Wood Grain Direction | the Custom Furniture Design Process

Hello furniture fans, Jenn here! Dave is working on a piece for a client right now and wanted to share a little bit about the depth of the custom design process.  Most of us understand that custom furniture will involve the client being able to choose the wood type, the finish type, and the shape and function of a custom piece.  But it doesn’t stop there – something as simple as the grain direction for a feature panel can change the look and feel of a piece.  Take it away Dave!


These are the panels before finish is applied.

I am making a simple frame and panel door setup for a jewelry cabinet. The style is Shaker or maybe minimalist Arts and Crafts. The design is very clean, and the star of the show is the wood for the panel doors. I had a really sweet piece of curly cherry, so bookmatching the panel seemed a simple but attractive design.


bookmatching: when panels are oriented with the grain as a mirror image of each other.  Imagine the opening and closing of a book – when the panels are one board they face each other, and when they are split into two up to the grain is mirrored around the “spine”**


The wood has been resawn and planed to thickness, then left to mellow. Since the door frames are very thin, the panels need to want to be flat. If they curl the doors will twist. The panels behaved themselves, so today they went into the cherry frames. Picture one shows them in their frames, bookmatched, before the application of any finish. Pretty nice.

When possible, it’s good to finish panels before putting them in their frames – that way if (or when) they shrink, the newly exposed wood is sure to be finished. The finish for this cabinet is polymerized tung oil which really brings out the depth in cherry.

The bookmatched panels with one coat of sealer are shown in picture two. Sorry for the glare. Looks great, yes?

cabinet door panels-3

Ah, but we have options. The downside of bookmatching is that the reflectance of the wood on the two panels is reversed, so the color of the two rarely looks the same. The Japanese solve this by slip-matching rather than book-matching. The two sequential pieces have pretty much the same pattern, and have the same reflectance. That is picture 3, and is generally not my favorite. It looks better here than most times.

cabinet door panels-4

The last alternative is to slip-match but then rotate one panel 180 deg, which results in a pinwheel approach. I really like that here, but it creates a movement to the piece that may not be to everyone’s individual taste.

cabinet door panels-5

This looks to me like a customer decision point – part of the fun of ordering custom furniture.

Heller & Heller

Custom Furniture

Serving Virginia and Beyond

Heller & Heller

Custom Furniture

Serving Virginia & Beyond