Flattening Big Pieces of Wood

One of the most common questions I am asked is how I flatten the large pieces of wood I often use in my work.  This table top, for example, is approximately 45 inches wide and 96 inches long.

Relationship Study

Relationship Study

Machinery is Not the Answer

Perhaps one of the quickest ways to surface a board is to feed it through a thickness planer which removes material from the top.  The bottom of the board rests on the bed and the cutterhead above removes material until the board is of an even thickness.  However, the thickness planer is ineffective at making material flat unless the bottom is already flat.

Thickness Planer

Thickness Planer

When flat is the objective, the jointer is the answer.  This machine specializes in making one face flat, and one adjacent edge straight, flat and square to the face.  The board is slid across the flat tables and over the cutterhead between them.  Although you can establish four flat surfaces with a jointer, they likely will not be parallel.  The jointer and thickness planer need to work as a team to produce flat material that is even in thickness.

Jointer

Jointer

Another drawback of machinery is capacity.  To thickness the top of Relationship Study, I would have needed machinery with 48″ of capacity.  Most woodworkers have never seen a thickness planer that size, and I’m not even sure that a jointer that size even exists.  Machines also require the material to be brought to them and handling large pieces of wood gets tiresome quickly.

Hand-Held Tools Have No Limits

Unlike the jointer and thickness planer, hand-held surfacing tools have no capacity limits (but to require more skill and stamina).

When I am faced with a lot of material that needs to be removed, especially over a large area, I start with my power planer.  This one is made for large-scale work and is capable of taking a cut wider than many small-shop jointers.  It has a long sole which helps ensure that it leaves a flat surface.

Power Planer

Power Planer

After having done the preliminary flattening with the power planer, I use hand planes to refine the surface, removing any ridges or tearout.  I start with a long plane equipped with a convex blade which allows me to work fairly quickly, then I progress to a shorter plane with a straighter blade for a more even surface.

Hand Plane

Hand Plane

To get the second face parallel, if required, I use a cutting gauge or combination square with a pencil to mark the desired thickness on the edges.  Then I turn over the material and plane down to those lines.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s all worth it in the end.  It’s also a great fitness regime.

Pencil, Sliding Double Square, and Cutting Gauge

Pencil, Sliding Double Square, and Cutting Gauge

Hand-held tools, while not always as efficient as machinery, allow me to work with any size and shape of material I choose.  If I were to limit myself to working with material that I could surface with machinery, my work would look very different.

Machinery has its place, but so do hand-held tools.

Every Workshop Needs a Br’all

This post is part of Get Woodworking Week, an initiative started by Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench, to build interest and participation in woodworking.

I know that every one of my readers except for Paul-Marcel, for whom I made the first one, is scratching their head wondering what the heck a Br’all is, what it does, and why they haven’t heard of it.

A Br’all is a shop accessory that I think every shop should have.  I designed it to do one thing and one thing only.  It does not require a great investment in either time, tools or materials to make, so it is a great Get Woodworking Week project.

The first video is the one you should definitely watch.  I show you how to make a Br’all using different hand tools, techniques and the purpose of the Br’all.  (Duration: 13 minutes, 14  seconds; the high-speed segments are 2x speed.)

The second video shows the letter carving I added.  (Duration: 7 minutes, 12 seconds; the high-speed segments are 4x speed.)

Here are some pictures of my bench-clearing Br’all.