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Shop Tips & Tricks #16: How to Plane Stock very Thin

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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 08-08-2014 07:15 PM 1394 reads 1 time favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 15: Down and Dirty Proportional Dividers Part 16 of Shop Tips & Tricks series no next part

Planing very thin stock:

Recently another Lumberjocker (John Hutchinson) asked for tips for planing stock down to 1/8” or so. Several people made good suggestions and I shared my own simple method which I worked out by trial and error years ago. I figured this would be a good tip to share in my sporadic blog on Shop Tips and Tricks.

Power planing thin stock can be a challenge for several reasons. First is the danger of damaging the cutter head and knives by their contact with the planer bed. Beyond that is the fact that the stock being planed is very prone to shatter or disintegrate when planed too thinly. The type of material being planed is critical, since some, particularly soft, split prone woods like cedar are more fragile than others. Some hardwoods are too, particularly any very grainy or brittle woods like oak prone to splitting, or anything with hard knots. A gut feeling will usually tell you which woods are not candidates. After that, it is a matter of trial and error – just be careful to stand well clear of the planner during your trials!

This method is simple, quick and easy and works well in most cases. It is merely an additional, auxiliary planer ‘bed’ or ‘platen’ for your thin stock to feed thru upon. This ‘auxiliary platen’ is simply a piece of thick material, stiff enough to bridge the distance between the lower rollers on the planer without flexing too much. 3/4” plywood works well, particularly the sanded type for cabinetry. Or, any wide, thick plank sufficiently stiff for the purpose. I once made a special bed with a layer of formica on top which fit across the entire surface of my planer bed.

That said, you do not need to cover the entire bed of the planer, especially if your stock is not too wide. You can even put thin ‘guides’ on your plank if your stock wants to wander off the plank in use. The wider your stock is the harder it is to plane thinly. A plank or piece of material about 25% wider than your material usually works fine so long as it is planed flat so both faces are parallel to one another, and at least one surface reasonably smooth to reduce friction. This can be easily stowed when not needed. If you need only a small amount of thin stock, you can make a quick auxiliary ‘platen’ from a short piece of 2×8 or something similar which works well for a temporary need.

Your auxiliary platen needs to be slightly longer than your planer bed. You should nail, glue or screw an approximately 1×2 cleat across one end, which when turned down, prevents this piece from feeding through the planer by hooking over the infeed edge of most planers. Your stock to be planed is then fed through the planer on top of this ‘platen’. Depending on the stock being planed, you can get thicknesses down to 1/8” to 1/10” or even less. One caution is to make very thin cuts on each pass to lower the danger of the stock shattering as you plane, and the thinner you go, the thinner the successive cuts should be!

See the sketches below:

You can see how this trick can be modified to plane a slope or bevel on thicker stock too. In this case, the auxiliary platen is made with the required bevel on the upper surface. Now, when your stock is fed through the planer, a matching bevel is planed off the upper side of your stock. When using this to make bevels it is necessary to add a stop piece to the lower edge to prevent the stock from sliding off down hill. See this sketch. (Note: This is an end view of an auxiliary platen for bevels, as viewed from the infeed side.):

I hope this helps!

-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!



33 comments so far

View Bob817's profile

Bob817

650 posts in 1049 days


#1 posted 08-08-2014 07:24 PM

Great Tip, Thankyou!

-- ~ Bob ~ Newton, N.H.

View HillbillyShooter's profile (online now)

HillbillyShooter

4659 posts in 959 days


#2 posted 08-08-2014 07:40 PM

Thanks for the great write up. This is basically the method I’ve used since the mid to late 90s, just much more eloquently written. I’ve never had any problems, but as I observed previously—maybe I’ve just been lucky.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View BJODay's profile

BJODay

392 posts in 610 days


#3 posted 08-08-2014 07:49 PM

Erik,

I hope I don’t sound foolish, but how does your stock feed through? It looks like your platen covers the drive rollers and your platen won’t feed all the way through because of the stop cleat.

Am I missing something?

BJ

View GnarlyErik's profile

GnarlyErik

206 posts in 801 days


#4 posted 08-08-2014 09:42 PM

BJ,

Most small to mid sized planers have the feed rollers on top. The lower rollers are usually simply follower rollers to help the stock feed on through.

Some planers though have powered feed rollers on both top and bottom. In those cases to use this trick you would probably need to remove some material from the auxiliary plank platen in the areas where they contact the lower feed rollers. If there are feed rollers on top, the stock should feed thru.

-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!

View cutmantom's profile

cutmantom

283 posts in 1702 days


#5 posted 08-08-2014 09:48 PM

Another way is to attach the stock to a piece of mdf with double stick tape, don’t be cheap with the tape, you will most likely need lacquer thinner too get the stock off

View johnhutchinson's profile

johnhutchinson

638 posts in 296 days


#6 posted 08-08-2014 10:22 PM

Thanks much, Erik !!! Crystal-clear explanation of some great techniques.

I’ll be planing cherry and walnut, so I’m not too worried about an inboard explosion.

-- John - Central Ohio - "too much is never enough"

View BJODay's profile

BJODay

392 posts in 610 days


#7 posted 08-08-2014 10:31 PM

Erik,
Thanks for clearing that up.

BJ

View Mean_Dean's profile

Mean_Dean

1510 posts in 1814 days


#8 posted 08-09-2014 12:40 AM

Excellent idea—thanks for posting!

-- Dean

View NormG's profile

NormG

4208 posts in 1671 days


#9 posted 08-09-2014 02:10 AM

Great idea, I have used the double-side tape a number of times

-- Norman

View GnarlyErik's profile

GnarlyErik

206 posts in 801 days


#10 posted 08-09-2014 03:24 AM

Cutmantom & NormaG -

I haven’t tried double-sided tape for this, but I can see how that could help hold the stock together and help prevent shattering. I’ll give that a try some time.

Erik

-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!

View stefang's profile

stefang

13106 posts in 2001 days


#11 posted 08-09-2014 10:15 AM

Thanks for the tip Erik. My thought was to place a couple of very thin cleats at each end of the workpiece with carpet tape to lock it onto the platen. The cleats can be sized with enough length to insure adequate grab for holding strength.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View GnarlyErik's profile

GnarlyErik

206 posts in 801 days


#12 posted 08-09-2014 12:22 PM

Hi Stefan-

I know of at least two ways to use an auxiliary platen and I have tried them both. One is a sliding piece (platen) which runs thru with the stock being planed, and the other is a fixed platen which the stock being planed slides on top of and thru the planer. I myself have found it easier and much faster to use the fixed platen hooked or fixed to the planer bed, although I can also see the value of having the stock fixed firmly to a moving platen. It is probably less likely to shatter that way.

As they say, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” and there may be even better ways to do this out there.

-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!

View stefang's profile

stefang

13106 posts in 2001 days


#13 posted 08-09-2014 12:50 PM

I’m sure you have a lot more experience with this than I do Erik and to be honest I forgot about the platen being fixed with the cleat when I mentioned locking the workpiece onto the platen, but I guess putting the platen through could work too.

I have a planer with just two blades in high carbon steel in my relatively inexpensive combo hobby quality machine from Belgium. I am very surprised that it does such a good planing job even with maple and white oak, but I haven’t tried anything extremely thin in it yet, so I may be in for a negative surprise when I do.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View johnhutchinson's profile

johnhutchinson

638 posts in 296 days


#14 posted 08-09-2014 02:10 PM

I think I’ll jump back in here since I’m the one who originally asked the question.

I’m remembering now that explosions I’ve had in the past occurred as the stock was first making contact with the spinning blades. Machine vibrations were probably causing the leading edge of the thin stock to bounce up into the shredder. So now I’m thinking that double-face-taping the leading edge ONLY to a backer board might be the solution.

I’m going to give it a try today.

-- John - Central Ohio - "too much is never enough"

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

5706 posts in 2096 days


#15 posted 08-09-2014 02:22 PM

My sliding MDF sled is covered with 100 grit cloth backed paper. 1/16th is as thin as I’ve gone.
The work doesn’t move at all.
When planing to these thin thicknesses, I’d be concerned about the thickness of the tape under just a portion of the work.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

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