Wood Slivers as a Quick Fix for Wood Defects

Because wood is often imperfect, part of being a good carpenter or woodworker is knowing how to deal with it and make the finished product look as though wood IS perfect – more or less. There are various techniques one can incorporate to achieve this, the best of which are surprisingly simple. There is one sure thing however, that sets the pros apart from the amateurs, and that is the ability to know when tedious touch-up type jobs are necessary and when they’re not.

The human eye has an interesting “viewpoint”. Certain types of defects, depending on where they are, are virtually undetectable to the average person. For example, unless you’re looking for it, you probably won’t notice that your ceiling dips about half an inch in the center over a 4 to 6 meter span. Ok, half an inch might be a badly warped lumberlot, but I just threw that in there to make a point. The usual twist or bow would probably put you off half of that – which would of course, be even less noticeable.

If you can construct your building projects perfectly, more power to you! But unfortunately, for most of us, perfection – or anything close to it – comes only with time. That’s why the pros are good at what they do. Because they do it again and again and again, perfecting their techniques, learning from their mistakes, so they can do it faster and better the next time. But if you were a pro, you wouldn’t need this advice, and you most likely wouldn’t be here reading this.

Heads Up

First off, let me give you a heads up. Don’t waste your time with wood that’s beyond “repair”. What do I mean by beyond repair? Well, wood that is bowed or crooked in one direction is usable – as long as it’s not bowing too much, and it’s bowing in one direction only. But boards that are “S” shaped or twisted is where I draw the line – unless you’re willing to brute force it (which is only possible under certain conditions). If a board is bowed in one direction but is straight in the other plane, it can be situated so as to make use of the straight plane.

Unfortunately, twisted and S shaped lumber don’t leave much to salvage. Such lumber can only be used if the defects are very slight, or if the given project doesn’t require good looks or structure. Lumber with a large width-to-height ratio on the end cross-section can tend to “cup” depending on the wood grain and cut. When purchasing your lumber, make sure you eyeball the length of the boards to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

The Beauty of Wood Slivers

So after all is said and done, and you’ve done what you could to secure quality in your choice of wood, but when it comes time to work, you somehow still have the odd warped piece or two…what do you do? I have a habit of always keeping a wide variety of slivers handy for just this purpose. Slivers should range from half a Various Wood Sliversmillimeter to a couple centimeters. If I have a piece of plywood that is too small to use for anything, instead of throwing it out, I’ll cut it up and put it in my sliver box.

I’ll even go out of my way to find various sizes so as to be prepared for all types of situations. What you do is simply place your sliver/s between the boards, raising the thickness locally. For example, floors, ceilings and walls can all partake of this trick as long as the slivers are placed either where the fasteners will be or between the main beams and joists. In other words, because the slivers are local, they would need to be where the stress is transferred – intersections, joints and/or fasteners.

Various Types of Wood Defects

  • Bow – a warp along the longitudinal axis of the face of the board.
  • Crook – a warp along the longitudinal axis of the edge of the board.
  • Kink – a localized bend, often due to a knot.
  • Cup – a warp across the width of the face, in which the edges are higher or lower than the center.
  • Twist – a distortion in which the two ends are “twisted” in opposite directions as you would when squeezing out a wet rag, and do not lie on the same plane.

The reasons for various wood defects and warping are mainly due to the uneven and premature drying out of the lumber. But the way the lumber is cut from the log also has bearing. As I covered in Grain on Wood and its Effects and Dealing with Warped Wood, quarter-sawn is by far more preferable to flat-sawn, both in terms of warping and looks. – You of course, pay that much more for it. This is not to say that all flat-sawn lumber is warped and all quarter-sawn is not.

There is much that still depends on the type of wood, cutting process, and ultimately, the way and environment in which it’s stored and shipped. I sometimes feel bad for these home centers where half the wood is badly defective and the piles are all overturned and in disarray due to customers plowing through them looking for straight ones. I mean, what do they do with that kind of rubbish…and I wonder if there’s anyone foolish enough to buy it.


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