I cut a square hollow from a thick (~20in diameter) pine log using a chain saw, which looks like this:

enter image description here

For my purposes, I don't need this very exact, nor very smooth, but I do want to get rid of those huge chunks of tear-out at the bottom. I've tried hand planing, but it's just not working; if the blade of the plane sticks out less than a tiny amount (maybe 0.2mm), it doesn't do anything, or quickly clogs with shavings, and if it sticks out more than that, it seizes in the wood and just makes more tear-out:

enter image description here

I've sharpened the planer blade, so I don't think that's the issue. The wood is probably not very dry, since it was just recently on the inside of a huge log, but I'm not sure if that's relevant.

What could be making this so hard to plane, and is there some smarter way of doing this job?


I checked the moisture of the cavity walls and it's about 15%. Is that too wet for planing?

  • Out of curiosity, what are you going to use this piece for?
    – Ashlar
    Jul 20 '20 at 22:42
  • Well part of this is easy, it's end grain. End grain is notoriously difficult to plane, and even more difficult to plane well. The very fact of you asking suggests that you're relatively inexperienced so sharpness could be an issue (as it is with most new to the craft). But the swift clogging of the mouth of the plane also suggests there's a setting issue. A hand plane should basically never clog if it's set right. Yes you have to clear shavings from the mouth periodically — you see many experienced hand plane users doing this, sometimes after each stroke — but that's not clogging per se.
    – Graphus
    Jul 21 '20 at 6:49
  • "The wood is probably not very dry, since it was just recently on the inside of a huge log, but I'm not sure if that's relevant." Yes this is hugely relevant. Wood that has not been seasoned well, whether it's fully 'green' (freshly felled) cuts like butter compared to the same wood after it has dried, even incompletely. Also there's a related issue in that this large end-grain surface is very likely to crack on you as drying progresses, and the crack or cracks (which are likely to be radial cracks) could be catastrophically bad — an inch or more wide at the edge.
    – Graphus
    Jul 21 '20 at 6:53
  • @Ashlar: I'm trying to make a beehive. Jul 21 '20 at 10:33
  • @Graphus: I think my picture is misleading. The rough part that I'm talking about is the vertical part, which is the inside of the log, parallel to the fibers. The cavity is resting on top of the end of another log section. That's the end grain at the bottom of the photo, but that's not what I'm trying to plane. If I'm understanding you, that's not my problem. I'm trying to plane along the direction of the fibers.Or did you mean that planing along with the fibers is the problem? Jul 21 '20 at 10:38

I've tried hand planing, but it's just not working;

The direction you're planing makes a big difference. If you're getting a lot of tearout in one direction, turn the log around and try the opposite direction. Think about petting a cat: if you pet from the tail end toward the head, you're going against the fur and the cat gets upset, but if you pet from the head toward the tail you're going with the direction of the fur and the cat is more likely to be happy.

  • But the fur on a cat has a direction. I didn't think that was true of wood fibers. Dec 21 '20 at 14:54
  • The fur is at an angle, so that if you per from the head you push the fur down, but petting the other way pulls the fur up. The fibers in your log are also at an angle relative to the surface you’re planing... it’s unlikely that you made your chainsaw cut exactly parallel to the direction of the fibers, right? If you plane the wrong way the fibers are pulled up instead of being pushed down, so they don’t get support from their neighbors. The important thing is to just try the other direction if you’re having trouble.
    – Caleb
    Dec 21 '20 at 15:28
  • Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks! Dec 21 '20 at 21:42

Unless the wood is wet, you should be able to get decent results with a plane especially with a soft wood like pine.

You did not mention what size plane you are using, but I would recommend a jack plane length. There are specialty planes that are intended for rough work to get things close to level, but you should be able to get by with a standard plane.

Remember that the your wood surface will be very irregular. At the start, your plane can only work on the relative high points. If the front and back of the plane are in contact the blade may not yet be in contact. Start by finding your high areas and working to flatten them. As you bring those areas down to a more general level the plane will engage larger areas of the surface. Eventually you will get more uniform shavings over broad areas resulting in the type of shavings you are expecting. It just takes some time to get to that point. On the other hand, if you set too much depth then the plane will dig in too much (2mm is too much) and the force you apply to plane edge may cannot cut through all the wood. Instead it will grab hold and begin to tear out a layer. I also suggest that you should be cutting generally with the grain (the grain should be rising towards the surface of the wood in the direction of your stroke) that way the wood will not want to tear out more wood instead of a clean shaving. You increase your risk of tear out as you change the direction closer to perpendicular or against the grain. Once you are closer to flat and if your blade is sharp enough you can worry less about the angle of approach. The nature of the shaving will always tell you if you are pushing things too far.

You also said that you have sharpened the blade, but is it sharp enough? A good edge will be sharpened down to at least 1000 grit and more (I sharpen mine with a series of japanese water stones starting at 800, followed by 1200, and final polishing using a 6000 razor honing stone). You should be able to shave hairs on your arm with the blade edge.

  • I have a stone with 600 and 2000, so I use those. Is a longer series of stages necessary? I will do the shave test when I can get back to my shop. Jul 21 '20 at 12:04
  • "Is a longer series of stages necessary? " No, it's neither necessary or actually desirable. A good pro can get a plane iron from too blunt to use to shaving sharp in under 90 seconds. Anyone (any other pro I mean) taking longer than that has slightly fetishised the process. In fact, if the steel is amenable & with the right methods you can resharpen in just about 30 seconds, each and every time. Now sharpening is not a race however, it takes the learner as long as it takes. But my point is that you can't go through a progression of 4 or 5 honing surfaces if it only takes you 30 seconds :-)
    – Graphus
    Jul 22 '20 at 8:33

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