I have a rough-sawn plank of ash that I'm trying to finish using only hand tools (and no abrasives if possible).

I think the board is flat-sawn, and you can see where the heartwood begins - the heartwood is tearing out really easily, leaving the gouges you see here: close-up of tear-out areas in heartwood of ash board I think my hand plane is fettled OK - it's taking full-width, thin shavings - but those shavings are just "missing" the areas that have tearout For what it's worth, it feels clear to me from hand-feel which way is with, and which way is against the grain, and going with the grain seems to yield less tearout..

I can't tell if the tearout is just lower into the surface than I've been planing, or if I'm continuing to cause tearout with each pass. If it's the former, I think I should just keep planing until it evens out; if it's the latter, I don't know what to do.

I don't have a power sander, planer, or basically any power tools; I have sandpaper blocks but would like to understand what's going on before I give in and use them: is this just a characteristic of ash heartwood, that it has these weak areas? Or is there another technique I should be using?



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    Some pieces of wood can't be planed as smooth as you'd like. And some pieces can be scraped smooth either, although that's rarer. "I think my hand plane is fettled OK " Fettling isn't generally the issue (at least not in isolation) setup is. How up to speed are you on the previous Q&As here on hand planes and planing? The key thing, trumping all others, is the setting of the cap iron/chipbreaker. If you can get it right, a lot of the time you end up with a smoother that doesn't care what the 'right' direction is, it'll plane everything equally. But, it needs to be tuned wood to wood.
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 20:37
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    "I have sandpaper blocks but would like to understand what's going on before I give in and use them" I absolutely get where you're coming from here, and definitely explore plane settings to see if you can rectify this (spolier: my suspicion is you won't be able to prevent this entirely) but don't feel in any way defeated if you have to use sanding. Sometimes there's just no alternative. And further, you might have to put on the first coat of finish (or sanding sealer, if you use that) and then sand to get the surface just the way you want it....
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 20:41
  • hey @Graphus, thanks as always for the helpful comments! I recall your sandpaper advice from last question, I'm just stubborn ;-) (plus my small home shop is pretty dust-sensitive). I would love to learn more about your cap/chipbreaker remark, what's the best way for you to elaborate? (Should I ask another q, or we just continue in comments, etc?)
    – AKA
    Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 0:33
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    Start here, woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/5460/… and see how you get on. Be sure to test out various cap iron settings on other pieces of wood to see how it performs — if you get super results on another piece of plain-sawn hardwood but still not on this board then you have another pointer to it just being this piece of wood. Rest assured, you will come across more instances in future where you find you can't get a good result with the plane; virtually everyone does, except for the absolute die-hard plane guys who won't give up :-)
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 7:00

1 Answer 1


As wood grows throughout the year it differs in hardness and shear strength. This is what creates growth rings. What you see here is that the areas that are weaker (due to growing faster during the warmer months of the year) are tearing out, but the harder areas are not.

There are also some species where the grain will "interlock" such that there is no single correct orientation to plane it. This happens because the wood fibers will spiral around the trunk in one direction during one growing phase and spiral in the other direction during the other. This isn't common in ash, but it is known to happen occasionally. I am pretty sure this is what you're looking at.

Unfortunately, I think that the solutions here are just what you'd normally do to combat tear-out...Use a higher angle frog or grind your blade to a higher angle if it is bevel-up, use a tighter mouth, set your chipbreaker closer to the cutting edge, and most importantly, make sure your blade is as sharp as possible.

Your idea of using a card scraper or cabinet scraper is a good one too. Sanding should also take care of this easily. If you don't have a random orbital sander this might be a good excuse to get one...

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    FWIW I don't think this is grain reversal (interlocking grain) because of how and where it lies. I think you're on to something re. the earlywood, which is sometimes just like this for no apparent reason — soft or springy, as is more common in softwoods, and just a right pain in the tuchus to try to plane.
    – Graphus
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 20:44

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