Your have brought the wood over to your bench, it’s rough and warped. It needs to be flat and square. This is the job of the planes.
Before I get started on planes, let’s just make one point clear, you can REALLY go nuts on these tools…it’s OK if you do, they are worth the money. Compare a Jointer, Jack, Smoother, Block set up from Lie Nielsen, to a 24” Jointer planer from Laguna and you will see the value in these tools. You are either going to spend a lot of time or a lot of money on your planes, the choice is yours…but might I recommend a happy medium…?
The first plane you will pick up will be Jack. Jack’s and interesting fella, he can do just about anything the other planes do even if he does not excel at it. Some guys prefer just jack, and they dispense with the rest. But planes work so much better as a system. A well set up jack plane is the beginning of that system. Traditionally speaking Jack used to be named Fore, because it was the plane used be”fore” the others. A fore plane was anywhere 14 and 18 inches and had wide mouth and a well cambered iron to allow it to take massive shavings (thickness of a dime to an 8th in some cases) when used across the grain….sounds a lot like the scrub plane huh? That’s because we use a scrub in place of a fore these days based on working narrower material then we used to (bigger trees back then), but I think the scrub goes a bit too far, it’s too short to effectively do the initial flattening of a board (you can use one, but it requires more thought) and an 18” fore can be very tiring to use for the initial scrubbing process. Jack fits in that “just right” category. We will talk about how to set the plane up later for now what do you look for? I don’t recommend buying a brand new jack plane since it’s going to do rough work, I prefer a per-war Bailey, but a wooden jack will do just as well (and will be easier to flatten the sole).
This one cost me $25 and required very little prep work.
After the jack is done making a mess of your bench and your board, the jointer comes in to flatten it out. With its long body, it is able to ride the hilltops made by the jack, shearing them off until one flat surface remains. Two schools of thought on the jointer, one where you use a straight blade, and the other with a slightly curved one. They both work, and I suggest you get two blades so you can try both. For this project you can get away with just the straight blade since you will be gluing up a panel for the top. Metal jointers are a pain to flatten so if you are in love with Iron I recommend you buy new (unless you enjoy restoring tools). Wood on the other hand is rather simple to restore and a solid wood jointer with a history is a nice thing to use. As this is a smaller project you could get away with a fore size plane with a flat blade. I own one made by WoodRiver that I am fond of (this brand is what I consider to be the cheapest usable planes on the market), but a full size jointer is probably a better long term investment.
The Jointer will have left scars here and there. The smoother cleans them up. This is often the last tool to touch your work, so don’t skimp here. You need a smoother with a sharp iron a flat sole and a VERY tight mouth. I made mine using mesquite and a blade from David Finck. It’s my favorite tool because it fits me. whatever smoother you get make sure it’s tuned to perfection and has a properly relaxed edge and you will have little need for sandpaper.
And finally the block. What a handy little guy this is. Handles end grain so well (in either low angle, or standard), makes chamfers. Used as a small smoother, one-handed, two-handed, forwards, backwards….in a word versatile. We will be using the block mostly help square edges in the even that you don’t grab a curved iron for your jointer but it’s useful enough to throw in the kit anyway. Get one with an adjustable mouth, and that feels good in your hands (both of them as well as one), this is a personal choice so I recommend going to the antique store and handling a few before you make your decision. They are of all the planes the easiest to tune up.
I am not one hundred percent today, so if I left anything unclear let me know and I will try and help.
-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan