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Ways To Read Grain Direction

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Forum topic by Divotdog posted 02-09-2009 04:39 PM 16644 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Divotdog

65 posts in 2903 days


02-09-2009 04:39 PM

I have been trying to educate myself regarding grain direction and how to read it. Some of the material I have seen is contradictory and is not that helpful when you have a piece of wood at hand. I spoke with an older woodworker at Half-Price books the other day and he said many trees are so different they don’t fit the rules about grain. He was working with wood from a tree that had the heart way out by a limb. This guy was so cool – he loved to work with mesquite! He said he had success selling some of his works nationwide – I asked what he made and he replied “The strongest little potty chairs you ever seen”.

But I’m still looking for grain info. I think I know how to see which direction to work but then it seems parts of the board show a different direction. So does anyone know a good source (preferably free) of information on this subject? I had no idea it was so important but now I am beginning to understand.

The URL below is from Popular Woodworking and is fairly helpful on the subject of grain direction [ the link is actually to an online survey they want you to take – but the survey is quick and the download is free ]

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s_thankyou.aspx?sm=mLMC8%2fGPDFDt%2fFfcmk0LPN9p3BZHxtNl71atJcGkckU%3d

-- David, Dallas,Tx - golf weather is hot but it's cool in the shop


11 replies so far

View SteveKorz's profile

SteveKorz

2134 posts in 3174 days


#1 posted 02-09-2009 06:37 PM

I don’t know how elementary you want this information, so I’ll start from the beginning…

”But I’m still looking for grain info. I think I know how to see which direction to work but then it seems parts of the board show a different direction.”

There are a couple things here I’ll touch on, and some of the more experienced woodworkers that commonly use hand tools would probably be able to explain it better than I.

When I am hand planing a board, or running it thru the jointer or planer, etc, I always look at “predominant” grain direction. Unless I have a really, really, clear board with nothing in it but the most beautiful grain you’ve ever seen, usually the grain travels in different directions.

If you can imagine holding a feather at the base with your fingertips….. If you start at the bottom and stroke the feather upward, it collapses under the pressure of your fingers and then regains its shape. If you stroke the feather from the top (it’s very outward tip) down, the ribs of the feather split and tear, and it leaves a mess.

Wood grain is similar. Just like the ribs of the feather, you look at the side of the board you are cutting, to determine it’s grain flow. If you go against the grain, your blade wants to chatter and dig, taking much more material than you can push. If you go with the grain, your plane (planer, jointer) will take off its required set depth of material.

You will encounter the majority of boards where it may be knot free, but it was cut out of the tree close to a knot, or a crotch, or it had a limb near it when it was young. You’ll see that 90% of the board will run in one direction, but the remaining 10% in three different spots changes direction. All I can say is keep your tools sharp, maintain light cuts, and keep your motion strong and steady. Be aware where those areas are by marking them on your board edge or top before you plane, that way there is not any surprises.

Here are some more links that might be helpful…
http://www.newwoodworker.com/readgrain.html

http://www.taunton.com/finewoodworking/SkillsAndTechniques/SkillsAndTechniquesPDF.aspx?id=26705

http://www.woodshoptips.com/tips/052603/052603.pdf

Hope that helps….

Steve

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

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Divotdog

65 posts in 2903 days


#2 posted 02-09-2009 07:31 PM

Thanks, Steve – I will follow these links.

I guess this is a long winded topic but I feel like so many articles and postings either ignore the importance of reading the grain or they assume everyone knows how…maybe I am learning just enough to be dangerous!

-- David, Dallas,Tx - golf weather is hot but it's cool in the shop

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PurpLev

8523 posts in 3109 days


#3 posted 02-09-2009 07:47 PM

Also worth mentioning (might be why you’re having some difficulties at times) that sometimes – some boards are not consistent all along the length of the board, and the grain may change direction. (around knots, figured wood, of just because) so planing that area might be a challenge and may require planing from different directions ,using higher pitched blades, etc). but in general follow the feathers of a bird – and you’ll get the idea.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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SteveKorz

2134 posts in 3174 days


#4 posted 02-09-2009 07:51 PM

I think the best thing you can do is go to your local lumberyard, and buy one pine 1×6 that is really, really clear… and buy one pine 1×6 that has a lot of knots or crazy grain in it.

Learn how to sharpen your plane irons and get your tools nice and sharp. Set it for about a thousandth depth, maybe two thousandths at the most…. then, wear yourself out. Look at the grain direction, recognize the chipout where it happens and look at the grain direction again. Practice until your arms hurt and you’re at least ankle deep in shavings, then rest and do it again and again. That lesson will cost you about $7 and some ibuprofen… it’s a pretty cheap teacher.

Once you think you know what’s going on, set your plane depth to a thousandth or half that, and work on a really clear piece of oak, and a really wavy, crazy piece of oak. Oak will be your true teacher (or frustrator if you didn’t pay attention during your pine lesson).

Keep those planes sharp or you’ll hurt like it’s nobody’s business. I’d rather break a plane apart every 5-10 min and drag it across my 600 grit paper a few times than have to work to sharpen it for an hour again. I just took a class on planes this weekend, and the guy teaching it said the same exact thing. It wears me out to push a dull blade.

PurpLev is right… sometimes the grain just changes. You may need to lighten your cut and try it from different directions.

Also, if it gets really tough or crazy, you may have to skew the cut. Continue to push the plane forward, but at about 10-15 degrees out of parallel. In other words, if your pushing it straight forward, the blade has to frontally and squarely cut thru the material. If you keep pushing it forward but cant the front of the plane 10-15 degrees to the left or right of the nose, this causes the blade to “slice” the wood, like a knife would slice meat. You don’t put the entire knife blade on the turkey and just push down to cut it, or you will probably tear the meat. You draw the knife as you push down, causing the blade to slice the meat.

The plane iron is no different. By skewing the plane and still pushing forward, your causing either the left or right portion of the blade to contact the board first. By continuing to push it forward at an angle, it slices the wood from one side of the iron to the other, like a knife in the meat.

Sometimes, if you just can’t change directions because the iron wants to dig in the material, you can skew the plane like this and achieve a better result.

Steve

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

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Divotdog

65 posts in 2903 days


#5 posted 02-09-2009 07:59 PM

I was afraid someone was going to say something like that. I guess that’s why it’s called woodWORKing.

Thanks for all.

-- David, Dallas,Tx - golf weather is hot but it's cool in the shop

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SteveKorz

2134 posts in 3174 days


#6 posted 02-09-2009 08:05 PM

LOL

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

View UVA's profile

UVA

16 posts in 2869 days


#7 posted 02-09-2009 08:20 PM

The current issue of Woodworking Magazine has the best article I have seen on reading grain direction. It has what I believe are two easy and certain methods to read grain direction by looking at the board edge and face. You can download a copy of the issue for a small price from the website:

http://popularwoodworking.com/wwmhomepage/

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Karson

35034 posts in 3861 days


#8 posted 02-09-2009 09:01 PM

I was watching a video on handcutting dovetails. It was stated that the outside of the tree is suppose to be the inside of a drawer. When you have flat sliced boards towards the first or second cut, the end grain runs in a curve. It’s easy to see where the outside of the tree is. Also as a tree grows it’s bigger at the bottom than the top. So a board that is 10’ long is from a smaller section of the tree at one end and a larger section of the tree at the other end. So that also impacts the grain direction.

-- 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 karsonwm@gmail.com †

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 3449 days


#9 posted 02-09-2009 09:07 PM

I usually do it by feel. “pet” the piece and you can usually find that one direction is smoother that the other.
That’s the direction of the grain.

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

View woodyoda's profile

woodyoda

117 posts in 2918 days


#10 posted 02-09-2009 09:43 PM

Throw a nylon over your hand and run your hand over the wood in both directions, if one direction snags or grabs at the wood, that’s not the direction of the wood…..actually, I’ve never tried this, but I’m guessing it will work, you might want to wear them during the winter when it’s cold…..who the football player that use to wear them? Warning: Don’t take your wife’s, that’s dangerous territory!............................yoda

View Divotdog's profile

Divotdog

65 posts in 2903 days


#11 posted 02-09-2009 09:54 PM

That’s where I went wrong – I had the nylon over my head!!!

thx, guys – I’ll check back later.

-- David, Dallas,Tx - golf weather is hot but it's cool in the shop

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