I just got a old Beaver 4" jointer that looks very similar to this one.

Beaver Jointer

I used it for the first time this weekend and it was awesome. I am wondering though if I was doing something inherently wrong while operating. I was processing some pallet boards which were 4' to 8' long and since some were so long I found myself walking along the jointer with the board to keep it flush against the base and fence.

I thought that maybe I was supposed to feed from behind but that didn't make sense as I would not be able to maintain downward pressure as the board passed over the cutter.

How should my body be positioned while operating a jointer?

3 Answers 3


Most woodworkers I know, including myself, walk along with the board when jointing, to some extent; but for long boards they stay in one place either at the infeed or outfeed side and use the push pads hand-over-hand to "walk" the board across. You should put downward pressure on the infeed table when starting the cut and on the outfeed table when ending the cut, but there are two schools of thought for what happens in the middle. Some keep pressure on the infeed table and others keep pressure on the outfeed table. Personally, I think it makes more sense to put down pressure on the outfeed table, but I have woodworker friends who do the opposite and produce much nicer work than anything I've ever made. As long as you stick to one or the other, you should get a good result (except perhaps at the very ends), even if your infeed and outfeed tables are ever-so-slightly out of parallel.

In terms of safety, you should try to keep your hands at least 6" away from the cutterhead at all times, which also means you shouldn't joint anything shorter than about 18-24". As Doresoom mentioned, you should use push pads. Because you're usually working with longer pieces, push sticks and push shoes might not work as well on a jointer as they might on a table saw, though I suspect Matthias Wandel might still use push sticks on a jointer.

Ideally you should never pass your hands over the cutterhead, even if you are using push pads, but this can be very awkward at first, and at least one of the more famous instructional Internet woodworkers walks along with his workpiece and passes his hands right over the cutterhead (with push pads, of course). You can use featherboards for face jointing, but most jointer fences are not tall enough to use featherboards for downward pressure when edge jointing wide boards.

  • 1
    I'm coming from "generational knowledge" which may be flawed :) Dad taught me to keep pressure over the head. If that's wrong ... I think pressure on the infeed makes more sense from both a safety and reliability perspective. If there is kickback it will push you away rather than pull you toward the cutter. As far as the cut, assuming you're feeding with the cup down, it should ensure that you have two solid points of contact on the infeed and outfeed table.
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:54
  • I hadn't considered the differences in kickback on the infeed vs. outfeed table. I always have this nagging feeling that putting pressure on the infeed might cause a twisted board to still come out twisted when face jointing. But given that others get good results staying on the infeed table, I'm probably worrying for nothing.
    – rob
    Jul 27, 2015 at 20:49
  • I always feel like I'm going to wind up with a toothpick when jointing a twisted board. If it's severe, I try to cut the board in half (or some other smaller section) to reduce the severity before jointing it. I think this is worth another question!
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:35
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    Did you perhaps mean parallel when you wrote coplanar? The infeed and outfeed tables are meant to be parallel, but no material will be removed if the tables are coplanar.
    – Ast Pace
    Oct 21, 2015 at 18:45
  • @ASTPace Hahaha, yes, thanks for catching that. Fixed.
    – rob
    Oct 22, 2015 at 18:51

I don't own a jointer myself, but I watched my dad use his for years, and he always used a pair of flat push blocks with handles and rubber pads on the bottom for friction. Using this type of push block will allow you to safely maintain downward pressure on the work piece while it's over the cutter head. You may also want to use a variation of this with a cleat for your trailing hand to allow a better grip for forward feed pressure.

If you decide not use push blocks, at least make sure to keep your hands away from the leading edge of the board when it's only a few inches onto the outfeed table. A sudden kickback with your hand in that position could lead to it getting drawn into the cutter head.

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As for safe operating position, stand to the side of the jointer, and stay out of the kickback danger zone behind the machine directly in line with the cutter head. This old Shopsmith pamphlet (PDF) has a bunch of good tips on safe jointer use, although some are specific to the particular model.

Be especially careful in your inspection of the lumber for nails and staples if you're using pallet boards or reclaimed lumber. These can damage the knives and cause some serious kickback.

If you're not too squeamish, here's a good resource (PDF) with a lot of jointer accident and close-call descriptions. I find learning from others' mistakes (and missing digits) helps me keep all of my fingers intact.

  • 2
    I read about a dozen of the accidents in the pdf you linked. It would not take much for the wood to kickback and leave my hands to fall. Getting some push blocks for sure and some wax.
    – Matt
    Jul 27, 2015 at 15:49
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    Regarding damaging knives as well as the difficulty of pushing stock through ... just like with routers, use multiple shallow passes, don't try to do it all at once. I've also recently installed a Shelix cutterhead in my Powermatic 60 (after input from woodworking.stackexchange.com/questions/1513/…); it's MUCH quieter, but also easier to feed stock than the three knife head I used to have. There are other benefits enumerated in the question.
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 27, 2015 at 16:53

Position yourself centered in front of the cutterhead and use both hands to keep pressure over the cutterhead; as one hand passes, replace the other hand to continue pushing. Do not leave hands near either end of the stock being jointed. Personally, I've never used a push stick or push block but perhaps I should start considering the document Doresoom linked. I've never had kickback or other accidents on my jointer but one time would be enough to turn my hands into hamburger.

On a related note, make sure your outfeed table is adjusted so that the cutter just kisses a board parallel to the table.

While your post was about body positioning, how you align the stock matters too, both for safety and for quality of cut. Here are some tips from Wood Magazine:

  1. Joint with the grain sloping down, toward the infeed table and away from the outfeed table. This prevents tearout
  2. Ensure your outfeed table is properly adjusted: Lower the outfeed slightly. Feed a piece of scrap through until you have a lip projecting over your outfeed. Shut off your machine, then raise the outfeed until it just touches the bottom of your cut portion and lock the table.
  3. Joint the face first, then use that flat face against the fence to joint an edge.
  4. For edge joining, each board has a good face. Joint one board with the good face away from the fence and the other board with the good face against the fence, this will ensure that even if your fence isn't perfectly square, the boards will join perfectly (supplementary angles. Go go gadget geometry!).
  5. If your board has a cup, joint the concave side down, then use a planer to remove the convex portion.

A jointer is a fantastic tool to have in the shop, congratulations on your new dangerous toy!

  • 1
    Minor technical detail, but a guy in my woodworking club lost the tips of his fingers to a jointer. From what he described, his fingers weren't turned into hamburger...rather, think of thinly-sliced--no, actually don't. It's too horrifying.
    – rob
    Jul 27, 2015 at 17:27
  • @rob I think that would depend on the type of cutter. I think I might get hamburger rather than deli meat with my shelix head: shelixheads.com Remember kids: Horrifying imagery prevents accidents!
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:45
  • Sounds like it's time for a hot dog test...for science!
    – rob
    Jul 27, 2015 at 20:42
  • 1
    I will go get some hot dogs tomorrow and post results in chat, just for you ;)
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 29, 2015 at 0:10

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