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Rugged Stair Treads Using Butterfly Keys

Decorative Stair Treads Made From Cracked Oak with Butterfly Keys

What do you do if you have the perfect piece of lumber for a project, but it’s strength is compromised by a crack?  Or what if that crack is just what you’re  looking for in a natural or “worn” project, but the lumber must be stable for your project to function? Butterfly keys are the perfect solution!

Unfortunately this post is not about how to cut a butterfly key. That’s coming up later.  This post exists exclusively to gloat about my first project that incorporates a butterfly key: the steps leading into my master bathroom. The steps are made out of three 4/4 oak slabs I found covered with dust and dirt in my basement when I first moved into my house.  A few trips through the planer rendered some gorgeous red oak, but two of the three slabs had a pretty serious crack.

My first inclination was to cut out the compromised section and glue it back up, but then the idea occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a woodworking technique I’ve been itching to try: butterfly keys.  A butterfly key (or bow-tie key) is a piece that’s basically just a piece of wood shaped like a bow-tie. If you want to be all geometrical about it, it’s two trapezoids that mirror each other.  The butterfly key is then inlayed into the primary workpiece, right across the crack you wish to secure.  The shape of the key locks the two sides of the crack in place and provides a pretty significant increase in stability for not a whole lot of work.

Or course the video above won’t show you how to do any of that.  I’m just gloating because I’m so thrilled with how my butterfly keys turned out.  But I will be doing a tutorial video on how to cut butterfly keys in the near future.