I'm considering building a kitchen table. This would be my second. I plan on edge joining planks. Last time, despite using dowels for alignment, there were often ridges between adjoining boards. To make the surface even, I used a belt sander, then subsequently followed that up with about 900 hours of sanding (okay....slight exaggeration).

This time around, I plan on smoothing it with a hand plane then skipping to a 220 grit sandpaper. This will even out the bumps and create a smooth surface, but I'm worried about tear-out. I know that hand planing against the grain will generally produce tear-out, but with so many planks glued together (some, or many of which will change grain direction), how can I avoid tear-out? Am I doomed to hours of sanding?

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would highly suggest a cabinet scraper. It is designed/used for this explicit purpose: smoothing the location where two separate pieces of wood meet, and smoothing their surface to be uniform. It is faster than sanding AND by its nature created a flat surface, where sander could create waves or organic and smooth surfaces.

  • Good point. So it will smooth out the ridges between adjoining boards too? I know it will make the surface smooth... – dfife Mar 17 '15 at 19:31
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    I guess it depends on the height of the ridges, but yes. Unlike sanding, it's going to hit all the high spots first. Sandpaper can deform and sand ALL the surfaces. – BrownRedHawk Mar 17 '15 at 19:36
  • Cool. I suppose I'll have to learn how to sharpen the thing! (I bought on several months ago and haven't been able to achieve more than fine dust). – dfife Mar 17 '15 at 19:46
  • Check this out. I love his site: woodgears.ca/scraper/index.html – BrownRedHawk Mar 17 '15 at 19:47

A correctly setup handplane works perfectly for this. Make sure the mouth is tight, that the chip breaker is sitting tight on the blade and close to the cutting edge. Also ensure that depth of the cut is as slight as it can be.

Beyond that there different types of planes which will reduce tear out (search for smoothing plane or if you have too much money, smoothing infill plane). And there are different setups or design options, like the angle of the bevel or the angle of the bed. You will not need any sand paper.

If you do go with scrapers, there are hybrid tools that will hold the scraper for you. The Stanley #80 Scraper Plane comes to mind. And it is possible to do a first pass with a plane and work trouble spots with the scraper afterwords. I'm personally a fan of thicker scrapers myself.

If you are curious about hand planes, I recommend Christopher Schwartz's book (well, really a collection of articles) entitled Handplane Essentials. There is whole section entitled 'Getting things flat' :)

  • I recommend Chris Schwarz in general. That guy is pretty cool. – saltface Mar 17 '15 at 21:31
  • I like this answer best because (as presented in the Schwarz book), this job usually calls for more than one tool. Schwarz would use a handplane to remove the larger ridges and flatten the whole thing and then switch to a smoothing plane (#4) and perhaps a scraper. FWIW, he appears on several episodes of The Woodwright's Shop on PBS. Many older episodes are available to watch on their website and the PBS app on AppleTV. – glw Apr 2 '15 at 12:57
  • I've added this book to my Amazon wishlist. Someone nudge my SO, as my birthday is coming up. – jdv Nov 7 at 16:23

Preventing tear out in reversing grain in panel glue ups can be handled with a card scrapers (and holders - highly recommended if you use card scrapers), scraper plane (see Lee Valley), cabinet scraper (Stanley #80), or a high angle (>45°) plane. A higher, not lower, cutting angle prevents tear out. For the 45° bench plane, putting a 70°-80° bevel, about 1/16" high, on the front of the chip breaker, and setting the breaker as close as possible to the blade edge, is the best set up for tear out (the breaker needs to mate to the blade perfectly as well). Any blade for planing or scraping needs to be razor sharp. Reducing blade cutting depth also helps. A tight mouth just causes the mouth to jam with chips.

If on a budget, the Stanley #80 cabinet scraper is the best tool. My card scrapers only get used where I can't use the #80 ( or the Veritas scraper plane). Card scrapers are hard on the hands and wrists, and slow. For a panel (or table top), flatten with a plane, working cross grain, then at 45°. Finish with light passes parallel to the grain to check flatness. Finish flattening and removing tear out with the #80 (or the other choices). If you have cash, a bevel up smoothing plane is an excellent choice. It allows you to choose about any cutting angle.

Forget dowels, biscuits, splines, or glue joint router bits for glue ups. Buy or make clamping cauls. Joint the boards straight (I like a slight hollow toward the center, just a few thou to pull the ends together) and just use an edge butt joint - today's glue will not fail. The clamping cauls will provide the most reliable alignment of the boards. There will still be some misalignment to clean up, but much less.

As BrownRedHawk said, a cabinet scraper is definitely the way to finish the job. If you want to use a hand plane for the "rough" part, you can skew the plane at an angle. This will effectively lower the angle of the iron and reduce tear out.

Look at the following image, Smoothing Cut, taken from this page. enter image description here

Honestly if you're plane blade is properly sharpened you can plane end-grain without tear-out. Get a sharpening kit with some good diamond stones and look up the process of hand sharpening your tools.

  • He's not asking about planing end-grain, but about planing grain which is dipping away from the plane at a shallow angle - that is much more difficult. – Martin Bonner Nov 6 at 15:14

I just flattened a glued-up panel very successfully using a finely tuned handplane. It is a skill to be sure - it needs to be very sharp and set up properly - take very thin shavings. When dealing with reversing grain, it also helps to use a higher angle blade... usually planes are 45 º, but higher angles can be accomplished by sharpening with a back bevel, for example. This bevel does not need to be even large enough to be visible - just raise the back up about 5 º from horizontal on your final polishing stone. This will give a 50 º total bevel angle, and along with the edge being sharp, will work very well against the grain.

My approach to planing panels is actually to plane directly across the grain as the first step, then proceeding to angle the direction as per saltface's answer. Go 90 º to the grain until you don't feel any steps across your glue lines. Doing this properly gives much less tear out than you'd initially suspect and it makes for easy and quick work.

While a card or cabinet scraper will work, you would need to take care not to get a wavy surface. This is because the bed of the cabinet scraper (indeed a card scraper has no bed and it completely unsupported) is much shorter than a smoothing plane. In any event, these are both two useful skills to develop.

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