Flatten a Table Top

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Forum topic by DrewM posted 07-05-2010 02:44 PM 8256 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View DrewM's profile


176 posts in 2995 days

07-05-2010 02:44 PM

I just finished gluing up a top for a coffee table and after the glue up they boards were slightly offest so I sanded away the ridges. I rechecked the top for flatness and its dead flat along its length but along its width there are dips at some of the glue joints about 1/64” or so. I was wondering what would be the best way to flatten the top? Should I just get a hand plane? Thanks for the help.

-- Drew, Delaware

16 replies so far

View araldite's profile


188 posts in 3400 days

#1 posted 07-05-2010 03:22 PM

Hand plane is the way I would do it.

-- Failure is the road to success if you learn to learn from your mistakes - Vince, Greenville, SC

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 2918 days

#2 posted 07-05-2010 03:38 PM

You can try what I have done…

Stick a sandpaper (grade depending on the required work) with 4×3 or 4×2 wood length should be long enough to cover the lenght of the table.
Be sure the wood stock is real straight. If possible, make a handle on the wood at your convenience.
Use sandpaper that can be bought in rolls so that it can cover the whole wood surface without overlapping.
Start sliding the wood with the other end works as pivot. Sanding is the best process in finishing.

I used a smooth plane but sometimes it makes tearout and you cannot guarantee the straightness if you use shorter planes.

-- Bert

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1285 posts in 3733 days

#3 posted 07-05-2010 03:53 PM

You can call around to your local cabinet shops and ask them how much to pass the top through their wide belt sander. Make sure the sander is a type that has a “platen”. The platen assures there will be no snipe. That is if the sander is in tune.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 4162 days

#4 posted 07-05-2010 03:54 PM

I would drum sand it. If you have, or have access to one, this is how I would handle it. You didn’t mention the size of the top. I can drum sand in the shop up to about 40’ wide effectively. This eliminates any chance of tear out with either hand or power planeing. I’m just curious—-did you happen to use biscuits while edge gluing the top up? The reason I ask is, in the past I had experienced some low spots at adjoining edges after having used biscuits for aligning purposes. Today, I simply glue up edge to edge all tops with no biscuits, to avoid this delimna. Let us know how you wind up choosing to eliminate the low spots! Keep on keeping on.

Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View knotscott's profile


8012 posts in 3372 days

#5 posted 07-05-2010 04:03 PM

Drew – There are always several ways to accomplish a wwing task. This is a case where I’d use hand planes, but it might be a tough time to learn the ropes if you don’t already have some familiarity with planes.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4002 days

#6 posted 07-05-2010 04:12 PM

Sounds like a good task for a card scraper.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 2982 days

#7 posted 07-05-2010 04:15 PM

I would also call around to places in your area that may have a drum sander and see if anybody would be willing to help you out.

If you do get a hand planer, I hope you find some practise wood! :)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View DrewM's profile


176 posts in 2995 days

#8 posted 07-05-2010 04:25 PM

Ken the top isnt joined with biscuts. I just jointed the edges on my jointer and glued them together normally. I just didnt get all the boards perfectly lined up before the glue set. The top is 21” x 44” and the lumber yard I purchase from has a larger drum sander that I may employ the services of. I also may use this dilema as a reason to start a handplane collection. Would a No.5 plane be up to this task? Bert I also like your idea of making a sanding “plane” of sorts. I think I recall something similar in a Fine Woodworking magazine. Here is a picture of the top as it sits in my shop.

-- Drew, Delaware

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2994 days

#9 posted 07-05-2010 04:43 PM

I realize you are not in practice but just to give you an idea, it would take much longer to haul it somewhere than to plane it by hand.

If you only have one plane and you are not that experienced at it:

Get a good straight edge and put it down on the table and find where the high spots are. Also a couple of winding sticks are a good measuring tool as well. They are sticks (Usually with contrasting colors or inlay) that you lay down on both ends of the board and sight along them to see if you are developing any twist. Check from multiple directions. Pencil some squiggly lines where the high spots are. Start work there first. Plane that area a bit. Rinse and repeat. It doesn’t take that long and the table top looks like it is pretty darn close as it is.

You can do the same thing with a power sander but go gently with fine paper. The plane would be faster.

If you have an uncontrollable urge to do it the quick and easy way by hand plane:

Start with a scrub plane (or a coarsely set jack) and plane at 45 degrees to the grain from one direction. Then turn around and do it from the other direction. Check with straight edge and winding sticks as above to check your progress. Set the plane fine and do it again. Then one final time along the grain with a nice long jointer. Finally, clean up any rough places with a very finely set smoothing plane and scraper to get a good surface for the finish.

A table top that size should take well under an hour with the above method to flatten if it were pretty rough. You could skip the gym that day ;).

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View swirt's profile


2733 posts in 2968 days

#10 posted 07-05-2010 05:04 PM

Drew you could definitely do it with just a No 5 Jack. Since it is only a 64th of inch low, this would go really quickly with a No5. From the picture it looks like the grain is not too squirrely so you should be fine. (unless I just can’t see it well enough)

-- Galootish log blog,

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3557 days

#11 posted 07-05-2010 05:58 PM

For future reference, I’ve read the following:

Do not sand a glue up until it is totally dry – may be several days depending on humidity. The problem with sanding too soon is that the grain in the area of the glue is expanded. Sanding removes the expanded grain. When drying is complete the grain contracts leaving the dips along the glue line.

-- Joe

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 4162 days

#12 posted 07-05-2010 06:59 PM

ajosephg, is correct! Do not do any machining in anyway to the glue joints, via plane or sanding until the wood has reacclimated. Anytime we introduce moisture to the wood (glue) there needs to be adequate time allowed for reacclimation.Otherwise, we simply exacerbate the percieved problem. That was the reason I had asked if the joints had been biscuited, originally. During the curing and reacclimation period these very often show up as recesses on flat surfaces. Patience maybe needed here-LOL!

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View DrewM's profile


176 posts in 2995 days

#13 posted 07-05-2010 08:13 PM

Yeah next top I glue up I will let sit for a few days. The problem with this one isn’t terrible and I feel like I can fix it without a lot of work. Thanks for all the help.

-- Drew, Delaware

View CaptainSkully's profile


1597 posts in 3555 days

#14 posted 07-07-2010 03:42 PM

I’d be careful of wide belt sanding. If the sander isn’t wide enough for your table top (the open-sided kind), then you’ll have to make two passes. The second pass never seems to match the first pass, which requires a third pass, and so on. My father-in-law was “helping” me with my table top on his belt sander, and it gouged small furrows across the table as the top was fed through the machine. These were much worse than the original reason why I was sanding the top down in the first place. Sigh…

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View startingfromscratch's profile


69 posts in 3188 days

#15 posted 07-07-2010 03:57 PM

Not for nothing, and I am far from an expert, but I just saw on a podcast I was watching about using hand planes that beaded up glue on the surface after a panel’s been glued up can wreak havoc with a plane blade (would be particularly frustrating for me if I went out and got a plane, tuned it up, got the blade sharp, and then knicked it on glue). They suggested just getting any excess glue off with a card scraper before you got at it with a hand plane.

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