Face Planing using hand planes

Have you ever needed to face plane a board without a jointer? It’s not as difficult as you might think.

For this example, I used a rough piece of cherry that needed to be face and edge planed. If I had a jointer, I would simply run the piece over the cutter head and get a flat face through multiple passes. In my shop, however, I don’t have the room to keep a jointer, and I don’t think I’ll be able to get the money out of the household budget to buy one any time soon. Being a hobby woodworker requires a little ingenuity, and a willingness to try other ways. In this case, it’s the old-fashioned way – hand planes.

Here’s what I used – a jack plane, a jointer plane and a No. 32 transitional fore plane. I purchased all of the planes from eBay for a combined total of about $40. All were in pretty good shape and required just a few touch ups and sharpening to be usable. The thickness planer will come into play later on in the process.

After I cross cut the board to rough length (there’s no need to do the entire board – that’s just a waste of time and wood), I placed the board cup down (it had a cup) and rock the sides and edges looking for the board to wobble. Sure enough, it did!

Once I identified where the board was highest, I flipped the board over and marked the high areas with chalk. This way, I wouldn’t lose track of where I need to work first. Yes, that happens in my shop, too.

Before I used bench dogs and other more traditional hold-downs, I clamped across the bench and got to work with the No. 5 and No. 32 planes. If you have only a jack or a fore, you can do this with only that one plane. I just prefer to use the fore plane for the roughest removal, then the more finely-tuned jack plane to even the work out. My first task was to shave down the high areas.

Once the high areas were down to a manageable level, I switched to the No. 7 jointer and waxed the sole with the stub of an old candle. Waxing your plane sole makes the plane slide nicely.

After working on the board with the jointer, and flipping it back onto its face to make sure I had removed the warp, the board sat solidly on the work bench. At this point, I knew I had one side of the board flat enough to go through the thickness planer.

Now, I found the thickest part of the board – in this case, a hair under 1 1/4″. I set the planer’s head, plugged in the cord and watched the wood chips fly After getting the top side completely smooth, I flipped the board over and planed out the rough areas on the bottom and got the piece to its final thickness.

Total time from start to finish? Maybe five minutes…

Now that the board had flat and parallel faces, I took it to the table saw to straight-line rip the board and joint the edges, but, that’s for another post!

Who says those old planes are just wall decorations?

4 thoughts on “Face Planing using hand planes”

  1. Must be nice to have a thickness planer – I’m trying to do everything by hand and it sucks! I mean…I suck.

    “You’re gaining experience, you’re gaining experience, you’re gaining experience” – my mantra

  2. OK, I love hand tools as much as the next galoot, but WOW, I’d go nuts trying to thickness all those boards!

    I think my planer ran about $190 when I bought it… I’m sure you can find a used on on Craigslist for less…

    And, yes, you are gaining experience…

  3. Craigslist does me no good over here in Malaysia!

    So I just have to get the boards flat. With thickness, I can’t be picky. I either resaw or build the project with the dimensions of the boards I have or can get!

  4. Oooh! Good point!

    I once read that most colonial craftsmen (who obviously didn’t have access to CraigsList either…) Would get the ‘show’ side flat and then get the thickness right and just leave it at that. That’s why most pieces built in the 1700’s and 1800’s have pretty tough looking undersides, but the tops are beautiful and smooth.

    You might want to train some young kids the craft – you know – get some free labor to do the grunt work! 😀

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