Truing lumber by hand--how to avoid "oops"

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Forum topic by Dave11 posted 04-07-2013 01:57 AM 2983 views 0 times favorited 48 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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33 posts in 2534 days

04-07-2013 01:57 AM

Well, I’m trying to learn to surface lumber 4-square by hand. Have read a lot, watched the Kingschottt vid, etc.

Getting the first face and edge flat and square—no problem.

Getting the next face true to the first face is tripping me up. I mark the line with the gauge, get to work, and then have to go really, really slow to avoid overshooting. Even then, it seems if I overshoot by a fraction in just one spot, I have no choice but to re-mark the lines and drop the whole face to that lower level.

Kingschoot talks about the fuzzy edge as you get to the marked line, but on the SYP I’m working on, it often isn’t there. By the time I realize it’s not there, I’m too deep.

Any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong?


48 replies so far

View Mosquito's profile


9278 posts in 2258 days

#1 posted 04-07-2013 02:00 AM

maybe try backing the plane iron out a little when you get closer, so you’re taking less off with each pass by then?

I guess I don’t generally rough surface to lines.

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2918 days

#2 posted 04-07-2013 10:25 AM

Dave,when I make the mark around the perimeter of the board after surfacing the first face, I make sure I use a cutting gauge and that it cuts pretty deep (relative to the tool being used – deep is 1/32” or so I guess). When I use this method, the wood will tell me when I an close by giving me more than a “fuzzy” edge; it will create a minute strip that is easily visible. As soon as I see that, I know I am about done.

Give it a shot and see if that helps you out. Good Luck!

-- Mike

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#3 posted 04-07-2013 11:58 AM

Mike—thanks for the advice. I’ve been using the veritas cutting wheel, which seems to work well, but maybe it can’t go deep enough. I’ve scored the line as deep as I can with it, but maybe that’s not deep enough, at least in softwood. Maybe a traditional cutting gauge is what’s needed, though I never saw anyone else report that as a drawback of the veritas wheeled gauge.

And just for my own education, going past the line pretty much requires new lines to be made and dropping the whole surface by the same amount, yes? I guess I don’t see any other way to recover from it.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2076 days

#4 posted 04-07-2013 12:26 PM

Don’t forget, one side will often be hidden. If the oops is in a location where it won’t matter, move on.

Take a look at the hidden areas on hand made antiques, like underneath the case, or or the bottoms and backs of drawers, and you’ll see that the forth face wasn’t a worry. It only became a “worry” when factories started cranking out stacks of stock.

I’ve seen Roentgen Furniture with the back off, and even that stuff looks like pallet wood in places that don’t show.

Related to Mike’s scoring tip above… I was taught to zip a soft 4B or carpenter’s pencil around the score. As you reach the scored line, a pencil line will appear, which is easier to see than without the lead. The line will easily come off when you finish the edge, by chamfering or other shaping, or simply breaking it with a block plane or sand paper.

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#5 posted 04-07-2013 01:59 PM

Thanks CessnaPB. The pencil line makes good sense. I’ll give it a try.

All the wood I’ve been practicing on is scrap SYP, but I’m trying to get the method down so I can prep the lumber for the bench top I’m making. I realize learning to square lumber on 2×4x8’s (16 of them) might be a little masochistic, but I figured now was as good a time as any to learn, and by the time I was finished, I’d be pretty good at it.

I did buy extra lumber, for the expected mistakes along the way in surface prep…

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3247 days

#6 posted 04-07-2013 04:22 PM

First of all Kingshott, like so many so-called experts, really didn’t work by hand. It’s obvious in the videos.

Yes, there are parts in old furniture that were left rough but you need to understand when you can get away with that. The first face and edge you straighten and flatten is your reference face and edge. All your joinery layout is done from these reference surfaces and it’s often necessary for the reference surfaces to be the non-show surfaces. The structural parts of case work is an example. If you want the case and openings for drawers and/or doors square you need to be working from reference surfaces on the inside of the case.

You should be using the proper tools properly set up. It sounds as if you’re traverse planing with a scrub plane. Scrub planes are too aggressive for this and traverse planing, while useful at times, shouldn’t generally be used. The features of the planes make them ideal for specific tasks. Depending on the size of your work, the lion’s share of stock removal should be done with a jack or fore plane having a camber with a 12” to 14” radius. You can remove just as much per pass as with a scrub plane but in a more controlled and shallower manner. Ideally you can then finish up with a trying plane with little or no camber. Only use the smooth plane to deal with localized surface problems on show faces.

Hope this helps.

View Tim's profile


3781 posts in 1927 days

#7 posted 04-07-2013 04:59 PM

There’s a couple great videos on this on Paul Sellers' master class site. You have to sign up for an account, but a few, such as the two on squaring up stock are free. You may want to watch his youtube series on building a bench too, but it doesn’t cover squaring up the stock.

You’re right, once you go past your line the only way to be sure of recovering is run a new line and come down to that, but once your skills are pretty good I think you’ll find you can bring the high spots down, checking with your square and have a piece square enough for most purposes. Like mosquito said, if you set your plane for very thin shavings your mistakes will be smaller too.

It will take practice, so it’s great you have a pile of wood to work on. Maybe start with smaller pieces though then work up. You probably can’t get an 8 foot two by four truly squared up without ending up with a 3/8”x2”x4’ piece unless you selected your pieces very carefully. There’s just too much bow and twist in them usually. But for a benchtop all you need to be able to do is pull them together by hand.

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#8 posted 04-07-2013 05:24 PM

I’ve only used the scrub for the few areas that needed a lot of material removed first. Otherwise, I’ve been using the jack plane, then the try plane, both set thin. The issue isn’t going down through the wood too fast, its being unable to tell where the line is without stopping every five seconds to look from the side. I’ll give the pencil line a try.

The2×4s were ripped from 2×12s, and are mostly straight. Some are fairly bowed, and these will be the practice pieces.

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1121 posts in 3325 days

#9 posted 04-07-2013 05:44 PM

There are several factors that will impact how easily you can true boards, but probably the most important is practice. Don’t get discouraged if your first few (or several) attempts aren’t perfect. There aren’t many that will get perfection with hand tools, so don’t expect that. If someone is going to put a micrometer on something that you made and start telling you that one edge is .001” thicker/thinner than another edge, take the piece and smack him with it.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#10 posted 04-07-2013 06:28 PM

I have seen Paul Sellers vid on stock prep, and though it is detailed, he still glosses over (in my opinion) how to come right up the gauge line without cutting past it. He seems somehow to magically know when to stop. He didn’t even seem to look at the gauge lines much while he was planing, though with camera angles, its hard to say.

I’m a newbie at hand tools, but isn’t it really, really important to stop right at the line? For instance, if I plan to glue up the boards face to face for the benchtop, and there’s even a little variation in the thickness of any individual face, isn’t that going to be obvious, even before glue-up? There would be tiny gaps, I’d think. Yet there were lots of benches made well back in the days before thickness planers.

Thanks everyone for the feedback.

View shampeon's profile


1775 posts in 2149 days

#11 posted 04-07-2013 09:16 PM

Dave, part of what you’re seeing as glossing over is just muscle memory from repetition. Once you’ve dimensioned a few boards, and made some mistakes, you’ll get to know how much of a cut to take, and where to take off the material. In general, checking early and often is good practice, as it taking more thin passes than few thick ones.

You’ll have a tendency to take more of the material from the ends, making a convex face. To counter-act this, you should ease off the pressure as you start and end the pass, and possible take a few cuts from the middle of the board before doing a full length shaving.

Since you’re making a benchtop, your boards don’t actually need to be all the same thickness, since they’ll turned on their sides and glued up. So this is a great opportunity to practice hitting a given thickness mark.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View bandit571's profile


19729 posts in 2649 days

#12 posted 04-07-2013 09:42 PM

Sometimes the right plane, at the right time, works best

Diagonals with a cambered jack to start to flatten

A #6 or #7-#8 Jointer to go the length to “Try” the board

A smooth plane either in the #3 or #4 size to smooth the plane mark out.

Edges are the domain of the jointer planes. When there is a single shaving from end to end, stop.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3247 days

#13 posted 04-07-2013 11:49 PM


Your jack or fore plane should get you close and will tell you when you’re close by its shavings. After making sure you’re close to your gauge line switch to a trying plane. Don’t traverse plane with either one unless it’s necessary because of a sudden deformation in the wood. Do you really want to use a piece with internal stresses that cause the localized deformation? I’d avoid it if possible. When you reach your gauge line with the trying plane it will leave a long ribbon of wood where the gauge line was. It’s actually quite satisfying to reach down and pull up that long narrow ribbon of wood.

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#14 posted 04-08-2013 03:56 AM

Lots of good comments here. Glad I asked.

I tried the pencil line tonight, and though it doesn’t always appear at the right time, it usually does, and that makes a big difference. You handplane pros might think it wimpy, but I’ll keep using it as a crutch for now, LOL.

lwlims—I looked carefully as I slowly came down to the gauge line with the smoother plane set very fine, but I never saw the ribbon you describe. I did see, sometimes, a thin line of wood, much like the thin wire off the plane blades when sharpening, though bigger. I’m guessing that’’s what you mean? It wasn’t always there for me, at least using SYP.

I have to say though, turning some of these bowed/twisted scrap boards into reasonably straight boards, using just handplanes, is pretty cool. Gives me some strange satisfaction.

View Dave11's profile


33 posts in 2534 days

#15 posted 04-08-2013 04:10 AM

Maybe I should also wonder if part of the problem is the veritas wheeled gauge I’m using. It works fine, but it doesn’t seem to score very deep, even after several passes, and maybe that is contributing. Maybe I should get a more conventional cutting gauge to try?

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