How I love squaring and planing stock to size

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    Aaah, just came in from my shed after planing some spruce to size for a new prototype. Almost no thinking, just sensing the tool against the wood, paying attention to the smallest details. It’s so enjoyable. So smooth, so accurate to size, so nice ….

    The only cloud in the horizon is the knowledge that I’m soon going to ruin them all with my mediocre joinery. Ah well, it has to be done. Can’t put a stack of boards in my living room no matter how nice they are.


    I’m right there with you — joinery is much harder for me, too.

    What I’ve been doing is each month, and sometimes each week, I prepare 2 boards, each 24″ x 5″ or so. Layout dovetails, box joints, mortise / tenon — whatever. Make my joints, fit them up, observe flaws, then saw them away, re-true the components, and start again, now with 2 components each about 22-23 inches long. Keep going until the pieces are too small to work with.

    Practice has worked for me in every other area of life, so I’m confident it’ll succeed even with my tragic joinery skills.

    Anthony Greitzer

    I’ve been flattening boards and gluing them up to make panels for dovetail boxes and chests for almost a year. I’ve worked only with pine and recently tried some red oak. This weekend I spent close to 11 hours flattening the 2 pin boards only to have the project ruined yesterday when 1 of the boards cracked. Not willing to resize the pin boards, I moved on and started a new dovetail box with cedar while deciding I will NOT be working with red oak in the near or distant future. I’ll save the boards and will use them for lids or maybe raised panels. My dovetailing, flattening, straightening, sharpening, and squaring skills are adequate for pine. Red oak? Different challenge.



    I’d take joinery over thicknessing by hand any day. After thicknessing the tool box and recently the bookshelf from ruff stock, I’m beginning to dream of a lunchbox planer.

    Joe in California

    Joe Kaiser

    I am building the toolbox now, and was just thinking yesterday that stock prep is very relaxing. I don’t know why, but I just enjoy it

    Seattle, WA


    It is helpful to take practice joinery one more step and apply color and finish to it. First, it helps practice finishing, but more importantly it shows what matters and what doesn’t matter so much in the joinery. Things swell at glue-up and adding color and finish fills some gaps and changes the way we see things, so going this extra help can show a lot. I’m betting you will find that things are much better than you think they are. I’m also betting that once you clean up a few inside corners, you will forever more remember to do your final planing and sanding before joinery on key surfaces, especially ones that cannot be touched after the joinery is cut.


    I have abandoned practice projects. Every project is a real project until it fails, then it becomes a practice project. I have found that for me at least, I tend to take it more seriously if I have a real plan for the piece I’m trying to make.

    Matt McGrane

    For the last week or two I’ve been planing the stock for three more dining chairs. It’s probably because I’m a bit impatient (I know that woodworking without patience leads to lots of firewood), but I’ve been looking forward to the joinery phase.

    I do love the challenge of getting things right, and I feel like I’m learning. But having to get several 40″ long, 4″ wide boards from 2″ thick to 1 3/4″ thick was getting tiresome, both physically and mentally. I look forward to the day I have enough room for a bandsaw, so I can remove most of the waste with that and then plane to the lines.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016:


    Stock preparation was the last holdout for me in my transition to hand tools. I see many people (carving, furniture building) that rip it close with a BS or TS and then hand plane down to the fine edge. I have spent many hours spent planing on my latest project, which involves flattening some cupped 13.5″ wide cherry boards from 1.25″ thickness to 7/8″ – with my no. 4 scrub, no 5 1/2, 4 1/2, and no 4 smoother- thinking that I may be off in the head.. knowing that I could just use the power planer/jointer/ts/bs to get them close quickly and then go from there. This same line of thinking had me falling back on power tools on previous projects.

    Then about two weeks ago, I had set this project up on the table to show my wife and as I set each piece on top of each other they were so familiar to me that it surprised me. I had so much knowledge about the grain and each detail of each board they almost felt like an extension of myself. They weren’t perfect, but I knew every place on every piece that was less than perfectly square. I knew every place that I had made a decision on how close to my gauge line I wanted to get to. I knew every potential tearout spot and which way to work each one. Most importantly, I had so much more appreciation for the whole hand woodworking process, and especially the stock preparation stage. I never felt that connection to my previous projects. Since I do not have woodworking as a primary source of income (calling it a hobby just doesn’t seem enough, maybe obsession), feeling this sense of accomplishment and pride in something that I fashioned into what it is now has made me see a bigger picture and finally say goodbye to my former line of thinking. Thank you thank you Paul, and the rest of you guys too for sharing your knowledge and mistakes so the rest of us can keep climbing up this mountain with success.


    Am I the only one that after planing to thickness first and then ripping to width, finding the waste edge twisting like a ribbon while still partially attached? Leaving the good width having to be flattened again, and no thickness left to work with! Sigh. Read the grain as Paul teaches.


    From my very limited experience, I have to say the complete opposite. I just can’t seem to get anything square. After surfacing the reference face, its back and forth too high on one side, then back to too low, and so on and so forth. Very frustrating. Trying to build a nightstand for my wife, but the amount of time I’ve already spent trying to get the first piece for the table top prepared is ridiculous. I’ll have to see where I’m going wrong. Any suggestions for those of you who may have struggled with this in their early days of woodworking??


    I struggled with swearing edges a lot… still do sometimes… i like the method that david charlesworth promotes… he uses a cambered iron, so the low point of the blade is in the center of the plane. if the edge is high on the left het takes a shaving with the center of the plane on the left. it will cut deeper on the high side. you can essentially mark the edge with a pencil where the high spots are. Then plane the edge while shifting the plane back and forth laterally as you plane to take out all of your pencil marks. Paul doesn’t prescribe to this method I don’t think. He uses a straight blade, though I would think that it would be slightly cambered just from slight back and forth motion when sharpening. I don’t use a radiuses blade like for a jack plane, I just try to sharpen a straight edge and allow it to rock side to side ever so slightly to allow a tiny bit of camber. Im no expert but if you google david charlesworth and cambered iron edge jointing there are lots of forums discussing this method. It is the most repeatable method for me. Try it. Keep it if you like it. Throw it away if you don’t. Good luck. BTW I hate stock prep 🙂 I like joinery a lot better.

    Paul Dallender

    I’ve only just started out on my woodworking with hand tools road and planing square has become my nemesis. My first project has been making my bench and I’m at the stage where it is all put together and I’m just leveling the top which has a slight twist in it. Like mexicutioner, I’m finding it very difficult planing a 5 foot by 1 foot piece flat even using a No5 plane to start and finishing off with a No4. My 3 inch thick top is rapidly becoming a 2 1/2 inch if I’m not careful.

    The upside to it all though is I’m getting as fit as a butchers dog.

    Paul - A southern lad living up north - Nr York England


    I flattened out the bench with not a whole lot of difficulty. Took some time, but mostly because my lamination was not the best, but for my first try it wasn’t bad. The problem is preparing rough sawn stock. Took me a very long time to get a 4/4 6″ wide and about 21″ long piece of soft maple flat and square, and even then, it wasn’t very satisfied with the results. I took a step back, reviewed some information online, and finally checked out my Stanley #4. Turns out my manual sharpening of the blade had eventually made it a skew angle blade. I went ahead and squared off the blade and so far, I haven’t tried to prepare any more stock, but while flattening out a 21″x18″ (approx) lamination, seemed to work a whole lot better. Went back to using a honing guide and seem to be getting better results. Still not done due to other things I Have to take care of, but it will eventually become a night stand, then two.


    One of the changes I recently made in my tools was converting an extra no name #4 I had to a scrub plane. Up to about 3/8 inch now I don’t even think about resawing for thickness it just comes right off. after about 1/2 inch I start to want a nice band saw so I don’t have to waste the wood.

    , Paul does talk about this, and he shows how to put slight camber on the plane corners to keep from leaving tracks when you plane.

    Tuscloosa, Alabama
    Lung T'an Hu Huesh Kung-fu Woodshop

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