I always enjoy it when somebody commissions a piece that gives me the opportunity to try something new. This time it was a friend who asked me to make her a wooden stove cover. (Full disclosure: I didn’t even know such things existed until she asked for one. Apparently a lot of other people don’t actually cook on their stove tops all that often?) Stove covers come in a few varieties. Some of them are designed to be used as cutting boards and even have juice grooves around the edges. Others have handles that allows the cook to remove the heavy cover more easily. A lot of the ones I saw online seemed pretty crudely constructed.
After talking with my friend about what she wanted (yes, handles; no juice groove), I dove into my stash of hardwood and came up with some rustic cherry boards. This is the result.
I’m pleased with the final result, and I hope the owner will be, too. It’s about 20″ wide, 30″ long, and 3/4″ thick.
I’m not going to detail the whole construction process here. Instead, I want to focus just on one element: the breadboard ends. I had never tried to make breadbord ends before, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out.
A stove cover may be a simple concept–just one wide board that goes on top of your stove–but the problem is that any wide board is bound to warp over time, especially when exposed to heat and/or moisture, both of which are normal in the kitchen. So any solid-wood stove cover needs to be built in such a way that the panel will stay reasonably flat over the long haul. That’s where the breadboard ends come in.
Other makers of stove covers solve the problem by nailing long battens across the panel on each end. The result is a pretty utilitarian look, and a surface that’s not actually flat all the way across. If that’s your thing, I have no objection. But breadboard ends result in a flatter, cleaner surface that looks like it was made by someone who knew what he was doing. (I hope to keep that illusion going here.)
Here’s how a breadboard end works: each end of a panel is captured inside another board whose grain runs perpendicular to that of the panel (as in the photo above). Each breadboard is attached to the panel with a tongue-and-groove joint combined with a number of mortise-and-tenon joints. The tenons provide strength, and the tongue-and-groove ensures that the panel won’t warp between the tenons. The resulting panel is very stable and very strong.
We begin our breadboard journey with the 20″-wide panel already glued up from five cherry boards that I had planed down from rough-sawn stock. The first step in making the breadboard ends is to cut what amounts to either a really wide tenon or a really long tongue on each end of the panel.
After laying out the shoulders with a straightedge and a knife, I used my stair saw to cut in the shoulders of the joint. (I love my stair saw for dadoes especially, but it works extremely well on any cross-grain cut whose depth needs to be precise.) This ensures that I have a straight shoulder that makes solid contact with the breadboard end all along the joint.
The next step is to remove the waste from the cheeks of the tenon/tongue. I went back and forth for a few minutes on the best way to do this, but I eventually settled on my rabbet plane, a Stanley 78. The tenon/tongue is only about 1″ long, so the rabbet plane should be able to take off the waste pretty well.
Except that it also made a mess in the process. Because of the plane’s construction, it caught a couple times on the corner where it entered the wood, mangling what should have been a nice, crisp edge. (It’s a good thing I started removing stock on the underside of the panel instead of on the top!) This rabbet plane works okay for cutting rabbets with the grain, but I’m not pleased with its performance across the grain. I quickly put it away and tried something else.
I pulled out my Veritas shoulder plane to see what it could do. Ordinarily, a shoulder plane is just for trimming–it’s not really optimized for heavy stock removal. But I decided to try it anyway.
I was very pleased to find that the plane worked well in this situation. I made the first few cuts just by tipping the corner of the plane into the saw kerf. After a number of passes, the plane was taking nearly a full-width shaving. It was slow going because the plane is designed to take a fairly light cut, and I had to stop a few times to clear the shavings from the throat. But it worked.
Soon the plane was cutting a very nice channel, and I was able to bring the cut right down to my layout line. The plane is only 3/4″ wide, so i left about 1/4″ of waste on the outside, which needed to be removed next. First I tried doing that with a small smoothing plane, but it was faster to just knock off the waste with a broad chisel and use the shoulder plane to remove any remaining high spots.
With the long rabbet/tenon now cut, the next step was to lay out the actual tenons and cut away the waste between them. Normally a breadboard end will have an odd number of mortise-and-tenon joints: one joint in the middle and the rest evenly spaced on each side. On this board, I decided to go with three tenons: one in the very center and two closer to each end. Each of the five boards in the panel has at least part of a tenon on each end. The panel will therefore stay together even if all the glue fails. (It won’t.)
The groove cut in the breadboard end itself is 1/4″ wide and 1/4″ deep, so each tenon needs to be 1/4″ thick, with a 1/4″ tall tongue running on each side of it. Instead of using a ruler or something like that to lay out the height of the tongue, I just used the width of my 1/4″ paring chisel to guage the height of each tongue.
I used a coping saw to remove the waste between the tenons. Fortunately, the tongue will be completely concealed inside the groove–except on each end–so the tongue is intentionally cut just a little bit short to ensure that it bottoms out in the groove only on each end. This whole process is pretty involved and takes a lot of time, so it’s good to economize by working quickly to approximate measurements whenever possible.
In a similar way, the mortises in each breadboard end are intentionally cut a little longer than necessary, which will accommodate some wood movement across the width of the panel. I used my plow plane to cut matching grooves into the breadboard ends, and the grove provided a very handy guide for placing each mortise. (Sorry, no picture; I was in a hurry to finish at this point.) I chopped each mortise with a mortise chisel. I also made each breadboard end a fraction of an inch long so that I could saw it off flush with the panel’s edge on each side.
Because the breadboard end runs across the grain, it needs to allow the panel to swell and shrink across its width as the humidity level changes. I intentionally used quarter-sawn boards for the panel, which will move less than flat-sawn ones, but there will still be some seasonal movement. The normal procedure, then, is to glue only the tenon in the center, and to use some more flexible way of securing the tenons on the outside. I opted to just peg them with poplar dowels.
I considered doing a true drawbored joint but decided that was more complicated than necessary. I merely clamped the whole assembly from each end and bored a hole through each joint. With the panel still clamped up, I tapped in a poplar dowel. With the clamps removed (once the glue in the center joint set), I trimmed the dowels flush on both sides. The poplar is soft enough that it should compress just a bit as the panel swells and shrinks throughout the seasons.
I rounded over all the edges with a hand plane and sanded the whole thing smooth to get it ready to finish. There were some old bug holes that I plugged with walnut sawdust flooded with CA glue and scraped flush with the surface. The result is a dark colored patch that adds just a little bit of visual interest and looks a whole lot better than an open hole in the surface of the wood.
I did also need to address the mess that my rabbet plane left on the shoulder of that one joint.
To explain how I fixed this, I need to back up in the assembly process a couple steps. Before putting on the breadboard ends, I created a wall around the gap with painter’s tape and filled the hole with cherry sawdust. Then I saturated the sawdust with CA glue (superglue) and let it set–the same process I use to fill the bug holes above. Once the glue set, I was able to sand the patch flush with the surface. The resulting patch is sturdy and will blend in well enough with the surrounding wood.
I finished the stove cover with several coats of Danish oil, which really brought out some lovely figure in the cherry wood. Last, I installed two black door handles on each end.
In retrospect, it was a lot of work to end up with what amounts to a single, flat board. But this board is going to stay flat, and I learned a lot in the process. I’m glad I did it.