. Since some species will move less than others, and quarter-cut material will move less than flat-cut material, there is no definitive maximum length. On top of that, different geographic regions will have wider swings in relative humidity, which means you should use even shorter lengths.

Though you can easily use short lengths of inlay separated by small gaps, I prefer the look of adding another element between the short strips. I often add solid wood plugs that contrast or match the stringing or banding species. Using a more exotic material (for us woodworkers anyway), such as mother of pearl, stainless steel or copper, also works well.

Design options are almost endless, and the techniques to bring everything together nicely don’t have to be difficult. Whichever method you choose, layout is essential, as you want to end up with a balanced look.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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