Planing/Surfacing Burl or Curly wood

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Forum topic by SteveKorz posted 04-29-2008 05:34 PM 4048 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3737 days

04-29-2008 05:34 PM

Topic tags/keywords: planer curly burl walnut question milling

I have a small board of walnut with some sapwood, and it has some fantastic figure in it. However, I can’t seem to plane it without chipout. I’m plaining with the grain, so to speak, not against it. I’ve never worked with wood that has figure in it, and I’m looking for some guidance to plane it so that I can use it. Any ideas?

Here are a few parameters.
- the board is slightly crooked
- it was in a rough cut “sawmill” stage when I got it
- I do not have a drum sander
- it’s about 8”x24”x1”

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

16 replies so far

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#1 posted 04-29-2008 05:58 PM

Plane across the grain to level it out.

You’ll probably need a plane with a high angle of attack to continue the job “with the grain”.

Sounds like the ultimate smoothing of this board may need to be done with a scraper or scraper plane – or sand paper!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View blackdogwoodshop's profile


72 posts in 3751 days

#2 posted 04-29-2008 06:02 PM

If you have already jointed one face, you should be able to use a thickness planer. Here are a few tips that work for me:
1. Make sure your blades are sharp.
2. Take very light cuts – no more than 1/64” of an inch
3. Run the piece through diagonally. This helps the straight blades shear the swirling grain without lifting it.
4. Lightly mist the surface with water.

If you are planing by hand, here are tips that have worked for me:
1. Make sure your blade is sharp.
2. Use a plane with a high angle and a narrow throat.
3. Hold the plane askew roughly 30 degrees and plane with the grain.
4. Take light cuts—as little as 1 or 2 thousandths if necessary.
5. If all else fails, use a cabinet scraper or scraping plane.

-- Daniel, Southern Indiana -- "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." --

View Boardman's profile


157 posts in 3784 days

#3 posted 04-29-2008 06:36 PM

If you’re using an electric planer versus hand planer, there will always be a little tearout since the figure is created by grain switches. Chances are that there will always be some portion of the grain going the “wrong” way. But walnut is more forgiving than hard maple for instance, because the tearout is way less.

The suggestions you’ve already gotten are the way to go.

As an aside, hard maple is one of the worst for tearout – it usually is pretty deep. The relative hardness of the wood seems to be the biggest factor in tearout. I’ve worked with some quilted maple recently and it was surprising easy to plane without tearout. From the looks of the figure I thought it would be more of a problem.

View jcees's profile


1060 posts in 3822 days

#4 posted 04-29-2008 07:12 PM

Ditto on Dorje and Blackdog. Both are sound and proven ways to gitterdun! The single most important aspect is what Blackdog makes first in either powered or handwork: Make sure your blade is sharp. That’s gotta be 95% of working wood. Good luck.


-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View Roper's profile


1389 posts in 3736 days

#5 posted 04-29-2008 08:27 PM

when all else fails,go for the cabinet scraper and make sure it has a good burr on it.

-- Roper - Master of sawdust-

View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3737 days

#6 posted 04-29-2008 10:06 PM

Thanks all for guiding me in the right direction! It’s such a beautiful piece of wood that I hate to junk it just because I can’t tame it….

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View odie's profile


1691 posts in 3863 days

#7 posted 04-30-2008 02:04 AM

OR look in the yellow pages for a cabinet or door shop with a drum sander…....

-- Odie, Confucius say, "He who laughs at one's self is BUTT of joke". (my funny blog)

View jcees's profile


1060 posts in 3822 days

#8 posted 04-30-2008 03:21 AM

Steve, don’t junk it, send it to me. I’ll tame that puppy. HA!


-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View Ryan Shervill's profile

Ryan Shervill

278 posts in 3835 days

#9 posted 04-30-2008 03:41 AM

Great excuse to buy a new hand plane :)

As most know, I use a TON of figured woods…..I’ll reveal my secret: The Lee Valley (Veritas) “Bevel-Up Smoother”. Buy that plane, pick up the optional 50 degree blade, and you will have a glass surface far superior to even a scraper (honestly).


-- Want to see me completely transform a house? Look here:

View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3737 days

#10 posted 04-30-2008 05:06 AM

I have some hand planes at home, but they need a little work. I can use them to rough out some things, and I have a block plane that does ok, but the big ones need some work (before they work)... lol

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View Al Killian's profile

Al Killian

273 posts in 3776 days

#11 posted 05-03-2008 01:30 AM

I have found that a spiral cutter head and/or drum sander are that only thing that leave a nice smooth finish on these type of boards. Would like to see some pics of the board. :)

-- Owner of custom millwork shop

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14173 posts in 4006 days

#12 posted 05-03-2008 03:03 AM

mail it to me with return postage and I’ll run it thru my drum sander

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View BrianM's profile


116 posts in 3775 days

#13 posted 05-03-2008 01:57 PM

Moisten the wood with some water (make sure you dry the blades after) or mineral spirits (you don’t have to dry the blades).

It will soften the grain a little and help to avoid the chip out.

-- There is no such thing as scrap wood!,

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4423 days

#14 posted 05-03-2008 04:08 PM

I go with the spiral planer and jointer blades. I bought my machines for just that purpose.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3737 days

#15 posted 05-04-2008 05:10 AM

Awesome ideas!!... Thanks all who answered. When I have time to continue milling the board, I’ll let you all know what finally worked…

Karson- Just when I thought I had all the machines that I wanted, I see more that I want (with the spiral cutters)... I have an old three blade craftsman planer and jointer… they do the trick, but I’ve found the blades are pretty hard on burly or curly wood.

My option at this point is to try and do what BrianM suggested… and moisten it, then hit it hard and repeatedly with a hand plane… I’ve got to sharpen some irons first though…

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

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