Planing highly figured padauk

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    So, as usual, my imagination has outpaced my ability. I decided to build a jewelry box for my wife for her birthday; the design itself is fairly simple, a rectangular box with a hinged lid and two small sliding/removable tray inserts above a lower tier of divided compartments, all lined with velvet.

    The box will incorporate some highly figured padauk; the board has a stunning curl to it which reverses much in the way tiger maple does, but with a much wider “wavelength”….about every three or four inches or so.

    After ripping the board into four long narrow boards for the panels, it was time to plane them smooth. Boy was this a revelation.

    Up till now I had achieved pretty good results with planing; I was very confident in my ability to sharpen the irons, set up my #4, judge the grain in woods and use the plane and its capabilities to pretty good advantage.

    This padauk threw that all right out the window. This stuff, while absolutely stunningly beautiful, is just as difficult to plane. I had used some padauk in a couple small boxes before, but simple, straight grained pieces.

    Padauk, for those of you who have not had the pleasure to work with it, is very hard and somewhat brittle but gives an amazing sheen when properly smoothed, although it can have some rather porous spots which result in some open grain.

    This curly padauk proved to be a whole different animal. Even with my #4 freshly sharpened, set-up and tested on some nice hard white oak, I was totally unprepared for what came next. After a few passes on the rough-sawn edge of one board left by my rip saw (which cut the stuff like a dream, straight as an arrow and quick as could be, thanks to Paul’s video on sharpening), I realized I was in trouble. Even though I had correctly judged the correct direction of the general trend of the grain, The heavy curl resulted in huge ragged patches of tear-out every few inches.

    Thinking I had *not* judged the grain correctly, I turned the board around and went the other direction. This was even worse.

    I was, admittedly, a little nonplussed. I had done everything I knew how to prepare to plane this beautiful wood and all I had done was butcher it clumsily.

    Not being one to give up easily (my wife says I’m a d*** stubborn mule, haha) I did some research, and decided to modify the set up of my smoother a bit and try again. I re-shaped the bevel, adding a few degrees of attack while adding a very small back bevel (which I’ve never cottoned to before, and never really liked the results I got using this technique before). I moved the frog forward, closing the mouth as tight as I could while still leaving room for the edge of the iron to protrude and honed the flat edge of the cap iron to better sit against the cutter while setting the distance from cap iron to edge of the cutter at less than 1/64”, leaving only a barely visible line of metal.

    I tested and adjusted the plane and decided to give the padauk another go, this time which much better results. I managed to get the wood almost perfectly smooth, with just a few spots of very minor tear-out which almost present as just rough spots rather than the deep, ragged wastelands I had before. The majority of the surface is glass-smooth with a lovely sheen.

    The few rough spots I will smooth with my #81 as soon as I get my new blade for it which I ordered from Hock tools…who, by the way, makes incredible quality blades. I built one of their block plane kits and it instantly became one of my favorite tools.


    Great job, that is some nice padauk.

    Happy you got the planed tuned to work for you. I think that is one of the learning curves with hand tools that you have to learn how to tune them for the application. It can be very different between different types of wood.

    Dallas, Texas


    Very beautiful wood Chris))Nice work)

    Toronto, Canada

    Steve Follis

    I feel your pain Chris.

    I just started on a project today, a box to hold a bottle of wine with some carving on the outside made from Padauk. It will be a wedding gift for a woman to give her daughter.

    I had a 2″ thick board 5″ wide to start with, today I cut it down to size and then resawed the board on my bandsaw. The board is about 10 years old, so you can see in the picture that it has aged to a very dark maroon color, but when cut, it is blood red on the inside, beautiful stuff!

    However, you can see on the top edge of the board, the rough section is where the grain reverses direction. I tried to plane the edge smooth before I put it on my bandsaw, and about half the board planed as smooth as glass, the other half tore like crazy. I reversed the board and tried again, just the opposite happend that time. I had to take some sandpaper to smooth it out well enough so that I could properly feed it through the saw. My board is not a curly pattern, but once I got the boards split out, it revealed a nice wavy pattern.

    I will try to start planing the resawn boards flat tomorrow, I have a feeling I have my work cut out for me.

    Memphis, Tennessee

    David Gill

    Hi Steve
    How does a Stanley No 80 Scraper plane go on with it ?

    Wigan, Lancs. England :

    Steve Follis

    David, I tried the Stanley 80 quickly this afternoon without sharpening or tuning it. It appears that it will do a much better job with the changing grain direction.

    Memphis, Tennessee

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