Shaping and Planing

Beveling edges and corners, planing down doors, trueing edges and ends of lumber—most carpentry projects include at least one of these shaping tasks. Three types of tools work best for shaping wood surfaces: planes, surface-forming tools, and rasps or wood files. With practice and a clean, sharp tool, shaping can be a pleasure rather than a chore. However, even the sharpest shaping tools are no match for a board that’s badly twisted, bowed, cupped, or warped. Always inspect your material for flaws and select only the stock suitable for the job. Don’t assume you can shape it up later.

Scribing a True Line

To straighten out a piece of lumber or a door, you must first draw the line indicating where the piece should end. This is called a true line. A true line is usually straight, but not always. For instance, a door often must be planed to fit an opening that is not straight. To make a true line, scribe it by holding the piece up against the place into which it must fit. Run your pencil along the opening as you mark the piece for planing.

When scribing a line, check the angle at which you are holding the pencil and the thickness of the pencil line. Hold the pencil at the same angle at all points along your scribe line or you will cut off too little or too much wood. Decide if you want to cut off all of the pencil mark or just up to the mark.

Keep planes in working order. Various types and sizes of planes are available. Most carpenters use a smoothing plane (shown above) or a small block plane. To help keep the blade from dulling, lay it on its side when not in use. Retract the blade into the body when storing it. If any parts become rusty, clean them with a little oil and fine steel wool. Adjust the blade so it cuts thin shavings easily; you should not have to fight against the wood.

Follow general planing rules. Follow these tips when using a plane or surface-former:

It takes both hands to operate the tool, so clamp your work.

Plane with the grain.

If you get anything but a continuous, even shaving, the blade is dull or adjusted too thick, or you’re planing against the grain.

To avoid nicking corners, apply pressure to the knob of the tool at the beginning of your cut and to its heel at the end of the cut.

When planing a narrow edge, grip a square-cornered block of wood against the bottom of the plane as you work.

Caution! Bevel or Score First to Avoid Splintering - When you shave the end of a door or a sheet of plywood, there's a good chance you will chip the veneer sheet when you cut across its grain, seriously marring its appearance. To avoid what might be an expensive mistake, take the following precautions. Bevel the veneer first. Turn the plane or shaping tool and cut a bevel downward toward the bottom of your work. Use a knife and a straightedge to score the veneer about 1/8 inch above the scribe line. After shaving the piece, use a sanding block to make an attractive bevel from the bottom of the piece to the scored line.

Shape with surface-forming tools. Surface-forming tools, also known as sure-form tools, come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The one shown, above, works much like a plane. You cannot adjust the depth of the cut and it will not produce as smooth a cut as a plane, but it is easy to use. You can regulate the cut by the way you position the tool against the material. For rough-cutting, hold the tool at a 45-degree angle to the work as you push it. For a smoother result, hold the tool parallel to the board’s edge.

Shape end grain with a block. As long as you’re shaping wood parallel to the grain, planing will go smoothly. But when you need to shape the end grain, you will be working at a 90-degree angle to the grain. A small block plane works best on end grain. Bevel the corners first, with the bottom of the bevel at the final cut line. For narrow stock, just plane in one direction. For wider material, shave from each end of the board toward the center. Finish the job by shaving off the hump that remains in the middle.

Power Planer and Belt Sander

If you have a lot of planing to do, buy a power planer. The depth is easy to adjust, and as long as you hold the base flat against the surface, you will get a smooth cut with little effort. Be sure to use carbide-tipped blades, or you will have to change them often.

If you can work carefully, a belt sander shaves material, especially softwoods, with relative ease. Start with a coarse sandpaper. Hold the sanding belt flat to the surface; you’ll make gouges if you tip the tool. Once you have taken off almost as much material as you need to, switch to a smoother paper.

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