Hand planing damp wood

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Forum topic by wch posted 04-21-2010 01:55 AM 3420 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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45 posts in 2381 days

04-21-2010 01:55 AM

Topic tags/keywords: plane pine

I’ve been reading Toshio Odate’s book, Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use, and he says that woodworkers in Japan sometimes dampen the surface of the wood before the final planing cut:
“When a carpenter wants to obtain an especially beautiful surface with no tear-out on a very visible or important timber, he wipes the surface with a damp cloth before the final fine cut with a single-bladed finishing plane. Then he makes the stroke along the grain (as opposed to into the rising grain). Without a chipbreaker, the plane is easy to pull and the shavings escape easily; moistening the wood allows it to be cut cleanly, leaving the shiniest possible surface. (If you need to use a chipbreaker, don’t moisten the wood, because the fibers will bend rather than break.)”

I tried this on the edge of a pine board, and it does seem to make the surface a tiny bit smoother—but it’s possible that’s just in my head. One part of the board is near a knot, and I was getting a little tearout there when dry, but that seems to have gone away when the wood was dampened. I was using a Veritas bevel-up plane with a freshly sharpened blade (the blade angle is about 26 degrees and bed angle is 12 degrees, so the overall angle is about 38 degrees).

Are any of you familiar with this technique? I’m also curious to know how much it helps (if at all) with other kinds of wood.

12 replies so far

View bayspt's profile


292 posts in 3127 days

#1 posted 04-21-2010 02:10 AM

I have read tips in different places that say to dampen wood for a final pass through the thickness planer if you are having trouble with tearout. Never heard it for hand planing but don’t see why the logic wouldn’t be the same.

-- Jimmy, Oklahoma "It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm wearing milkbone underwear!"

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3191 days

#2 posted 04-21-2010 02:16 AM

yeah wetting the surface does help. It’s because the water softens the wood fibers and makes them easier to slice. Once you have handplaned green wood you understand how much difference water makes. green wood is a joy to plane because it just will not chip… its a breeze.

also you might want to try a slightly higher angle on your plane.I have the same one as you and for smoothing most woods I use a combined angle of 50 degrees. for really tough woods I go all the way up to 62 degrees and for end grain I’m at about 37 or 38…. for softwoods a 45 degree angle also works better than the 50 i find. but for long grain a 38 degree angle is waaaayyyy too low.

View Timberwerks's profile


355 posts in 2584 days

#3 posted 04-21-2010 02:16 AM

I dampen wood that has tricky grain and I get great results. I use mineral spirits and a single blade Japanese plane.


View wch's profile


45 posts in 2381 days

#4 posted 04-21-2010 07:47 AM

Glad to hear your experiences with this. I wonder if dampening the wood also helps for planing end grain. Yesterday I was planing the end of a tabletop built from 2×3’s (about 1.25” by 19”). It wasn’t terrible, but I’ll take any help I can get when working on endgrain, especially with harder woods.

Also, I do have another blade on the way, which I’m planning on sharpening at a higher angle.

View rwyoung's profile


385 posts in 2894 days

#5 posted 04-21-2010 08:57 PM

If you are using all-iron planes you might consider using mineral spirits or DNA instead of water for the dampening. Also works great for endgrain planing.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 3210 days

#6 posted 04-21-2010 09:45 PM

This is a good technique that I have used many time. I mostly use it for end grain and just go with a higher angle blade for face grain. One word of warning those and it was said above, if you are using metal planes I would dampen with mineral spirits or alcohol because that water will wreak havoc on your plane and the blade. Remember when Master Odate makes this recommendation he is dealing with a wooden plane.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

View Ingjr's profile


143 posts in 2439 days

#7 posted 04-21-2010 11:11 PM

I do it frequently on my power planer. Never tried it with the handplane, may have to check it out.

-- The older I get the faster I was.

View wch's profile


45 posts in 2381 days

#8 posted 04-21-2010 11:43 PM

Hm, I get the point about rust, but I’m not too excited about working with mineral spirits or alcohol fumes in my apartment (no real workshop for me). I think I’ll just have to make sure I have my plane waxed up and/or sprayed with Boeshield before I use it on wet wood.

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3209 days

#9 posted 04-22-2010 04:04 AM

Do you think this would also work with a sharp card scraper? Gonna have to try it. Thanks for the tip.


-- Go

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 2904 days

#10 posted 04-22-2010 04:28 AM

I will wet the surface of wood that I’m getting a lot of tearout on while running it through the planer or over the jointer and it sometimes (not always) clear it up.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View wch's profile


45 posts in 2381 days

#11 posted 04-22-2010 09:24 AM

Hey Gofor, let us know the results of your test with the scraper…

View JimmyNate's profile


124 posts in 2773 days

#12 posted 04-23-2010 07:25 PM

It makes sense. I’m anxious to try it.

-- "We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit." ---Aristotle

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