Woodwork Tips

Wooden quilts – FineWoodworking

Wooden quilts - FineWoodworking

In my previous blog entry, I discussed the concept of Scraps-of-Note, which refers to exceptional pieces of wood that are often overlooked as scraps but can be transformed into valuable canvases for new projects. Today, I want to delve into another resource for woodworking enthusiasts: small and seemingly mundane wood scraps that can be skillfully assembled to create artistic-surface quilts. These quilts can then be used to shape furniture tops and panels, adding a unique touch to your woodworking projects.

A workbench built from shipping pallets
This is my first workbench, built 20+ years ago. I used hardwood ties from shipping pallets, extracted the nails, cut off the defective parts, and glued the segments together. While some pieces were longer than others, the outcome became a robust solid wood panel for my bench. By the way, I made the trestle base from shipping pallet elements too.

A workbench built from shipping pallets

My fascination with this technique began during research for my book, “Working Reclaimed Wood,” which explores innovative approaches to using reclaimed materials. While delving into the topic, I discovered a few reclaimed artists who demonstrated exceptional skill in merging small wood scraps to form a tapestry of colors and grain that left me astonished. Artists like Piet Hein Eek, Irene Ferri, Gilad Erjaz, and Victor Valencia incorporate reclaimed and weathered wood into their quilts, while others prefer to work with recently processed lumber scraps.

A wood canvas made by a basic reclaimed wood quilt, also known as a wood tapestry.
A wood canvas made by a basic reclaimed wood quilt, also known as a wood tapestry.

Although this form of surface creation is commonly associated with scrap or reclaimed wood media today, its aesthetic origin can be traced to parquet flooring design.

There are two main methods for creating a wooden quilt: joining the parts to form a structural panel similar to how we glue “butcher block boards,” or gluing the quilt parts to a structural substrate. I’ll cover the first method here, and the second in a subsequent blog post.

Reclaimed southern yellow pine quilted tabletop with steel base, by Victor Valencia.
Reclaimed southern yellow pine quilted tabletop with steel base, by Victor Valencia.

Structural wooden quilt

The first technique allows us to rely on the quilt as a true structural panel. This type of tapestry possesses structural integrity and can serve as tabletops, solid doors, or furniture carcase parts. Creating such a quilt requires meticulous preparation to ensure accurate milling of the pieces for perfect alignment, edge matching, and attention to grain orientation.

A colorful wooden quilt table
Gilad Erjaz’s table

A contemporary table made from walnut scraps

A contemporary table made from walnut scraps
Victor Valencia’s reclaimed walnut scraps table.

In addition to the straightforward method of gluing the parts in rows, where each piece is tucked against its neighbor along an edge (similar to a masonry wall), solid quilts can be created by assembling easier-to-glue subunits. Once the adhesive of the subunits has cured, they are jointed and milled to match the design before being assembled for the final glue-up. Another method for creating a structural quilt is the Onion method, where a few inner circle segments are glued together to form a center-piece unit, and additional pieces are gradually added around it to increase the surface area. This incremental process is recommended for complex quilt geometries but, like the previous method, requires continuous jointing before edge gluing the subsequent pieces.

A drawing of the Onion method for creating structural quilts from scrap wood
The Onion method for creating structural scrap quilts.

Quilt plans

Here are some plans for arranging shorter segments of scraps to form a quilt. Note that some layout designs have elements cut at an angle. You don’t have to keep the end-grain edges always at a right angle. Cutting the scraps at a diagonal adds interest.

A drawing of a structural wooden quilt Drawings of structural wooden quilts Drawings of structural wooden quilts

A painted yellow and orange cabinet with blue accents made from reclaimed scrap wood
Gilad Erjaz creates scrap-reclaimed wood panels, which he incorporates into many projects.

Kitchen cabinetry made from reclaimed scrap wood

Utilizing scraps comprised of two types of wood

In this example, the different lengths of the scraps can inform how to arrange them in the quilt. If you have scraps of two types of wood (maple and walnut, for instance), you can let the darker wood express an accented geometry that makes the panel look impressive.

Drawings illlustrating the relevance of scrap wood length when making wooden quilts

Some glue-up configurations are easier than others

As you can see below in both examples, the scraps were glued together, and then the panel was cut in a circle to form a tabletop.

A drawing depicting results when gluing together wedge-shaped scraps of wood
If you have wedge-shaped scraps, you can edge glue them in a few patterns, as I show in the drawings above. Clamping will be the easiest if you align the wedges to cancel each other’s angle.
A drawing depicting how to angle together wedges of scrap for best results wood
If you want the scrap wedges to compile their angle together, you must use cauls. In the above illustration, plywood or MDF cauls are stretched along the entire length of the diagonal edge to ensure the best gluing results.
A drawing depicting how to angle together wedges of scrap for best results wood
Another gluing tip is to cut notches in the glued-up scrap pieces for the clamp’ jaws, and pads (right). After the glue cures, you will cut the panel to shape, and the utility notches will be part of a new batch of cut-off scraps. You can temporarily connect the cauls using brown paper and glue to be knocked out later after the glue has cured (left). Another clamping option is a band clamp. A band clamp can be handy in intricate clamping procedures like this, as it will tuck all the parts nicely into the desired geometry.
A section for reclaimed wood scraps in a lumberyard
Some reclaimed wood lumberyards have special sections for reclaimed wood scraps. Many artists and craftspersons who create wooden quilts use reclaimed wood scraps as the primary material for their quilts or use them as the focal points (or accents) in their new wood tapestry.

Next time, I will showcase the second approach for creating wooden quilts – quilt tapestries over a structural substrate. 

Previously in this series

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