Freshly baked bread

I sometimes feel I should write an ode to the lowly batten. They serve so many unsung purposes with absolute tenacity that they really are the unsung heroes of the woodworking world. So, if you’re short on time, materials, or tools to make proper breadboard ends for a tool chest, let me be the first to say that battens will serve just fine. I used battens on my small floor chest and that lid has been perfectly flat for more than a year now. They work and they’re simple to make and install.

That said, when building my Dutch chest I was dead set on making breadboard ends for the lid, and the real reason for that was not that they are superior for the purpose, but because I’ve never made them before and I wanted to have a go at it before making them for a dining table I have in the works. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn a new skill and so after gluing up the panel for the lid out of white pine, I grabbed some nice straight red oak and had at it.

This probably shouldn’t be viewed as a tutorial. There might be better ways to do this, but this is how I worked it out.

I began by figuring out just how long the final panel needed to be, then I marked the shoulders for the tenon on the panel. Using the end itself as a guide I sawed each shoulder just shy of final depth to give myself some wiggle room.

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This left me with a nice clean shoulder and some waste to clear. The board was too wide to accurately cut the tenon (or at least for me to do that) so I used a two step process with my shoulder plane and jack plane to remove the waste. A jack rabbet plane or something of that nature would be really handy here.

I went ahead and plowed 1/4″ wide and 3/8″ deep grooves down the middle on the inside of each end piece and then slowly (and evenly) worked the tenons down to thickness until they “just” fit. I also cleaned up each shoulder at this point an prepared for markup.

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I used the depth of the groove to set the long haunch of the tenon at 3/8″ and laid out three separate tenons. There’s probably good advice to give at this point on layout, but honestly I just went with what looked good based off of the proportions of the overall piece.

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I cut those out with a tenon saw and coping saw and used the tenons themselves to layout the mortise locations. I didn’t take pictures of some of these steps because I didn’t intend to do a tutorial, but you will want to make sure that your outer mortises are a little wide for each tenon to allow for expansion and contraction. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward.

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You can probably skip this next step, but at this point we were right in the middle of a hurricane and I had to stop to save this stack of cherry from my flooding garage.

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The next day we had no power, but lucky for me we had the sun and I’m a hand tool woodworker.

Once the tenons are fit to the mortises it’s really just a matter of drilling the right holes, picking the right mallet and holding your breath. Oh, and pegs. You need to make pegs. Make sure you taper the leading end of each peg so that it can drive through and work correctly.

I made these out of some scraps of riven red oak with a small axe, block plane and some sandpaper.

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When you drill for the peg holes, drill the breadboard end by itself first and then re-insert the tenons and use the same brad-point drill bit to mark the tenons at the center point of each hole. remove the tenons and mark a new point in line with that point but closer to the shoulder of the joint. How much closer depends on your risk tolerance and the materials you’re using, but I ball-parked it at about 1/16″. Bad-asses probably go with 3/32″. Drill the tenon holes on that point.

The last thing you want to do before assembling is to widen the two outer holes on the tenons to allow for expansion and contraction. Make sure only to widen them parallel to the tenon and not the other way or the drawboring won’t work.

Then, pick your favorite hammer / mallet / whacking device and go for it.

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At this point, you can embellish as you like. A simple chamfer is nice. A thumbnail profile is easy to do with a fillister and block plane. You’re working almost entirely with long grain so it’s very forgiving.

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5 thoughts on “Freshly baked bread

  1. Was there a reason you went with Oak for the breadboard vs. the same pine for the rest of the chest? I did the same wood for the breadboards but oak pins. I do like your contrast in the interior views on instagram. How does it look – and feel – on the painted side (not sure I can tell from the instagram pics)

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    1. Really it was just for contrast of color and texture. I’ve had good experiences with oak for battens and I wanted to experiment. The somewhat open grain still looks good with paint IMO, but I like some texture under milk paint finishes.

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