I'm about to build my first* large project with real hardwood, and because random widths and lengths lumber is so much cheaper than standard cut lumber (and typical cut lumber sizes are often not even multiples of project parts anyway), even with a charge for milling to 13/16 inch and one straight edge, I bought random-random. The catch is that some of the boards have wane, non-straight opposite edges, and worst of all, cracks. The photo shows the largest board of the order, which also has the worst cracking.

So, my question is: How do I get the most out of the cracked lumber?

One strategy is to cut straight edges around the cracks and joint them back together, tossing the cracked edges into the kindling pile. One disadvantage is that cracks often don't run parallel with board edges, and ripping straight edged diagonals can be difficult (at least for my skill set and equipment).

But it seems like I could put glue into the cracks and clamp it, pretty much the same way I might join cut edges. This is only workable if the crack hasn't lost surface wood from the crack, which would leave gaps (such as in the crack on the right in the photo). A possible risk is that the cracks might be there due to tension in the wood, and that they'd just crack again, either along the glue line or elsewhere.

Are there other tricks to getting the most out of boards with cracks and other defects that I haven't thought of?

12 foot × 8 inch × 13/16 inch red oak, with cracking halfway down its length

* Doing my floors in bamboo is a large project, but it's an engineered material made from woody grass, not real wood.

  • 1
    the cracks might be there due to tension in the wood - Mitch Rudman's "Frankenstein method" might apply. Nov 9, 2017 at 23:08
  • 1
    what is the project? will board defects affect life-safety or just cosmetics?
    – dandavis
    Nov 10, 2017 at 19:16
  • It's a large bookcase (about seven feet square, in three spans), so structural strength matters -- compression on the upright parts and flex on the shelves. In terms of cosmetics, I'd like it to be an upgrade from the pretty good oak veneer bookcases they're displacing. (The veneer will move into a less visible room.) It's partly a warm-up project for a more complicated project, so I know what I'm doing on the next one.
    – Steve
    Nov 10, 2017 at 19:41
  • Also, since I have to haul it up stairs from the garage, I'd like to build it so that it's somewhat modular. That way I can acclimate the wood in the house, do the woodworking in the garage, test assemble it in place, apply the finishing in the garage (after a thorough dust sweeping job!), and reassemble it in place.
    – Steve
    Nov 10, 2017 at 19:53
  • 1
    Depending on your aesthetic and structural requirements, you could make the cracks a feature with dutchmen and black epoxy. Nov 11, 2017 at 16:57


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