Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Squaring up a piece of wood

A couple of weeks ago, I received a question on All-Experts, a website on which I volunteer, asking the following:

Question: Is there a way to straighten dried, warped or twisted rough sawn boards?

It's not the first time I've been asked this. In fact, it's probably one of the more popular questions I answer, next to ones about kitchen remodeling and damaged wood finishes. So I thought I'd make a couple of short videos about squaring up a piece of wood.

There is really only one true way to straighten out warped wood, and you need a good jointer and a planer. Now some people will say you can do it with other tools, even some hand tools, but in my opinion, you can't.

Let's establish some basics...

Here is a picture of my jointer, hooked up to a dust collector. These machines put out a butt-load of dust, so unless you want to sweep for the next hour, it's wise to use something to collect the dust, even if it's just a shop-vac that is duct taped to the vacuum port.

Don't use your household vacuum cleaner, it will ruin it. Trust me.

Normally, a board is run through a jointer on it's edge.

But in this case, we will be laying the board down flat. It's a little difficult to apply even pressure all across the board, and dangerous to do so with your bare hands. So try to use some sort of push sticks.

The ones below are cheesy, but they have a foam rubber bottom that grips the board and keeps my hands from slipping off it, and into the blades. Just the thought of that makes my skin crawl, I saw something like that once. Wasn't pretty.

A push stick like the one below is even better used at the end of the board, since it has a small "hook" on it. The "hook" grips that back edge of the board, helping you to push through the cut.

I make these pushsticks whenever I have some scrap plywood laying around, it's a nice way to use it up. I've never understood why woodworking companies sell plastic pushsticks. Who buys them? The only reason I have a few plastic ones in my shop is because my tool reps gave them to me.

Here's the outcome from using the jointer.

I have discussed this before, and it's a subject that's long been debated in all the woodworking magazines - which tools do you need to get started in woodworking? I'm not talking about the smaller power tools like sanders, or a drill. I'm talking BIG machinery.

There are so many different opinions about this, but I think there three tools you can't do without. Of course, it depends on what you make. If you're a bowl turner, you pretty much need a bandsaw and a lathe and you're pretty set. But for most woodworking, from making cabinets to building furniture to doing repairs around the house, I think you need these three tools - a 10" tablesaw, a planer, and a router in a router table. In a pinch, I've helped people install a router underneath one of the side tables on their tablesaw, so that they can share the fence between the tablesaw and the router. It works well and saves space.

So when I use a planer to to this next step - don't roll your eyes and think "Oh, I'm never going to own one of those" because planers have become very affordable and even the small ones do a nice job.

I've met woodworkers who talk about hand planing like it's some sort of religious experience for them. And I suppose in a perfect world, with a perfect board that has no knots or swirly grain, hand planing could be fun.

Wait, did I just say that?

There is not a chance in the world that I would hand plane a board over using my planer. Time is money, life is short... you know.... I'm not going to put a lot of energy into this step. I'd rather put that energy to good use down the line, when I'm sanding or finishing the wood. THAT'S where it really shows.

After establishing two parallel faces on this board, it's time to go back to the jointer and square up an edge.

And finally, let's rip that last edge down, taking the board to it's final width.

The only thing left is to trim the two ends square.


Neil said...

This is a perfect lesson on squaring up wood. Just as I learned it in my college wood working class. Thank you for sharing.

Richard said...

Thanks for taking the time to share this