Preparing Stock for Joinery

Preparing Stock for Joinery Keyframe

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What do you need to do to your dimensioned wood to prepare it for joinery? Often there are undulations or machine marks in the surface of the wood, or movement after dimensioning that needs removing before joinery layout occurs. Let’s work on getting the silky smooth surface and square faces that make for crisp, accurate joinery.


  1. redwood on 5 June 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks Paul
    One of the most used jigs I ever made, love my shooting board

  2. clarkey104 on 5 June 2017 at 4:12 pm

    With the top of the board you are shooting sticking above the cross piece of the shooting board isn’t there a danger of breaking off unsupported wood or am I missing something?

    • Tom Kirby on 5 June 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Wondered this as well, would love to know the response.

      • sidorenko91 on 6 June 2017 at 6:26 am

        The knife wall stops the break out.

        • clarkey104 on 6 June 2017 at 11:35 am

          Mmm, if a knife wall stops the break out why use a shooting board at all?

          • clarkey104 on 6 June 2017 at 11:37 am

            Surely the best way would be to make sure the cross piece of the shooting board is thick enough so as to be above the board you are shooting…

          • James Savage on 6 June 2017 at 2:03 pm

            It’s just a quicker and easier way of ensuring you plane the end square.

        • Gary on 6 June 2017 at 3:44 pm

          If you look at the shooting board, your board is referenced off of the piece that it is leaning against. This stops the breakout on the other side.

          • Farred on 7 June 2017 at 4:53 am

            Not in practice–I have yet to stop the breakout, no matter how tight the wood is against the fence.

        • ted clawton on 2 January 2018 at 6:23 am

          Knife wall doesn’t always stop breakout — was a hard-knock lesson

    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2017 at 7:41 pm

      Two things:
      You can add a sacrificial piece between the stock and the stop, the same height as your workpiece, in other words. That catches all the edge of the material. Secondly, With a sharp plane, no, the wood will leave a feint trace of uncut fibres that are then chiseled or planed off. You could see that there was no break out after I planed my piece there I think. As I said, for a guaranteed out-cut simply add the scrap sacrificial piece. End of problem.

  3. Tom Kirby on 5 June 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Email notification switched on.

  4. joeleonetti on 5 June 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks Paul. Would love to see a bit more on what machine tools you think would be helpful to the shop that has only hand tools but wants a few machine tools to do the donkey work. If I had to guess, the three most helpful would be a jointer, planar, and bandsaw. What do you think?

    The last project I did I spent 39 hours (I am slow and still learning) dimensioning wood for a night stand. I still get great satisfaction of doing it by hand but would appreciate having the option of a machine tool.

    • Ken Johnston on 5 June 2017 at 6:21 pm

      I bought a dewalt planer, and found that it is just about all I really need to do the donkey work in my garage. I would like a band saw eventually too but haven’t found I really ‘need’ it. I usually hand plane 1 side making sure its flat and no twist, then toss it through the planer to parallel and dimension the opposite face to within a couple thousand, clean it up with a hand plane and scraper, then square an edge, and repeat on the edge. doesn’t take long and the hours of dimensioning rough stock by hand are over. I hand saw and shoot the ends to length, if I am feeling lazy it may go on the power miter saw for a quick cut to square an end.

    • Edmund on 5 June 2017 at 7:06 pm

      Joseph — hopefully Paul will directly address that question, It’s a very interesting topic, although somewhat influenced by our preferences, right? If you really enjoy using your plane, suddenly planing isn’t donkey work, and so a thicknesser would arguably be a less valuable addition.
      Paul’s videos indirectly answer your question…he clearly values a thicknesser, and he has brought out his bandsaw at least once, a small lathe, and a grinder.
      Chris Shwarz has an entire section on your question in his book “the Anarchists Tool Chest”. I don’t have it in front of me, but I remember his “5 most useful machines for hand tool workers” was interesting and thought-provoking. I remember his list included a thicknesser, a bandsaw, and a mortiser, but I can’t remember the others, although interestingly, it didn’t include a table saw. If you want, let me know and I’ll update with the full list.

      • Edmund on 6 June 2017 at 1:31 am

        edit — I just looked it up, and it’s not 5 most useful, it’s just 3, and those are the 3.

        • ehisey on 6 June 2017 at 2:51 am

          Mortiser seem an odd recommendation. The bandsaw and planer I can see though.

          • sidorenko91 on 6 June 2017 at 6:48 am

            Chris Schwartz says a few questionable things, like dismissing the no. 78 rebate plane just to promote the Veritas one.

            Track saws are extremely useful if you work by yourself or have limited space. For working sheets goods its indispensable.

            Hand planing has changed my life, to say the least. The amount of engagement you have versus a machine thicknesser is huge. Sure, if you need to produce large pieces, a thicknesser will save you days of work but fusing your hands to your plane will pay off in so many other ways.

            Right now i am repairing wooden boats which is totally intense. I only have space for a portable table saw and a track saw. I think i would get a bandsaw before a planar/jointer.

            In my opinion thicknessing, ripping and resawing are the only real donkey work. All else is just part of my day.

          • Jeff Porterfield on 6 June 2017 at 3:19 pm

            I agree with that.

    • abtuser on 5 June 2017 at 10:19 pm

      I work in a similar fashion to kenneth. Even though I have a small jointer, I find I prefer hand flattening boards by hand, especially when removing twist. I feel I have better control with the hand planes. When I first purchased my Dewalt planer, I also purchased a Byrd Shelix helical cutter head which drastically reduces finish sanding and planing, usually leaving just the show surfaces with whatever solution I choose to use (smooth plane only/scraper/220 grit sanding). As for the bandsaw, I don’t have one and instead, cut from both sides of the board using my tablesaw. If the board is too wide to cut all he way through, I’ll finish with a handsaw.

    • Michael Ostrander on 6 June 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Hey Joe. I’m fairly new to the concept of using only hand tools for joinery but I’ve been building furniture for over 30 yrs. using, primarily, power equipment.

      If I were starting over, knowing what I know now, I would purchase the following:

      First, a good quality 10″ “Contractor” grade table saw. Cabinet saws are very expensive and probably way overkill for what you’ll be using it for. This tool is invaluable for consistently accurate and repeated ripping and cutting of multiple parts to rough dimension. $800-$1000 new.

      Second, a good 6″ cabinet style joiner for the initial flattening & truing of stock. $400-$600 new.

      Third, a good quality bench top thickness planer for reducing rough sawn stock to working dimension. $300-$500 new.

      You can save a pile if you can pick these up used somewhere in good condition.

      I would consider a bandsaw a luxury item as it’s main use for you would be to resaw thicker stock into veneer or project dimension. Initially yo can accomplish most of the other bandsaw functions with a good jig saw or a coping saw.

      I’m just finishing up a 72″ break front vanity for a customer. It contains 8 drawer boxes and fronts, 3 face frames, and 2 frame & panel doors. I completed all of the roughing for the project in one good long day. I would guess 3-4 times that long if I’d attempted to do all of the “donkey” work by hand. I then completed all of the final dimensioning and joinery by hand and had a ball doing it. Very safe, clean, quiet, and rewarding.

      Good Luck and Good Work!!

    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2017 at 7:44 pm

      That’s a good enough combo you suggest. Probably just a good 16″ bandsaw for me. That’s mostly what I use now anyway and I love it. When set up properly you can cut very accurately with them. I am a fanatic about keeping mine well tuned. A planer/jointer is handy and I have one but haven’t used it for six months now.

      • Farred on 7 June 2017 at 5:00 am

        Yes, yes! I got rid of my 6-inch jointer a year ago–too finicky to adjust–and now use a home-built wooden plane and fence (there’s a photo of it in the Gallery). The space in my 8×16 shop is too valuable to waste. No thickness planer either–noisy and dusty. It would be quicker than hand roughing down, but I made a hope chest out of cherry without one.

      • floriankugler on 7 June 2017 at 8:19 am

        I’d love an episode about how you keep your bandsaw well tuned, and how you use it in stock preparation!

        • Ed on 7 June 2017 at 12:57 pm

          I was thinking the same…interest in seeing a bandsaw used for routine stock prep. I’m confused though because, so often, Paul shows prepared stock with milling marks, not bandsaw marks, so I’ve always assumed he uses a planer. I can’t imagine he has the time to prep his wood from rough to 4 square by hand, especially given his comments.

          • ted clawton on 2 January 2018 at 6:33 am

            I saw an article on Paul’s blog (sorry that I don’t know which one right now) that mentioned they indeed prep rough stock with machines, and often buy 4-square boards.

      • Patrick Demasco on 12 November 2018 at 12:07 am

        I am thrilled by the recommendation. After getting rid of almost all of my power tools to embrace hand tool work, I recently purchased a band saw. I did a lot of ripping and resawing by hand and was happy with the results, but overall it feels like more time than I want spend doing stock preparation. So I hope the band saw gets me close enough where I can finish up with a plane (which I really enjoy working with) and on to the joinery!

    • joeleonetti on 7 June 2017 at 12:24 am

      Many thanks to Paul and all of the others for their input. The good news is that for each successive piece I’ve made (three tool totes then three wall clocks and now the nightstand to show my wife some return on the tool investment) I have become more focused and particular about dimensioning the wood. I learned a lot on this nightstand. Removing the twist was the most intimidating portion (amazed at how just a few plane strokes too much or too few can really be noticed). The going from 3/4″ stock to 3/8″ stock was good exercise and there was a lot of pride in my being able to say to myself that I did it. It just seemed to take a fair bit of time. Not that I am in a rush (this is a hobby for me to relax and enjoy after all).

    • bigaxe on 26 January 2018 at 2:15 pm

      I find a planar to be essential. I find it is fairly easy to flatten one side of a board with a scrub plane so I don’t miss having a jointer. I have both a band saw and a table saw and would prefer the table saw over the band saw. I probably could do quite well without a band saw.
      I think Paul should do some videos on this subject

      • Philip Adams on 26 January 2018 at 2:44 pm

        We will take it into consideration going forward. It is always a balance as some people don’t and won’t have access to them.

  5. Ed on 5 June 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Paul, Would you go directly to length with a chop saw or table saw, or would your final step always be a knife, hand saw, and plane?

    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2017 at 7:45 pm

      I own a nice Dewalt chopsaw but still mostly use hand methods with the knife, saw and plane. that might change as `I grow older but for now it is good, and I mean really good, exercise.

  6. Mathew Doidge on 6 June 2017 at 11:32 am

    Hi Paul,

    With larger stock, would you still go to a shootingboard for endgrain? For instance if you were squaring the ends of a workbench top that’s like 3″ thick by 9″ wide?

    Thanks for the great content, learning so much.

    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2017 at 7:48 pm

      No. On larger sections like anything over 2″ by 3″ section I just use a knifewall, handsaw and #4 plane.

      • Mathew Doidge on 7 June 2017 at 10:17 am

        Thanks, Paul!

        • corbin on 16 February 2018 at 9:31 pm

          I am very late to conversation, but I hope this helps someone else. I used to have a whole shop of semi professional power woodworking tools. I spent more time setting up and fiddling with machines and jigs than I did building things. I also found buying 4 square timber from the big box stores way to expensive.

          I ended up selling everything because I was moving a lot in the military. Years later I found Paul’s classes and started collecting/rehabbing old hand tools. I have switched to using rough sawn air dried hard woods from local sawyers for a fraction of the price of big box stores.

          For about 2 years I have mainly made scrap while trying to get good at all the techniques. Preparing rough sawn stuff for any type of large project is a long and engaging process. I recently picked up a nice fold up table saw on black Friday sales and a second hand Dewalt thickness planer from a pawn shop. And a nice big shop vac to collect the dust.

          I place the rough twisted\cupped hard wood on long pieces of ply and support the areas off the ply with wedges. Run that through the planner until it is smooth and twist free. Then run it through the planner on the other side to make it parallel.

          Then it is run through the table saw secured to another piece of ply to joint the edges. This has sped up the process greatly.

          Then I will let the pre-finished lumber lean on the wall for a few weeks for it to settle and move. everything else is done with hand tools.

  7. Duane Ludwig on 7 June 2017 at 12:10 am

    Hello Paul,

    I stumbled across your videos on youtube one day and was hooked! Asked the wife for chisels and a miter saw for Christmas and started practicing on pallet wood from the job site.
    I bought a Stanley jointer plane and a Shelton jack plane for $28 total at a flea market. I was wondering if the Shelton is a good plane. What do you know about Shelton planes? I’ve never heard of them.
    I would love to master (or at least get much better) the hand plane aspect of traditional wood working. I can cut pretty strait now thanks to your videos but still have issues with the planing.

    • Philip Adams on 7 June 2017 at 9:25 am

      Hello Duane, it’s hard to know who really made them and Paul doesn’t have any experience of them. Sorry

  8. Mathew Doidge on 16 June 2017 at 9:30 pm

    One problem I’ve found since practicing on some scraps of wood, is that I often find myself planing the sides of the wood out of square – at a slant. It’s very frustrating and makes me appreciate the skill involved.

    I think I could be applying too much pressure when planing and also taking too much off before doing my checks. I end up chasing my tail, constantly correcting one side and then being out on the other edge. I read some comments above and I am definitely guilty of bearing down in the plane and having quite an aggressive and bulldog-like stance.

    From the comments – checking my plane is set might be worth doing again. Frustrating but I enjoyed every second, even if I did plane most the timber away!

  9. FRANK YACONE on 24 June 2017 at 2:02 pm

    When you use power tools to mill your stock, and finish with hand planes, do you leave any extra when you mill it, or do you cut the final dimensions on the power tools and take a couple of swipes with the plane?

    • Philip Adams on 26 June 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Hello Frank,
      We generally go to size as you only remove the smallest amount when planing, just to remove the machine marks and check the surfaces for square.

  10. ted clawton on 2 January 2018 at 6:25 am

    I love all the details found in the long-format videos, but I appreciate the succinctness of this video, especially since the topic is so foundational (and something I sort of skipped while starting out, to my detriment)

  11. don fox on 17 April 2018 at 7:09 am

    having issues with this process…seem to have plane set right but when i go to start on width of a board it does seem to start even when i just did it on scrap piece. but could host of bench too low board twisted or maybe plane wasn’t set after all. any suggestions for old newbie? need to get this if i have any hope of doing any joinery.

    • Philip Adams on 23 April 2018 at 3:11 pm

      I always suggest people start by going over the bench plane sharpening and setting guide to ensure they’ve worked everything through. Main things to check for is sharpness, set and if there are any high spots on the board that your plane is registered on that is preventing your plane from taking a shaving at the start of the stroke.

  12. don fox on 17 April 2018 at 7:11 am

    i work with alot of pallet wood…sketchy at best i’ll admit but still….

    • Joseph Kesselman on 17 October 2018 at 2:53 am

      Absolutely nothing wrong with using recycled materials. (Lost Art Press recently published a book on that specific topic, unsolicited plug.)

      Pallets are sometimes surprisingly interesting wood. It does require that you be willing to work with/around the nail holes, and you’ve got to watch out for cases where the nail doesn’t get completely removed (a metal detector might be a good investment), and you probably want to think about what that pallet was used to transport and might be contaminated with… but you can’t beat the price, it makes a good story, and depending on what you do with it that history may be invisible in the final piece… or may become part of its final appearance.

      Just don’t take pallets that you don’t have permission to take. Some are rented rather than purchased; in this country those are usually painted blue, and you should leave ’em alone. Some companies recycle pallets to ship their own goods. Some are selling them to remanufacturers and do care about that income stream, minor as it is. On the other hand, some are paying to have pallets hauled away and would be glad to have you take some. It can’t hurt to ask, the worst they’ll do is say no or quote a price… But DO ask; don’t presume.

  13. Alexey Shilkin on 2 October 2018 at 9:26 am

    Good afternoon

    I am from Russia so excuse me for my English.
    Thank you for your effort.

    For me it would be good to see a text of the video. Via subtitles or as separate text. Because it’s easier to understand because sometimes I cannot recognize speech by voice. And in youtube, for e.g exactly that video, you especially added subtitles. But here on the website I cannot find the text. Does it exist?


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