Chris Schwarz's Blog

Cheating at Jointing Edges

When I glue up panels from several narrow boards, I use my jointer plane to dress all the mating edges. While our power jointer is fairly well tuned, it’s rarely perfect , we have a busy shop. So I find it easier to dress my edges by hand than to fuss with the powered jointer.

My jointer plane has a cambered iron, which allows me to correct an out-of-square edge. (I’ll cover this in a future blog post after I pick up some Kevlar undergarments to protect me from the flak.)

Until I mastered using a cambered iron in my jointer plane, I used to use a straight iron and a jointer plane fence to dress my edges. I still use a jointer plane fence on occasion when I only have one or two chances at getting an edge dead-nuts square.

There are two kinds of commercial jointer plane fences. The more common one now is the Veritas Jointer Fence, which attaches to the plane with two rare earth magnets and a post that wedges the whole thing on your plane’s sidewall. This fence works with almost any bench plane, though I usually use it with a plane the size of a jack or a jointer (14″ to 22″ long).

The other kind of fence is like the discontinued Stanley No. 386. This fence attaches to the plane using thumbscrews. The nice thing about the No. 386 is that you can set it for a wide range of angles and it has a knob that I find useful for the edge-jointing process. The other nice thing about the No. 386 is that I can use it with a cambered iron because the fence is under the sole of the tool. The fence centers the plane over a typical edge, where the cambered iron is basically straight. (You can do this with the Veritas fence by adding a wooden block to the fence.)

The No. 386 can be tough to find in the wild. St. James Bay Tool Co. makes one that is similar, but I haven’t tried it.

How to Joint Edges With a Fence
Just like with using a power jointer, there is some technique involved in using a jointer plane fence.

Things to watch: The cutter has to be sticking out of the tool dead square. This is why I learned to use a curved iron in my jointer plane , it’s actually a more forgiving setup than using a straight iron.

Second: Use your dominant hand to push the plane forward and your off-hand to control the fence. With your off-hand, use your thumb to push the toe down against the edge and use your fingers to push the fence against the face of your board.

Third: What you have to understand about handplanes is that the tool’s cutter sticks out below the sole of the tool. As a result, the tool takes a slightly heavier cut at the beginning of the pass when only part of the plane is on the edge.

Last week I tried to measure this by edge jointing a 30″-long board and then measuring the shaving’s thickness at five points along its length. At the beginning of the cut (toe engaged only) my cuts were consistently .0055″ thick. In the middle and end of the cut the shaving was .005″ thick.

That is not much difference. But it can add up. After several strokes the edge develops a gentle curve to it. And that’s no good for gluing.

So here’s what I do: First remove some of the middle section of the edge. I start the cut a few inches in from the end of the board, and I end the cut a few inches from the end. I’ll usually take two passes like this. (This is similar to what David Charlesworth does, though I believe he continues to make passes until the plane stops cutting.)

Then I take a pass all the way through the edge. If I get one perfect unbroken shaving, I’ll test the edge with a straightedge or the board’s mating edge. If the edge is perfect or is a little hollow in the middle, I’ll get the glue and the clamps. If the edge still bulges, I’ll remove another shaving in the middle.

One more thing: Some woodworkers poo-poo the jointer plane fence. As Senior Editor Bob Lang might say: “You might as well show up on the job site wearing a dress.”

Well since today is “National Tartan Day,” I think you can get away with it.

- Christopher Schwarz

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17 thoughts on “Cheating at Jointing Edges

  1. Cliff

    Nice post Chris! I like your approach. Always enjoy your articles and books. Keep up the good work. Regarding the ever-present critics…think about what they say, take what you can use (and pass it on) and forget the rest. cliff

  2. Jorge Gasteazoro

    OTOH, just get a Veritas edge trimming block plane and forget all the hassle and uncertainty. Couple of passes and you have a perfect 90º angle, and the bronce one is cool on top.. :)

  3. JC

    Just curious. Since power planers have adjustable infeed/outfeed tables, you set the outfeed higher than the infeed to that the planed wood will slide onto it without getting out of level. Are there handplanes designed to do this, or would the setup/tuning be too maddening? In otherwords, could the planes sole have two levels and the toe would be higher than the heel by the same amount as the blade depth adjustment?

  4. Adrian

    Winton, according to Charlesworth, the shorter the plane the deeper hollow it can make in the work if you take stopped shavings (where you start and stop the cut in the middle of the wood). As Chris notes, Charlesworth says to continue taking stopped shavings until the plane doesn’t cut, at which point you are done. No straight edge required. But the depth of the hollow this creates in the edge depends on the length of the plane: if your plane is too short then you could end up with an excessive hollow in the work.

  5. Ethan

    A kilt is not a dress!

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/photo.php?pid=294601&id=1077654833

    Ay, and here’s one of me in my Utilikilt (when I was younger and more apt to walk around shirtless)…

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/photo.php?pid=301320&id=1077654833

    Out of curiosity, Chris, has anyone ever attended a class at Mark Adams’ school wearing a kilt?

    Or kilted while wearing a "May the Schwarz be with you!" shirt?

    Ahhh… April 25th is coming up soon! ;)

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    Alex,

    Yup. I do this using my end vise. I picked it up the idea from a French tool catalog. I think I showed this on the DVD "Building Furniture with Handplanes." The only downside is your bench has to be reasonably flat.

    Chris

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Will,

    The wood is 3/8"-thick rosewood. There are two screw holes in the fence of the No. 386. They’re #8 screws I believe, driven all the way through the fence. Then the screw tips were clipped off and ground back a bit. This makes for an excellent fit.

    Any tough hardwood would be ideal for a fence facing.

    Chris

  8. winton

    >poo-poo the jointer plane fence<

    To follow that logic people who make fun of plane fences should use their power jointers without a fence as well. There is no difference between using a fence on a plane or on the power jointer. I don’t have one of these plane fences by the way.

    I am PURE ! I am hard core.

    Yah right. Since you point it out I AM NUTS not to use one. All that squinting at a square over and over is a waste of time until maybe the last few passes.

  9. winton

    >After several strokes the edge develops a gentle curve to it. And that’s no good for gluing.
    test the edge with a straightedge<

    This is what I have found to be true as well. I have two big nice jointer planes, Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. The whole point of a long, heavy and expensive plane is to be able to skip the use of a straight edge and just plane the edge straight.

    In practice this does not prove to be the case. I end up with gentle curved edges just as you described. I still have to test with the straight edge.

    I like to look at the big planes but in practice i could just skip them and use the big old Sarrett straight edge and a jack or even just the bevel up finish plane with a cambered blade and open the mouth. I have to haul less iron up and down the edge and the straight edge tells me where to plane in any case.
    Totally agree with the cambered edge verses the straight cutting edge for jointing.

    Glad some body is paying attention ! I was beginning to think it was my technique after all. But I have done so much of this hand jointing in very hard wood to KNOW that it is not just my technique.

    Keep up the good work !

  10. Alex Grigoriev

    You can also clamp the board on the bench, with another board under it (to lift the workpiece), lay the plane on its side and shoot along.

  11. Will O'Brien

    Chris,

    Kind of a silly question, but prior to this post I’d never seen a 386 with a wood face attached to the fence. Any pointers on dimensions and screw size for attaching one? I know the answer regarding wood selection is probably cocobolo, but what do you think about purpleheart or osage orange as alternatives?

  12. Greg Humphrey

    I like the process demonstrated in the latest David Charlesworth DVD – (Furniture Making Techniques: Five Topics).

    When the boards are narrow enough to put two of them face to face or back to back in the vise, I use the Lie-Nielsen #7 (Jointer Plane) to do both at the same time. Any deviation from 90 degrees is compensated for by having the boards face to face or back to back. I have an extra blade that is sharpened without the camber. David Charlesworth demonstrates using the Lie-Nielsen #8, that will allow wider boards.

  13. Richard Dawson

    Another alternative that should send Bob Lang into orbit is the Utilikilt. For more information, check this URL: http://www.utilikilts.com/ When I was in the Woodworking Program at Seattle Central Community College, we had a lad who wore one a few times. No need to cut your clothes off when treated for table saw kickback. (Yes, it did happen to him.)

    As they say, "Let Freedom Swing"

  14. David

    Chris – One objection to using the Stanley fence is that the thumbscrew attachment can damage the japaning on an antique (or a new plane). There’s an easy solution to readers that might have one of these and are reluctant to use because of this – brass shim stock. You can get it at any hardware store, and the 0.010 thick stuff is easy to cut with scissors, is soft enough not to mar the japaning, and isn’t thick enough to interfere with attaching the fence.

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