Facing a Board

This weekend, I faced, jointed and dovetailed the board for the top of the built-in cabinet that I’m currently working on. I took some pictures of the process I use for facing the board just to show a brief overview of the process.

facing01

This is a picture of the top board for the cabinet in rough sawn condition. I have rough cut it to length here to facilitate easier facing and jointing. The board is 4/4 poplar, 12+” in width and about 33″ long. The plane I start with is the fore plane. The one pictured is about 17″ long and the iron has a moderate camber. The cambering of the iron helps to ease planing and also keeps the corners of the iron from leaving tracks in the surface of the board. This plane is set to take a relatively thick shaving. However, it should not be so thick that you have trouble pushing the plane.

I begin the facing process by planing directly across the face of the board. The holdfasts behind the board are secured to the bench top, not the board. The board is not fastened to the bench in any way. There is a planing stop on the left end that the board is butted up to and it is also butted against the holdfasts. I plane toward these stops, which keep the board from moving as I work. This setup allows me to change the position of the board very quickly without needing to unclamp the board or readjust a vice.

facing02

Planing across the board first serves to remove any cup from the face. I like to work the concave face of the board first. I find it easier to remove cup than crown. By planing across the grain, the plane only cuts the high edges, gradually bringing them down to the height of the center of the cup. I adjust the position of the board a couple of times to reach the areas that are blocked by the holdfasts. Once I am taking full length shavings across the board, I know the cup is removed. The length of the fore plane ensures this.

After I’m done planing across the grain with the fore plane, I switch to the try plane and plane diagonally and along the grain to finish the job. Here I’m using a 22″ long try plane. Again, the length of the plane aids in flattening the face. The plane will only cut the high spots until the board is flat. The iron of this plane is also slightly cambered, though less so than the fore plane as the try plane is set to take a finer shaving. I continue to plane end to end until I am taking a full length shaving from one end to the other across the entire width of the board. At this point the face of the board is flat.

facing03

I don’t continue any further unless I’m working on a final show surface for something like a table top, which will receive a lot more scrutiny. In these cases, I’ll make a few passes with a finely set smooth plane. In most cases, however, the surface left by the try plane is acceptable as is and requires no further work before applying a finish.

The final check with the winding sticks shows that the face is flat and has no twist. Following this process typically removes any minor twist in the face without constant checking, however, it is always good to make sure any twist is removed before you scribe your final thickness to the other face. If a board is badly twisted, I typically won’t try to plane it out, rather I will save the board to be ripped down for smaller parts.

facing04

Once the board’s face is flat and not twisted, it can have the final thickness scribed onto the ends and edges from this face. The process is then repeated on the other face with the additional step of doing the final try planing to the scribed line to ensure a board with consistent thickness.

The whole process of flattening this face (not the second face) took me a total of 8 minutes, including the time spent stopping to take these pictures. I didn’t time myself to brag as I am not that full of myself and I don’t think that this is really a major feat. Rather I firmly believe it is a result of the process and using the proper tools for the job. Our ancestors would consider this just another part of the process, as do I. The real reason I timed myself is just to demonstrate that working effeciently with hand tools is not as hard as it is often thought to be. Would I want to do production surfacing this way? No, but that’s not the way I work. I’m not in a production environment.

Mostly, I tried to demonstrate the process for someone new to the craft who doesn’t think they can do it without power. I hope this encourages these folks (and maybe even a few of the seasoned power users) to give it a try. With the right tools properly set up, there’s no reason anyone can’t do this.

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2 thoughts on “Facing a Board

  1. I have a question. Are you working with Kiln dried wood or wood that has been acclimated to the shop? I’m curious about how the wood reacts once you’ve planed it. Do you ever end up with a piece that moves after you’ve faced it?

    • Yes, I typically work kiln dried stuff that has aclimated to my shop for at least a week or two. Still sometimes boards move after planing. If it is critical that the boards be dead flat, I’ll skip plane each face first and then let them sit for another day or two before final planing. However, if a board cups or twists a lot after the initial planing (like more than 1/8″ or so), the cause is likely not a moisture issue, if the boards were kiln dried and acclimated properly. It’s more likely internal stresses being released. In these cases, that board will probably never stay flat, no matter how many times you flatten it. In these cases, I put the board aside to be ripped into narrower parts and use another board. There’s no way to predict movement from internal stresses, so it’s best to avoid using those boards for wide parts and panels. Unfortunately you don’t know if the board has internal stress until you plane or rip it. But internal stress will typically rear its head immediately following ripping or planing. If you flatten a board one day and it stays that way for a day or two and then cups on the third or fourth day, then it’s likely that it was either dried improperly or that the environmental conditions changed over those few days. If it was dried improperly (i.e. there’s still excess moisture in the board) you will need to make sure it dries completely before continuing to work it or it will cup again. If it’s environmental, then usually, when the environmental conditions stabilize for a few days, the wood will flatten itself back out.

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