What are the best ways to smooth out shallow cuts in a piece of wood that is "mostly flat" but definitely a little warped, and has no requirement to be made flat?

This came from trees a friend cut himself, and so to be clear the primary problem is not that the wood has warped a little, but rather that there are a million little lines in the wood from the chainsaw (or whatever he used to cut it). The only "problem" I have with the wood being slightly warped is that it's now very difficult to take out those lines.

I thought I could smooth out the cuts with my orbital sander and some 32 grit sandpaper... and technically it would work if I had enough time, but I have a day job, a wife, and 3 kids under 5 years old.

I also have a couple planes I've tried (after tuning/sharpening them), but the small one is too much physical effort and the medium sized one can't really get into the more concave sections of the wood. But still I'm a bit curious if someone who's skilled with planes would say it's reasonably possible.

  • Dimensions of the piece? A guess at the species, or at least an idea of how hard or soft it is? size of the planes, both the length and the width of the blade mouth? Edit the question and give us those details. – jdv Jun 8 at 12:10
  • I realized after I answered that we probably already have lots of good Q&A on this already. Did you search "hand-planing" in the search box before posting this question? e.g.: woodworking.stackexchange.com/q/7538/5572 woodworking.stackexchange.com/q/5426/5572 and so on. – jdv Jun 8 at 12:26
  • Yes my first thought was surely we've covered at least the basics of rough dimensioning stock using hand planes! But as a relatively specialised job it requires a plane either dedicated to that task, or one set up for this job (i.e. a no. 5 set up for roughing duties, with a spare blade sharpened to the appropriate camber). "I thought I could smooth out the cuts with my orbital sander" You can, with the right make of orbital. But in general this is a job for belt sanders which are purpose-made for removing more material (orbital standers are, or at least were, intended to be finish sanders). – Graphus Jun 9 at 6:50
  • We could really do with some pics here. But there are really two basic approaches to this sort of issue (or three, if you include just accepting the surface defects). So the first is make the boards flat, and that obviously solves the problem as you go. The second is to sand and/or scrape until the surface is as good as you need it to be, which e.g. like smoothing a live edge once the bark comes off, is just one of those jobs that takes as long as it takes. Does it really matter if it takes literally five or six hours if eventually it gets done? Outside of a commercial environment of course. – Graphus Jun 10 at 20:32
  • @Graphus So sorry... had some in laws come in, got busy, and forgot to respond! I will get a pic up tomorrow, thanks! – BVernon Jun 11 at 2:49

You don't mention the rough dimensions of the piece, or whether it is hard or soft or in-between.

It's possible, of course. This was how wood was brought into the shop and then resawn or already rough sawn. There is a whole practice of preparing stock for actual use with hand tools.

As you've noticed, sandpaper is not the right tool. Sandpaper isn't for removing lots of material, unless it is for contouring on a spindle sander. Certainly not the right (hand) tool for flattening a surface. Not only is it slow and messy, it isn't very good at giving you any reasonable flatness.

A plane is what you want to use. Ideally, you want the equivalent of a #4 to #5 plane. Since we don't know what wood or tools you have the best advice is to start removing material across or along the board. You start with very light passes, adjusting the depth until you are taking decent ribbons of wood off the surface. It is fine to just skip over the hollows at first -- the act of planing a surface is about taking all the high spots down, really.

You shouldn't have to be jamming hard on the plane; it should be a relatively regular and smooth action. If you find yourself digging in and tearing wood out, back the depth off. If the problem persists, resharpen or adjust the blade.

There is variety of plane called a "scrub" intended for removing lots of material fast, which is basically a shorter "jack" plane that allows you to get into some of the hollows, often coupled with a profiled or notched blade that removes material fast. You'd follow this up with a more careful smoothing pass with a flatter, longer plane. But there is no requirement that a scrub plane be purchased or used (but check if you have a tool lending "library" in your area) as any middle-sized plane can work with a little patience.

Otherwise, the blade should be sharp. Like, "pass through paper easily, shave the hair on your arms" sharp.

For removing a lot of wood, if you have a plane with an adjustable mouth (i.e., you can change how narrow the blade slot is) it should be a bit wider than for smoothing or finishing work. Sight down the sole of the plane and make sure the same amount of blade is poking out along the width.

Take care to note whether your plane is intended for bevel-up or bevel-down operation. Most planes will be bevel-down, unless you have a low-angle plane of some sort.

Remember that you push with your body, not your arms, which should remain in the relatively same position relative to your body and the tool. The idea is nice even force across the material without removing or lifting the sole from the work at the end. Drag it back, reposition, and go for another overlapping stroke.

This is one of those cases where visiting many of the YouTube channels on hand tools will show you better than we can tell you.

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