Planing and Sanding a table top FLAT!

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Forum topic by Charles Mullins posted 04-05-2008 08:22 PM 39932 views 2 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Charles Mullins

94 posts in 3915 days

04-05-2008 08:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question


I didn’t want to go through all the skill topics to see if it had been answered before so here’s the question. I know many of you know, I’ve seen your work pictured.

I can make up a table top that looks pretty good, just some glue squeeze out and minor, like a few thousandths of an inch mismatch, and then I try to clean it up and sand it—FLAT.

Well it dosen’t wind up that way. It will have waves, curved edges or other types of problems that don’t show until it is being finished. It really makes me kind of mad, (the nice way of saying it).

I know it is technique, so could anyone here please explain YOUR technique. I’d like to get a Flat surface for a change. I have a belt sander, random orbital sanders, card scrapers, an old Stanley No. 80 furniture scraper, a jack plane and smooth plane.

P.S. I don’t have a wide thickness sander to use, they cost too much and I don’t have room for it anyway.

Thanks in advance!

-- God makes the wood beautiful--I simply rearrange it to make it more useful, hopefully.

8 replies so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4191 days

#1 posted 04-05-2008 08:29 PM

One simple way is to find a cabinet shop local that does have a wide belt sander.

You didn’t say how you were sanding it. I use a random orbit sander and go left to right from one end to the
other and then top to bottom. Don’t linger in one spot.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View acanthuscarver's profile


268 posts in 3915 days

#2 posted 04-05-2008 08:40 PM


How good are you with a hand plane and/or a cabinet scraper (I mean the #80 not a card scraper)? If you know how to sharpen a #80 really well, you can remove a few thousandsth of an inch in no time without creating a divot in the table top. You need to feather your scraping or handplaning out. In other words (GaryK’s to be exact), don’t linger in one spot. If you scrape or plane out a large enough area, you should be able to run over it with a random orbit sander and flatten things up enough that you would not notice any waves or curved edges. I think the whole problem is you’re concentrating too much on the immediate spot where the problem lies. Try feathering it further out into the rest of the top. GaryK’s sanding technique is a good one that can either be used on its own or in combination with a plane or scraper.

-- Chuck Bender, period furniture maker, woodworking instructor

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3947 days

#3 posted 04-05-2008 09:20 PM

Ditto. And keep your long straight edge handy. Check for high spots in all directions. If you use your belt sander, get up in the 150 grit range so you don’t take to much off at a time. And most of all, have patience, Grasshopper.

View gerrym526's profile


275 posts in 4011 days

#4 posted 04-05-2008 09:28 PM

I agree with GaryK and have had this done for several projects.
Have a local hardwood lumber supplier with a shop that will run cabinet doors, table tops, etc through their wide belt sander.
When I made a pine chest of drawers, they sanded a 48×30 x 1 3/4 top for $20 bucks. I thought it was a fantastic deal for the dough.

-- Gerry

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 4002 days

#5 posted 04-05-2008 10:17 PM

patience and a plan. I use planes, random orbit sanders, and scrapers. and when it is overwhelming, I ask for a friend with a wide belt unit to help out.

-- making sawdust....

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3977 days

#6 posted 04-05-2008 10:29 PM

Hi Charles

I used to take a 3 X 21 belt sander with a 180/220 grit belt and run it sideways down each joint. Then I would go with the grain top to bottom while moving the sander left to right. Kind of like using one of those top sanders where the table moved in and out and you held a block on the belt. Only difference is your moving the belt sander and not the table. Like the guys said, do not linger. You need to have a Light Touch.
I used to teach inmates this by taking scrap veneer plywood approx. 12 X 12 and rout dados 3/4w X 3/16d to form a cross in the center. Then I would glue 4/4 solid strips 1/4” thick in the dados. Then I would have them sand every flush without going through the veneer. You need to have a belt sander that you can run the belt to the outside edge so you can watch it. When you are on the solid stock you need to make small circle motions along that edge and apply a little extra pressure. This will make the belt cut faster. It teaches you to keep your belt sander level when running on a 3/4” solid stock. Try It. It will teach you to be a better belt sander.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Charles Mullins's profile

Charles Mullins

94 posts in 3915 days

#7 posted 04-06-2008 12:26 AM


All good tips and yes it does take patience. I have a friend that has a wide thickness sander but the last time I used it I got home and found a “Divot” in it that took quite a bit of sanding to get it out. I never did get that top to my satisfaction, but it was OK.

I see things like the shelf on the desk on stand made by Chuck Bender and it just makes me sick that I don’t get mine like that.

Tom had a good idea about practicing on scrap pieces of veneer ply.

Humm—I have a piece of aluminum that should make a great straight edge. It’ll stand up on edge all by itself.

All good ideas. Thanks guys! I have more tops to do soon and I WANT BRAGGIN” RIGHTS!

-- God makes the wood beautiful--I simply rearrange it to make it more useful, hopefully.

View pashley's profile


1044 posts in 3921 days

#8 posted 04-08-2008 05:20 AM

Boy, can I speak to this.

I did a large dining room table for a friend (see my projects), and found it impossible to get all the waves, divots, and so on you mentioned, by belt or finish sanding, planing or scraping. This is what I learned:

• Make sure all of your top’s lumber is perfectly flat and exactly the same thickness. If it’s not, you already have to sand that would down.

• Glue up only two pieces at a time; I know it seems conservative, but keeping the glue-ups perfectly flat to each other is paramount. I’d rather take a little bit of time here, than a lot of time later trying to fix mistakes. When clamping, watch for the boards not laying flat to the clamping bar. I alternate the sides on which I put the clamps – one on top, the next on bottom; then top, then bottom, etc.

• Once you have it all glued-up, take it to a company that makes doors and sashes – they will have the necessary wide-belt sander to coax that baby down to perfect flatness – and if you’ve follow the two previous suggestions closely, that shouldn’t be much. I wouldn’t even bother trying to take out some of the high-spots with your belt sander; you’ll get divots, almost for sure – then the belt sander will have to take all the rest of the wood down to that wood’s depth. They’ll probably do this for about $25. You’ll save a tremendous amount of time, and get a great result.

Best of luck!

-- Have a blessed day!

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