How to straighten and flatten boards

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Forum topic by CompleteRookie posted 11-30-2010 07:39 PM 13882 views 2 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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18 posts in 3244 days

11-30-2010 07:39 PM

I consider myself a beginning woodworker. I have made the standard set of beginner projects, boxes, bookshelves, night stands, etc. My crowning achievement (so far) is the bed I made for my daughter. While I was extremely proud of it at the time, I look at it now and want to make firewood out of it and start over. I assume that most craftsmen feel that way about the early stuff. I guess I like to do a really good job and I know, in retrospect, that it could be better.

Which brings me to my main point. I have decided to not go too fancy on elaborate designs and stick with shaker and mission for a little while. I am doing this so I can hone more of my basic skills. The last woodtalk online helped me recognize this skill shortage. My wife has an endless supply of projects for me to practice on so no issue there. But I have learned that good straight boards are pretty darn important to a successful project. I do not own a planer, jointer or any hand planes.

Given that straight and flat boards are kind of important, how should I accomplish this? Should I purchase one or more of the above? Is there a better way? I do have a table saw, router, drill press, sander, and a pos band saw.

Any guidance would be appreciated.

-- I can make firewood with the best of them!

21 replies so far

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2770 days

#1 posted 11-30-2010 08:16 PM

In a word, yes. You will need at least one or more of those three things.

There are three ways to go, depending on whether you want to work with hand tools or not. Planes are a slippery slope; use one and you end up buying a boatload. They’re addictive. Also frustrating and more physical labor.

Path 1: Buy a planer and jointer. The standard duo.

Path 2: Buy a planer and joint using planes. This is what I do. I hate my jointer. I can’t set it up accurately and I get a better result faster with planes. Then I use the planer to thickness quickly. I may be the only wierdo like this, YMMV.

Path 3. Do it all by hand. Ugh. Even in the old days they had apprentices. Nowadays our apprentices use electrons. I do it this way sometimes, but I’d hate to have to do it this way all the time.

The cost will be similar whichever path you take. Quality tools cost, even hand tools.

My suggestion: buy a decent thickness planer. You’ll never NOT wish you had one.

-- Nate,

View Dryfly's profile


6 posts in 2751 days

#2 posted 11-30-2010 08:22 PM

Hi CR,
I’m new to the forum, but not to woodworking. Firstly, good for you for jumping in and starting on some projects. That’s how we all get experience. As ,for straight, flat pieces, you area correct. That is an absolute must, but there are several ways to get there. There are a few things to consider and mostly have to do with budget and how much room you have. If you are short on space then you want to have some tools do “double duty”. By that I mean buy or make a bench-top router table and you can use it as a jointer for “edging” your boards. If you have a couple of hundred bucks, you can do what I did which is buy a Delta 4” bench-top jointer. It’s basic and has an aluminum table but it’s pretty accurate for squareness and I’ve done a lot of work with it. At some point I’ll get a 6” or 8” stationary jointer, but for now this works great so long as the work isn’t too wide. For a little more you can get a Jet with a cast iron table. A planer is a nice thing to have but cannot substitute for a jointer, whereas if the wood isn’t flat and the edges not square to begin with, the planer will take it to a new thickness, but still not flat. Think of the jointer as a “flatener” or “straightener” and the planer as a “thicknesser”.

My process is a pretty common one. I rip one straight edge on the TS, true it on the jointer, square an adjacent (flat) surface to the good edge on the jointer then take it to thickness with the planer. Those are the steps, but ,as I said, how you get there is a matter of how much you have to spend, and how much room you have. If you get the concept of what you are trying to accomplish, then you can usually find a tool to do it, without breaking the bank.

Above all, learn to “tune” your toolls; table saw especially, and with a good blade you should be able to get close to “glue ready” cuts.

Then there’s always the hand planes. It depends on whether you want to take the Norm Abrams, or the Roy Underhill approach. If you go the hand plane route, get good planes and learn (I mean master ) how to sharpen and tune these tools. That’s another whole discussion in itself.

Good luck.

-- Denis, Cotter, AR "Trout Capital USA"

View Dryfly's profile


6 posts in 2751 days

#3 posted 11-30-2010 08:38 PM

It just occured to me what your post might REALLY be about:

Since your wife has all those projects for you to do, you just might be looking for justification to say “Honey, the guys at Lumberjocks are telling me that I can’t do your projects unless I get a jointer and a planer. I don’t want to get them, but they’re telling me I HAVE TO”.

Man, you are a genius. You”ll have no problem firing out how to manipulate wood.


-- Denis, Cotter, AR "Trout Capital USA"

View Loren's profile


10371 posts in 3641 days

#4 posted 11-30-2010 10:54 PM

Thicknessing boards by hand with planes is real tedious but flattening one
side and using a planer for thicknessing is much easier. You learn a lot
about your wood when flattening boards by hand too.

The most important thing to plane out is usually twist. Some bowing is
usually no big deal, but you want to be able to rest the flattened side of
a board on its four corners on a flat bench.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3815 days

#5 posted 12-01-2010 12:19 AM

Without a jointer, planer or hand planes you are pretty much limited to getting dressed lumber. You can save quite a bit of money and enjoy a far larger selection by dealing with rough lumber but you need the tools to dimension and mill the lumber. If you would like to look at some videos on the subject has three pretty good videos that explain how to do this.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2976 days

#6 posted 12-01-2010 01:39 AM

You can edge joint with the table saw using a sacrificial fence with a 1/32” laminate attached to the outfeed side. You also can plane with a router and a sled to flatten and thickness a board. There is also a safety plane that can be attached to the drill press, but I wouldn’t recommend using the safety plane myself.
While its nice to have a jointer and a plane, you could also use hand planes to accomplish the tasks. Depending on your pocket book the jointer and planer would be my first suggestion depending how often they’re needed. The least I would suggest is to buy a set of planes, a jointer, jack, smoothing and a block plane. Hand planes can be had for as expensive or inexpensive as you would like.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View JasonWagner's profile


527 posts in 3173 days

#7 posted 12-01-2010 02:37 AM

I could not purchase a planer and jointer together. I use my router table to edge joint one edge of the wood. You can search “jointing with a router” to see some ideas. I’m limited to only edge (not face jointing) jointing this way. I can use a circular saw to get a pretty straight edge then joint it on the router table. I got a benchtop planer (Dewalt 734) for an affordable price. The other thing you can do is have the lumber yard face and edge joint the boards for you. At a few dollar extra it’s cheaper than buying tools right now and you can save up.

-- some day I hope to have enough clamps to need a clamp cart!

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3153 days

#8 posted 12-01-2010 02:55 AM

Rookie, realize that what advice you are being given. You can get by with all kinds of alternatives and compromises. Tools usually have a primary purpose, but most also ahve alternative uses, as you can see. And many of them overlap.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 3136 days

#9 posted 12-01-2010 02:57 AM

Don’t mean to contradict anyone, but not all Delta tools are built the same. Research any tool you plan on buying, and the search feature on the upper right is a good place to look. Don’t ask me how I know this.

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

View knotscott's profile


8004 posts in 3368 days

#10 posted 12-01-2010 03:31 AM

You’re correct in that straight and flat boards are important….everything falls in place from that point of reference. There is no faster way of dimensioning lumber than with a jointer and planer. There are other work arounds but none as efficient or as effective, and even those rely on a flat reference surface to replicate from. I prefer to use my hand planes for smoothing, trimming and fitting parts, and only use them for flattening on really wide surfaces that won’t go through my planer. A used jointer and planer are always a possibility…they’ll maintain roughly 100% of their value if you were to change your mind down the road.

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

View Camper's profile


232 posts in 2849 days

#11 posted 12-01-2010 05:11 AM

Also remember that by owning a jointer+planer you will save a bunch on material costs since rough sawn is much cheaper than dimensioned wood.

Both of these can be found on craigslist for much less than new ones cost and when you sharpen the blades and tune them up (if necessary) they are almost as good as new. My understanding is that the “technology” of jointers and planers have not changed much in the last couple of decades…sort of like internal combustion engines….basic idea is a couple of blades turning at high speeds on a cutterhead…

My personal experience is that using the right tool for the job greatly decreases the level of frustration and enhances the experience…..

-- Tampa-FL

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3780 days

#12 posted 12-01-2010 05:15 AM

If you have the time but not the money, go the hand plane route.

If you have the money but not the time, go the power route (both jointer and thickness planer).

If you have enough time to learn basic hand planing, and not enough money for both, get the hand planes and a thickness planer. The hand planes can flatten one side and straighten one edge, from which you can use the other power tools. In this case, I would advise getting a quality jack plane (more expensive) to cut down on much of the learning curve that comes with restoring an old one, but you will still have to learn how to sharpen the iron. A top quality jack plane with extra irons will cost less than a good jointer (around $300 for a Lie-Nielsen or Veritas). The advantage is that the plane will be ready to go out of the box, and all you have to do is learn to use it. Any problems can be found looking in the mirror. A cheap beater off e-bay throws in a whole bunch of other possibilities.

The down side of just going the hand-plane route is that SWMBO may not want to wait a couple years to see all this furniture rolling out of the shop, while you perfect your skills and then apply them..


Definition: SWMBO =She Who Must Be Obeyed, sometimes known as LOML (Love of My Life), and CFO (chief Financial Officer).

-- Go

View Loren's profile


10371 posts in 3641 days

#13 posted 12-01-2010 07:51 PM

If you want to get burly or lose some weight, get the hand planes.

Hand-dressing stock will get you in good shape. You’ll also learn
one of the true fundamental skills of woodworking. The machines
just make the work faster, they don’t really eliminate the need
for skill from the craft and some woodworkers who have the best
machines produce dreadfully underdeveloped and sometimes ugly
work as a result of the rush-rush-rush attitude on can get when
working with machines all the time.

Everybody who wants to do beautiful work should read the Krenov
books – he shows you when and why to use hand tools and identifies
the problems with over-reliance on machinery.

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3656 days

#14 posted 12-01-2010 09:48 PM

I’m with Loren 100%. I don’t get paid for the projects I build, so I don’t hurry them. Patience is key.

I am taking a woodworking course at the local tech school, and the instructor (a professional woodworker who moonlights at the school) has commented on how slow I am. He wasn’t criticizing … just pointing out that if I depended on this stuff for my daily bread, I would have to go on a pretty meager diet.

I use a combination of machines and hand tools. On bigger stuff, my power jointer and power planer come in handy. But on smaller projects, it seems to me I do better with hand tools (I am fortunate in that I have assembled a pretty decent cadre of hand planes, chisels, saws, etc. and have a decent workbench with both end and face vises).

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3201 days

#15 posted 12-01-2010 10:03 PM

Patron’s tutorial really helped me understand how to mill wood flat and square.

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