Wood Movement Illustration by James Provost When a piece of lumber is cut from a tree it is referred to as 'green'. At this point the wood is very wet and is completely unsuitable for making furniture. It needs to be dried - by air or kiln - to approximately 10% moisture content.
If the sides/front/back are all made from solid wood and they are dovetailed together, wood movement won't be a problem. The grain is all horizontal and will move in unison. This is the basis of every piece of solid wood casework, be it a chest, a cabinet, or even a bookcase.
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Movement across the board is what does require planning. While our wood moves across the board in both width and thickness. The vast majority of wooden furniture is not much more than 8/4" or 2" thick. There is some movement there, but negligible. It is across the board, where the rubber hits the road. And when you start gluing up 30" or 40" wide tabletops?
With a little bit of knowledge, you can predict the degree of wood movement, and take appropriate action to accomodate the movement. Wood shrinks most in the direction of the annual growth rings (tangentially), and only half as much across the rings (radially, or from the centre of the tree to the outer edge). Wood that is harvested from near the center of the trunk will display less movement than wood that is harvested from the edge of the trunk.
As the amount of moisture in the air changes, depending on the season and the climate control where the wood is stored, the wood expands and contracts. It can move enough to warp a board or break apart joints, and the larger the piece of wood, the more it will move.