Woodworking is a delicate art. There are many things that could go wrong if you don’t handle things correctly at each step of the way, and when you have a table that racks or sways, it can be a frustrating issue.
Racking is a type of woodworking issue that can affect the functionality of a table since it will lean to one side, making it shaky and unstable to use. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to prevent racking on a table.
So, how do you prevent racking on a table? The best way to prevent racking on a table is to make sure sides are parallel, add supports like L-shaped braces, and clamp your piece in the very center to ensure even pressure.
In this article, we’ll go over all the basics of racking in woodwork and how to fix this common issue. Before we talk about how to fix the problem, let’s try to understand why racking happens in the first place.
Why Does Racking Happen?
Explained simply, racking is when a piece of woodwork is unstable and uneven, and it can lean, shake, or slide when you try to use it. Of course, when you build a piece of woodwork, you want it to be functional and stable, so you want to get rid of this problem as effectively as possible.
When racking occurs, you often see one of these two things happen: top to bottom racking or side to side racking. A top to bottom racking occurs when a piece of furniture is clamped at the top of a vice’s jaws. The top portion of the jaw can tilt outward, which can cause uneven pressure.
On the other hand, side-to-side racking occurs when a piece of furniture is clamped with a vice at one end and has no balance on the other. Face vises have jaws that are wider than other types of clamps, which can cause more of the woodwork to be cluttered with the vice, causing racking.
You cannot sand, saw, or plane a piece of wood that isn’t secure, which means solving this problem is the only way you can get anything done.
Racking can occur when you use clamps incorrectly while making a square or rectangular object. For example, if the table legs are not clamped correctly to the table and are not supported properly, the table won’t be very sturdy and stable.
Even if the table is built properly, extended use with a lot of excessive force can also push it out of square, causing the table to rack.
When vises are incorrectly used, a table can rack. The clamps are designed to evenly distribute the wood’s width across the surface of the table. However, when the wood is placed on one of the two sides of the vise, the weight becomes uneven, which causes the other side to tilt away from the surface.
Wood racking is not only annoying, but it will also make your work harder with less accuracy. Wood racking will make it harder to make a small and intricate woodworking item. You will not be able to achieve your desired effect.
Fortunately, it is usually not necessary to live with wood racking. If you know the causes of wood racking, then you can prevent it from happening.
How To Prevent Racking
Having properly examined the causes of racking, you can see how simple this problem is to solve: properly support the table or adjust the vises.
1. Add Support And Balance
When building a table (or any square or rectangular shapes for that matter), double-check the sides are parallel and square. Make sure the clamps are in place correctly so that the shape is properly secured.
If your table is built with just four legs without any proper support, and if it is not clamped correctly when the table legs are secured, then racking is almost guaranteed.
In these instances, you should also use diagonal braces or backing boards to add an extra layer of support to your table, which can prevent racking, especially after extended use.
Hardware such as L-shaped braces are highly secure quick fixes. You can also play with your design by adding more support to the structure of the table, creating parallel or diagonal lines with your woodwork, which can add a layer of support while adding depth to your table at the same time.
If your table is racking after some use, you can examine the legs and use similar methods to reinforce the table, like furniture pads.
2. Use The Vice Correctly
If your table is racking immediately after being finished, then you should reconsider how you’re using your vise.
Here’s the simplest way to prevent racking when working with wood: clamp your piece in the center. This ensures that the pressure is spread evenly since neither side will have more or less surface area than the other.
If you can’t do that, try clamping the opposite side to even out the pressure. The thickness of the second piece of wood should also be the same as the first one. This will prevent the clamp from being uneven, which should prevent racking while you work.
Of course, different types of vises have their own features and weaknesses, and some vises are better than others. You should examine your type of vise carefully and learn how to use it correctly to prevent your woodwork from racking.
For example, workbench vises are usually used for holding tools and equipment on a workbench. They are very popular for working while standing up. These vises aren’t usually the causes of the racking since they are fairly stable.
On the other hand, face vises are used to hold larger wood pieces in place. These are very similar to a workbench vise, except that they use the bench itself as one of the faces. You will often have the most issues with face vises, mainly because of their design and purpose.
This design allows for larger pieces to be accommodated, but it isn’t very portable. It is typically not as simple to remove either.
A quick-release vise is different from a standard workbench vise because instead of having a winding mechanism, it lets you slide the unit in and out without having to wind it. However, you should note that the more pressure you apply to the object you’re trying to use, the harder it is to get the quick-release feature to work.
As you can see, each type of vise has a different design and purpose, so it’s really a matter of experimenting with your vise and examining the cause of racking in your specific case to fix the issue.
How To Stop A Table From Swaying
If your table is swaying or wobbly, it can also be classified as racking, although this problem is easier to fix and doesn’t require a lot of woodworking skills.
When a table in your home is swaying, the first thing you should do is check the legs since they will determine the stability of the structure. Some wooden or plastic legs can be disfigured after some use, which may be the cause of racking.
Sometimes, the legs are just loose. If that is the case, You should be able to get rid of the swaying and racking on your table by turning the table to the side and securing the legs in place.
You can use a screwdriver or a wrench if the legs are secured with nuts and bolts. If the legs are glued on, try to find the strongest adhesive that you have around the house, but wood glue will be the best option.
Put the adhesive between the legs and the tabletop; if you have a clamp, you can clamp the legs in place and let the glue dry completely before using it again.
After the legs are properly secure, you can check to see if your problem is fixed. If not, then your table legs may be uneven, which can happen to some materials after some use.
If that is the case, you can use some rubber wedges to add height to the shorter leg(s). You can secure the rubber wedges on the table legs using super glue or some other kinds of adhesives. The rubber wedges add not only height but also an extra layer of protection to your floor.
Raising one leg is definitely an experimental process; you should add the layers gradually and test to see if the table is no longer wobbly. Once you are done, your table should be stable and ready for use.
As you can see, this is a common problem that almost everyone faces at some point, and it can easily be fixed with household items. Fixing a swaying and wobbly table is quite easy, but it will save you a lot of annoyance, especially if this is a table that you use every day.