Hand planing cherry stiles and rails

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    Stefano Bortolussi

    Hello to everyone, my first post here, and first experiences in woodworking.
    After watching many Paul’s videos, I am tryng to make some cabinet doors. Stiles and rails will be (I hope) in cherry wood.
    Problems arised when I have started to square cherry stocks to make stiles. Some times things seem to go quite as planned, others I experience bad fibers tear-up. I understand that many factors are at work at the same time, planing technique, grain direction, blade sharpeness, cut thickness among others. One question I want to ask is the following: is it quite normal to have to plane one stock face, with reversing fibers, from both ends (opposite planing versus)? I mean that some times I am not able to obtain a good surface, planing all the stock lenght following one direction. I have to reverse planing direction where there was a branch. Or is it more an issue of not enough experience?
    Best regards


    is it quite normal to have to plane one stock face, with reversing fibers, from both ends (opposite planing versus)? I mean that some times I am not able to obtain a good surface, planing all the stock lenght following one direction. I have to reverse planing direction where there was a branch. Or is it more an issue of not enough experience?

    Is it quite normal? It depends. It is quite normal if you choose challenging boards, use challenging woods or even if the grain isn’t straight. If you choose straight-grained, non-figured stock, it’s abnormal (but will still happen if you plane in the wrong direction). As you watch more and more of Paul’s videos, and get more experience, you’ll get a better sense of what the grain patterns are telling you.

    I just finished a project with some very curly cherry, and getting it planed with no tearout was a big challenge. My wife called the grain pattern “party cherry” because it reminded her of streamers and confetti. If you have also chosen some curly cherry, or just some lower-grade stuff with knots and other defects, you might well have a tough time.

    Until your skills have a chance to come up a bit, maybe give yourself a break and avoid crazy jungle woods, highly figured woods, knots and pretty much everything except dead straight-grained, clear stock. It will reduce the number of variables you have to juggle at once, and be a bit more forgiving.

    If your cherry board looks like this, run away:

    Colin Scowen

    Yes, this is normal. Knots distort the grain. Keep your plane blade sharp, skew the plane, let shavings build up in the mouth of the plane, go slowly, and don’t get too hung up if you decide to give up trying with a plane and switch to a scraper or sandpaper.

    Colin, Czech Rep.


    Remember, you can use multiple tools: Planes to get to flat and to dimension (but just a bit fat) and then a #80 scraper and card scraper to get rid of the tear out. You do need to make sure that the tearout isn’t so bad that you won’t be able to deal with it with the scraper. Being sharp, having the cap iron closer to the edge, skewing the plane, changing direction, using more diagonal-like strokes (watch out for blowing out the edge, “spelching”), and other tricks can all help.

    Stefano Bortolussi

    Thanks for the replies.
    I have managed to go a little further, but not so further to fix all the fiber tear-up issues I had.
    Some tips you gave me help the improvement on my planing skills, and reassured me that is not only me, but somehow it is “normal”.
    Skew the plane, reduce plane “speed” and plane diagonal/transverse the fiber really help in some spots. Regarding the grade of the boards, I do not konw how to asses them . I have uploaded a picture of the boards I am using. I had some cherry logs, and made boards out of them at a local millsaw. Then I have dried the boards at home.
    Maybe some issues started here, with distorsions, cracks, maybe wood not enough dry to be worked (9 months drying, no moisture meter).
    I work under a shed, open on 2 sides, and air moisture level change a lot with the weather. Can rainy days add some more difficulties regarding tear-up?


    It’s possible to work wood from a tree that was just cut down 5 minutes ago — in fact, the wood will be much easier to work. So if your cherry isn’t fully dried yet, that’s probably not your issue. The cherry not being dried yet will come back to haunt you as you mill it up and the wood moves and twists and warps as it releases the bound moisture you are exposing to the atmosphere.
    I see you have one face side already done and marked — if that face comes badly out of flat, then it’s probably the moisture issue. If it stays nice and flat, your wood was likely close enough to equilibrium.

    What I do see right near your big tear-out is what Paul often terms an “undulation” in the grain. You’ve got a touch of party cherry there. What’s happening is the grain is rising towards the surface of the board, then going back down away from the surface. As you plane in a certain direction, all goes well, but the other direction is a train wreck.

    If you look at the area around your tear-out, you can see the shadow or three-dimensional look to the wood which is a dead giveaway. Here’s a more exaggerated example, this is my party cherry on the drawer face, you can easily see the wood grain rising and falling away like ribbons:



    One thing you can do to help visualize what @ETMO is saying is to wipe the surface around the tearout with some denatured alcohol. The wood will darken more where it takes up more of the alcohol and less in other areas. The darker areas are where the grain is rising up to the surface and is really end grain. You will likely see that the tear out is happening where the grain is rising up.

    Since the fibers emerge from the surface at an angle, whether you get tear out depends upon the planing direction. If they are slanted away from the planes motion, the fibers next to them support them and no tear out occurs. If the fibers emerge angled toward you, they are more likely to be torn up and away from the neighboring fibers.

    When dealing with areas like you show, it can be hard because there is a discontinuity with grain going in different directions on either side of the discontinuity. Sometimes, using circular swipes across that line will allow you to work the area. For what I see in your photo, you’d probably have the plane sole perpendicular to the length of the board and would be making circles across the tear out area. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. More often, doesn’t, but enough of the time that it is worth trying.

    Lubricating the sole of the plane can help.

    Also, while you have that denatured alcohol out, right after giving the surface a wipe of it, try one / some of these fussy planing methods. Sometimes. that alcohol helps, although it only lasts briefly before evaporating.

    beautiful table! Makes me want to go to my bench. Both beautiful and peaceful. I like the lifting, big-radius profile on the underside (if I’m seeing it properly). Is that profile cut into the top? Done with a big-radius round?


    Great advice from Ed above, both technically and the trick with the denatured alcohol. I used a variant of that – merhylated spirits I think you might call it – to help tame some of the end grain in the base. It can make a gigantic difference on end grain.

    Good eye @ed – the sides of the top were done with a number 18 and the front and back with a number 16, then some work with a curved card scraper. Hard to see in the picture, but I also used a kinda/sorta #2 ish scratch stock for a tiny hollow to blend the step where the base meets the carcass

    Stefano Bortolussi

    So, it seems I have to do more homework for reading the grain …
    I have a wooden smoothing plane with bed at 45 degrees. Does a higher pitch can be useful in this case?

    Larry Geib

    I assume we are discussing real tearout and not just blotchiness Cherry often shows under stains and finishes. If that shows up despite your best efforts with planes and scrapers, fine sanding to grit levels higher than most folks normally do can be a cure. Hand sanding to 600 grit CAMI ( ~1200 FEPA) is not too much. Make sure you work up the grits.

    If it’s actual tearout, You can try a higher pitch, but that doesn’t mean you have to invest in a new plane or even a new iron.

    If you have a bevel up plane, just take a few strokes on your highest grit stone and try. You don’t have to work the whole bevel. It’s a good use of a micro bevel and a honing guide will help with consistency.

    You can also do it with a bevel down plane by taking a few strokes on the top side ( flat side) of the iron. To make the pitch 55°, for example, hone a 10° bevel with your finest grit on the top side, The small back bevel can be removed on your next full sharpening regime with the iron if it doesn’t work for you.

    The goal is to have a minuscule bevel on that side so it doesn’t require removing a large burr or wire edge and doesn’t interfere with your cap iron setting. A large back bevel isn’t necessary and is harder to remove on your next sharpening.

    Before you try this be aware that really, really sharp cures a lot of Ills with softer domestic hardwoods like cherry and walnut, at least the American varieties. I have no experience with the European varieties.


    If this plane doesn’t have a cap iron, that absence can be contributing. I find that pushing the cap iron very close to the edge can eliminate tear out in many cases. It also makes the plane harder to push, though. My planes are bedded at 45 degrees and I generally get by fine.

    Stefano Bortolussi

    My wooden plane has a double iron (blade, 46 mil+cap iron). When I set the cap iron distance from the blade edge under some 2 mm, I get very curly shaves and the mouth clogs often. The mouth is not tight (tomorrow I will post a picture of it)


    The cap iron should arch up away from the blade and then make contact in a line up at the edge of the blade. Hold the assembled cap iron and blade up to light and look into the arch to see whether you can see light between the edge of the cap iron and the back of the blade. If so, the cap iron is not mated well to the blade. Shavings can catch in that gap and clog the mouth. If there’s no light (or if there is) see if positioning the cap iron in different places changes things (since you say things are fine unless you get close to the edge).

    If that all looks good, disassemble the cap iron from the blade and feel the cap iron for burs and bumps in the 1 cm or so near the edge. It should be smooth. Make sure there’s no bur along the edge of the cap iron left over from fettling it to the back of the blade. You can even take the cap iron and use your sharpening stones and stop to polish (mildly) the last cm of the cap iron.

    If that all looks good, examine the throat of the plane and see if there is something towards the front of the mouth that might be catching the shaving. Note that, as you push the cap iron forward, the shaving will deflect more strongly and come off of the blade at a steeper angle. This is actually what helps reduce the tearout. So, the question is whether, when that angle changes the shaving starts to catch on something in the throat.

    Also, examine how the wedge meets the blade and cap iron assembly. The shaving might be catching on the wedge.

    You might be able to take a very slow shaving starting with an empty mouth and see the shaving hang up.

    See if any of that helps get the cap iron further forward. I routinely keep mine about about 1mm back and will go to 0.5 mm (guesstimate) when having trouble.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Ed.
    Stefano Bortolussi

    Some pictures of a curly shaving, plane blade and mouth.
    Blade probably is not scary sharp, but I think not dull either. Cap iron, I have grinded (250 and 600 grit sand paper) some mils near the contact edge.
    Comments on the uploaded images are welcome!


    The mouth patch seems to be significantly lower than the rest of the sole. I would start by correcting that. I cannot tell how much out of plane it is, but your two choices are to either replace the patch with a thicker one and then level the whole sole or to bring the rest of the sole down to match the patch.

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