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When I purchase wood from the local carpenter a lot of boards are 1-2mm off which results in gaps in my furniture which I usually just fill with silicon. I don't have a sanding machine with a length equal to the board (say 1.5m at max). My local carpenter insists that errors in the millimeter range are unavoidable.

Is it even possible to do this accurately with handheld tools?

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    My first instinct would be to use a plane to get an even surface – ptrickono Jul 15 '17 at 15:51
  • In which dimension are the boards out, length, width or thickness? It makes a big difference as to how to proceed. If you are buying the wood as rough cut it is perfectly normal to have to do the final sizing yourself, if however you are paying for finished boards that are intended to be the sizes you specify then a 1 or 2mm discrepancy is not acceptable. – Graphus Jul 15 '17 at 17:21
  • Boards are mainly chipboards. Thicknesses mainly 10-30mm. Lengths can vary between 15cm and 150cm. The wood is not rough cut, they promise milimeter accurate cuts: translate.google.com/… If I were to complain everytime he was a millimeter off he would never finish – AzulShiva Jul 15 '17 at 17:44
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    Find a less local, but more accurate store to buy from. The builders merchants in Cambridge all had big sliding saws that could cut sheets to mm accuracy, and sub-mm repeatability. (In other words, if you ask for 400mm, it would be 400mm +/- about 1mm, but all the sizes would be the same +/- 0.3mm.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 17 '17 at 11:05
  • I did attempt to shave off 1 .. 1.5 mm off a chipboard because it was too wide. I blunted the plane blade in no time. I do not recommend planing chipboard. It was a hand manual (not electric) plane. I wonder how an electric planer would have fared.. – Andrei Rînea Apr 13 '18 at 22:58
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By hand I'm afraid there's no easy way to remove excess material from the edges of chipboard (particleboard for those in the US). In general the idea is to saw it to the exact size you need because it's so difficult to alter afterwards.

Planing
You can plane the edges of chipboard with one or more types of hand plane, but the glue in chipboard is extremely hard and very abrasive to cutting edges so with most plane irons you have to stop frequently to resharpen, making the process very slow and difficult to rely on even to shave off a small amount every now and then. And 2mm is not a small amount when it comes to chipboard, even with the thinner stuff.

Belt sander
A hand-held belt sander with a coarse belt fitted would be a much better way to remove this much from the edges, particularly with the 30mm, although I realise this may not be an option for you for any number of reasons. In addition to the (possibly high) cost of the sander and the (possibly high) ongoing cost of replacement belts the large amounts of dust produced could be a big issue for you*.

Power saws
It's not a standard use but it is theoretically possible to nibble away material using a circular saw (and for thinner material a jigsaw) running the baseplate along a straightedge set up an appropriate distance from the edge. I wouldn't want to recommend this though unless you already have one so can easily test it out at no cost.

Surform
I'm not sure how widely available Surform-like tools are in other markets but I've read they can be used for gross material removal from chipboard edges. How accurate you can be with one I don't know but I presume a lot of that is down to the skill of the user. Despite how crude the tool looks it could be used with finesse, just like with a conventional rasp.

My local carpenter insists that errors in the millimeter range are unavoidable.

I think it's important to state that they may be unavoidable for him, but that far greater accuracy than this is possible.

Sub-millimetre accuracy is perfectly feasible using good power tools set up and used correctly, with accurate initial marking up as needed. Commercial cabinetry could easily have accuracies in the 0.2mm range to you an idea of the level of accuracy possible, although I believe +/-0.5mm might be fairly typical.

Now that said, I'd prefer better but accuracy of 1mm either way might be acceptable to me for chipboard furniture depending on the application. 2mm would not, especially if short!


*Even with dust extraction some to a lot of dust can still be released (depends on model and the power of the vacuum attached). The dust from chipboard needs to be considered hazardous and breathing protection should be considered a must.

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  • The accuracy I can get with handtools is inversely proportional to how large the piece is. On a huge table, trying to hand plane the entire thing within 1mm tolerance, for me, would be impossible. But very possible to get 1mm tolerance on a single dovetail joint. I would think, that for 0.2mm range tolerance, you would need powered jointers/planers. – jbord39 Jul 16 '17 at 21:18
  • @jbord39 I was referring to general cut widths and lengths there, produced by power tools. However when it comes to dimensioning stock by hand it is feasible to achieve sub-millimetre accuracy using hand tools with good basic technique, careful marking out and above all constant checking and rechecking as work progresses. It's slow and tedious because you must regularly stop work for checking, but it's the only way if that sort of accuracy is desired. – Graphus Jul 16 '17 at 22:04

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