64 comments on “Planing the Edges of Narrow Boards Square

  1. Hello Paul and team,
    I have been doing this successfully as you have taught for awhile now and have a question from my observations. Is it the weight of the plane on one side that causes the correction or is it the same principle as a shooting board where the very edge of the plane doesn’t cut? All I know for certain is it works brilliantly!

  2. Seems quite illogical Paul? Any idea how it works?
    Just because the centre of the blade is offset, if the blade is equally protruding along its width,
    why doesn’t it follow the existing surface? Is it simply you holding it “magically” square to the broad edge of the plank?

    • The weight of the plane (the gravitational forces between the the plane and the planet to be exact) isn’t supported on the overhanging side. That leads to different amount of force which presses the blade into the wood – with the strongest force on the high side of the edge.
      This is enough to result in the cutting behaviour of the plane as Mr. Sellers showed in the video.

      E.

    • I believe -but could be wrong- that there is more force/pressure on the high side of the board and that this is why shifting the plane sole towards the ‘high side’ works. As supporting evidence for this theory, I’ve just tested that the technique Paul demonstrates in this video works with a rebate/rabbet plane which has an open mouth and a straight blade

      I presume that the rounded-off iron corners -when sharpening as Paul teaches- may also help… but the technique of this video works even without rounding-off the corner of irons (and before I started to sharpen as advised by Paul, I don’t recall seeing any sharp step on my board edges)

    • Hi,

      Paul says it’s as much to do with the compression of the wood under the weight of the plane which will be unequal whereas this is not a calculable amount, what does that matter, it works.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  3. Most of the boards I plane are shorter and I check for square by holding the board up to a light and looking for light underneath the square blade.

    If I don’t hold the board up to a light and I check for square I can’t see gaps and the edge will look square, but when up to a light I may see a small amount of light.
    My question is am I being too anal by holding the board up to the light? Is the board square enough if I can’t see a gap when the board is not up to a light source? Thanks!

    • I saw some advice somewhere that the gap you can see underneath with a light background is substantially less than you think. Having said that, if I saw light under on e side I too would be ‘anal’ enough to want to remove it – but only if it were going to make any significant difference to the product.

    • I’ve been woodworking for three years now. I needed to do the same as you when I started. The more I used my square, the easier it has become to see when it is out of square. Sometimes I still need strong light but not nearly as much as when I started.

    • This is an interesting question. How perfectly square should a board edge be? Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m trying too hard and being too perfectionist to square it, and maybe leaving that 1/1,000 of an inch out of square wouldn’t make that much a difference in the final product (you know, that out of squareness that you can only perceive by offering the board edge to the square and holding them both up to a light).
      Now that I think about it, I got no idea why I haven’t just tested it…

    • Hi Simon,
      My Father taught me this method some time ago, I was sceptical, but I gave it a go and it works. Here’s how I do it, it works for me:
      1 – Put the centre line of the plane over the high edge.
      2 – Put your thumb on the front of the plane (in front of the knob) and apply a very small amount of pressure, just enough to steady it really, if you are on the centre line, the plane should be level and steady.
      3 – Use your index finger as a kind of “fence” between the sole of the plane and the side/face of the wood, it makes it easier to intuitively know when you are close to 90 degrees / right angle, but be careful of the blade obviously. I kind of pinch the front of the plane with my thumb and curled back fore finger. Depending on the size of the plane, the thickness of the board and what side the high point is on, the back of my finger usually brushes lightly along the wood underneath as I plane.
      4 – take light, slow and deliberate strokes, work your way back along the whole length from the front as Paul did.
      5 – don’t push down hard as it makes the plane wobble, just a tiny bit of pressure as per step 2.
      6 – observe the width of the shavings, when you are near full width, stop and check with a square, less is more in this case and when you are not familiar with the method it is easy to go too far and end up chasing your tail.
      7 – throughout all of this my only thought is to keep the plane level. If you try and over compensate by planing at a deliberate angle to remove the high spot, you just end up in a mess.
      PS before starting this, as Paul and others have said, make sure the blade/iron is set square (protruding from the mouth equally along its width)
      hope this clarifies.

  4. This technique Works because the plane blade has a slight camber (curve)…meaning that it will take a slightly thicker shaving in the centre of the blade and tapering to a thinner shaving at the outside edge. By placing the centre of the blade on the high side of the board you automatically take more off that edge.

    • I disagree, I use a smoothing plane for this task, where only the corners have been “eased” off very slightly to prevent the risk of track marks, other than that the blade is straight along its length with no camber. I don’t believe it has anything to do with cambers specifically, that’s not to say you can’t do it with a cambered iron, but if anything it will make it more difficult, especially a pronounced camber. If you plane an edge in any condition, with any slope, with a plane held level (or 90 degrees to the flat faces on the side that you are trying to get your edge square to), and if the blade is set square (protruding from the mouth equally along its length, the outcome will always be a square edge. Its simple geometry.

  5. The little videos on basic skills are so, so helpful and important. May I suggest doing one about mastering planing evenly without making the near edge or far edge thin and without juddering at the start of the stroke?

    People are asking why this technique works. If your blade has even the smallest amount of camber on it, then when you shift to the side, the shaving will be thicker on that side and thinner towards the middle. If your blade is dead flat, then I think it is because there is more pressure on the outboard side. With a dead flat blade, I find I sometimes must put extra pressure on the outboard side with my thumb at the front of the plane (but still over the work, so the plane doesn’t tip). When I say camber, I mean a very slight side to side camber, like a scrub plane but only by a hair, not a cambered bevel, like you get sharpening freehand.

    • I just tested the technique with my Stanley 78 which has as straight of an iron as I can produce, and it’s very easy to slant the edge one way or the other. This suggests that the higher pressure on the ‘high side’ of the edge makes a strong contribution to the result.

  6. I have been using this technique for a while now and yes it is the radius on the iron which makes it work.
    Many people have either 2 planes; one with a near straight iron for finishing work and one with a cambered iron for heavier work. Alternatively, one plane and two irons.
    I was taught the tilt the plane method at school and couldn’t get it to work. That and blunt chisels and saws which wandered. Put me off woodwork for 40 years!
    Paul and a couple of others online have put me on a firm footing.
    I am a one man band handyman service and can tackle all sorts of woodwork jobs by applying the cabinet making/ joinery principals taught by Paul. I can do most jobs with a few hand tools. Less noise and mess than machines. Much lower cost and if my van got robbed, it wouldn’t cost much to start again. I can converse with customers as I work and often have their children watching safely.
    It is possible to earn a living doing window repairs, shelves, making beds for small rooms etc. Not fine woodworking but a wage from working wood with hand tools and using proper joints and techniques to make things last.

  7. My experience is that I get good results doing this with a plane that has the blade sharpened pretty much square. I got better results after I started using Paul’s approach to plane adjustment: making sure the blade was set level by taking test shavings from a thin board, to measure that I am set dead level and as fine as possible all the way across.

  8. You’ve just added a year to my overall woodworking experience, short as it is, by not having to figure this out for myself through trial and error. At 59 I appreciate any shortcuts in my learning curve. Thanks Paul for sharing true and real woodworking gained from true and real experience.

  9. Many people put a slight crown on their blade for this sort of work, and other sorts too. A while ago, I did that with an extra #4 I had and for the first time squared a board quickly and easily. Here is a link to a widely cited article by Charlesworth explaining how to crown a plane blade and use it to edge joint, among other things. It got me started, though I do not use quite his method for forming a crown on a blade. https://www.popularwoodworking.com/techniques/learning_curves/. Ed seems to suggest that this is what is going on in Paul’s video (though what I called “crowning” he calls “camber”). However, Paul does not crown his plane blades and I seem to remember he explicitly rejected crowning somewhere. I have seen a few videos by crowners where people explicitly reject Paul’s crownless approach to edge jointing. Oddly, once I had edge jointed a few boards with my slightly crowned plane, I tried edge jointing with a plane with no crowning. Surprise! It worked. It was sort of like the crowned blade gave me a better feels for what was supposed to happen and I could then do it without the crown. Now I usually do not bother with a crowned plane. But in reality, both can work just fine.

    • I’ve studied and worked with David Charlesworth’s plane prep and use methods. What Paul teaches is a very practical workman’s approach at getting the job done with the least amount of “fuss” and it works. I wouldn’t think too much about the “theory” behind it. When I started I was intrigued by Charlesworth’s methods at achieving ultimate accuracy and it gave me something to do at the time and I enjoyed learning but I wouldn’t obsess over it. His “crowned” blade that he teaches is actually quite subtle in reality, not much more than a thousandth or two. It’s just enough to give a little fine and predictable control off center. I spent a lot of time learning it which is another factor to be weighed. Anyone who rounds the corners of their plane blade to eliminate tracks puts a little of the same in their blade.

  10. I notice Paul said “it’s wrong to skew the plane” in this video but I could swear I have seen plenty of videos in the past where a skewed approach was indeed the best approach (possibly for end-grain or tear-out or knots?). So is it “always” wrong to skew or was that just specific to this particular skill/technique?

  11. Paul,
    A lot of the comments here have centered on the weight of the plane moved side to side being a factor in trying up the edge. I don’t know one way or another about that. What I do know is a properly sharpened and accurately set plane combined with consistent, steady use breeds successful application. I have a wood shop and a metal workshop with lathes and a mill. I switch occasionally from one shop to another depending on my motivation. I know if I spend a few days doing the exacting, precision work in the metal shop requiring tolerances at less than a quarter thou it will be a very frustrating reintroduction to the wood shop. I am very tempted to grab the plane and plunge into the work. I know how to do it, I’ve planned miles of wood. From experience however, I know if I have taken just a couple of days from the Stanley #5 I prefer, I absolutely have to be reintroduced to the tool. The very first thing I do is touch up the blade. This familiarizes me with the plane, the parts it consists of and how each piece works in concert to bring about the desired result on the surface of the wood. A bit of rust, sluggish adjustment wheel or a frog bumped out a bit can serve to create undesired performance. The next thing I do once I’m satisfied the plane is operable is grap a piece of scrap and begin to plane. I assure you, even one day’s absence finds my rythym out of sink and it takes many passes to develop it again. I learned never to grab the important piece for my project. If I do that I just as well toss it and start over.
    In other words, Paul, practice makes perfect. There is no substitute for experience and consistency.
    Thank you for this very valuable instruction many of us struggle with from time to time.
    Dale

    • Once again thank you Paul..
      Im 47 male from Ireland and going back to my wood working, my da (RIP) was a carpenter and worked both in England(40s-late60s) and Ireland sadly gone now but i have some of his hand tools which i hung on to and treasure now..
      Your classes both on here and utube are priceless to me and have made my life richer and gave my craft a big step up.. So again thank you dearly for everything .. 👍
      D.Quinn.

    • Dale, you make what I consider to be the key point of this lesson. What really counts here is experience with the tool and the technique. That includes experience in sharpening the blade, and experience in setting up the plane’s depth of cut, etc. Paul provides a variety of practical online lessons on all of these points, but what really makes the difference is many, many, many strokes taken with the intent of getting a square edge, accompanied by puzzling over the many less than perfect results and trying again. Practice on inexpensive pine or fir, not on the walnut apron you intend for your fine bookcase. And this requires patience and at least as much satisfaction in the learning and improving as in the final product.

      So the real hidden gem in this tutorial is easily missed at 3:34 of the video when Paul offhandedly comments: “…..I’m keeping this plane intuitively level; I’ve developed this ability…..”

      • I agree, I think there is some “in-flight” fine tuning that occurs as needed, kind of like a race car driver on race course. Maybe a feel of when to put a little more pressure on the rights side with the outside of the palm? or a slight push up with the left finger tips as needed, etc.

  12. Thanks to everyone who made comments on this topic. I was having a hard time understanding the why of things until I read the comments.
    Thanks to Paul for bringing up this procedure and showing us once again how to tackle a problem we all face.

    Bruce

  13. I don’t believe it is the radius on the cutting-edge as Paul does not sharpen his blades that way. I seem to recall it being said that you are compressing the fibres on one side causing a deeper controlled cut on that side.

  14. I have had this problem of out of square wood too. I used to use a a square board just beside the out of square board and about 1/8” below the out of square piece and use it as a guide and as support for the plane and help with the balance issue. This would work for me but this was way before finding Paul’s great site. I now wil try this out especially now that Paul shows how to grip the plane.

    I have both books by Paul. I have the woodworking 1&2 and basic essentials of hand tools book. They are excellent resources to help with those of us willing to be a mature wood workers.

    Thanks to Paul Sellers and all of the people who put so much into this site and teaching and research.

  15. Thanks, Paul. I’ve heard you mention this in other videos, and I’ve tried it a bit and it’s helped me. However, I think practice makes perfect, and I need a lot of practice, b/c it’s still often hard; we need to really slow down and take our time. You make it look easy, like the pro golfer, but it takes much more time for us because we have to re-examine each and every stroke to make sure we’re doing what we hope we’re doing.

    I don’t have a bandsaw, but even for those that do, I think a whole lot of instruction on 6-squaring boards by hand would be very helpful. I’m not sure if WWMC or CommonWoodworking.com is the better outlet, but for hobbyist/beginners, which I know you know (from your blog) is a large part of your audience, would find it helpful.

    As feedback — and I know this isn’t news to you — after moving to the side with my strokes, keeping level, and moving inward (which was great advice, btw), I’ve developed a cusp in the middle. But then I found I can usually take out that “middle” with only a little care and end up with a nice flat square edge. However, this didn’t always keep me within my pencil lines 🙂

    Main point being, I think we can’t get enough of you instructing us on how to 6-square boards by hand.

    Thank you for you and your team’s huge skills and devotion to both the craft of woodworking *and* videography.

  16. Not sure about the camber, etc., I just make sure that one side of the plane is flush with the low edge. Then the plane (area where there’s no iron) just rides the low side like a pivot until things level out on the high side. Works every time.

  17. Many thanks for yet another brilliant video. This, like many of your other videos, demonstrates a simple, effective and reliable way of doing a job. It is also a technique which will prove useful in the vast majority of projects. You tell us what doesn’t work for you (e.g. using the lateral adjustment of the plane). Using the lateral adjustment for squaring timber is not a method I have ever tried (or even heard of!) but the knowledge about methods which do not work for you is pure gold! I will stick to learning the techniques which have stood you in good stead for 5 decades – so far they have all also worked well for me.

    I have squared a few pieces of timber in my time. My ‘method’ gets everything squared but is slower, less reliable and lacks the elegant simplicity shown in the video – so I will be happy to practice on some scrap timber and incorporate this into my expanding armoury of techniques.

    The timing was also perfect as I am about to kick off a few projects where it is important (vital even!) to square the timber before launching into the rest of the woodworking. This new (to me) technique will speed up that job and add to the pleasure of all future projects.

    Judging by the comments and questions posted here, it looks like this has, not surprisingly, struck a cord with many of us.

  18. After reading all the comments it appears that a lot of people are overthinking this simple video
    he simply moves the plane to the high side , keeps it flat , and brings the high edge down to the low side level. No special lip purses or toungue holding or anything other than a light hand

  19. I disagree with several comments here from people saying it only works because of the camber/radius on a blade/iron.

    I use a smoothing plane for this task, where only the corners have been “eased” off very slightly to prevent the risk of track marks, other than that, the blade is straight along its length with no camber.

    I don’t believe it has anything to do with cambers specifically, that’s not to say you can’t do it with a cambered iron, but if anything a camber will make it more difficult, especially a pronounced camber, which may leave you with concave edges. I’m sure if the camber was relevant, Paul would have mentioned it.

    If you plane any out of square edge with the plane held at 90 degrees to the flat face on the side that you are trying to get your edge square to, (and if the blade is protruding from the mouth equally along its length) the outcome will always be a square edge, Its simple geometry.

    Putting the centre line of the plane over the high edge and holding/moving the plane in the manner demonstrated by Paul means the plane is easier to hold square, and it doesn’t register to the out of square face and continue to plane out of square.
    Try it , I guarantee that this will work as well if not better than a cambered blade.

  20. I am curious as to Paul’s thoughts on using a jig clamped to the plane to introduce a square edge. Veritas sells a magnetic version and I believe Stanley had a version as well.
    Being as Paul certainly doesn’t need it, and his disdain for unnecessary tools, my guess is Paul would not be a fan of such “training wheels”.

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