Flattening boards

I would have loved to have called this post "10 tips for flattening boards" or something like that. However, I don't happen to own a jointer so right now, all I can think of one item to list -- get a jointer!

Not having a jointer isn't the end of the world though. It definitely makes for a tougher time getting things flat and square though. It ends up being a matter of patience. I used my recently restored Stanley No. 5 Jack Plane to do the flattening. I had naive thoughts that this would go quickly, but I ended up fiddling with the plane a bit until it was adjusted just right. Some people might suggest a #6 or #7 plane since they are longer, but the boards I was working on weren't that long to begin with. Plus, I currently don't own either one of those so it makes it easy to decide which plane to use.

After I spent an hour flattening to boards, I switched to my restored Stanley No. 4 to smooth them. This went really quick because I've already tuned that plane and have learned how to make it sing.

Maybe I spent longer than I should have, but what about the results? I had a joy pushing the plane through the cherry wood, and liked being close to the wood. Before I placed the plane down I would inspect the grain and make sure I had it facing in the right direction. The result was satisfactory but I felt like I came out of the process much wiser than if I had just plowed it through the jointer -- power tools can get between you and the wood. And when that happens, I feel like I'm not getting the full enjoyment from my effort.

Getting back to my original idea of listing tips for flattening boards has made me realize that there's really two things I can list.

  • Get a jointer. This will save you a lot of time -- and if you have a lot of boards to flatten, it could be the only viable option.

  • Listen to the wood and feel how it reacts to your efforts pushing a hand plane through it. Relish the smooth swish as the plane slices off a razor-thin shaving the curls like a fiddlehead fern. Don't rush it, and enjoy your time doing the thing you love -- working with wood.


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