Chris Schwarz's Blog

Face It: How to Deal with Bookmatched Panels

As a hand-tool woodworker, I try to avoid bookmatching my panels. Bookmatching creates a panel where the grain in one board runs one way and the grain in the other board runs the opposite.

When you handplane that panel, tear-out is almost inevitable. Bookmatching is, in my opinion, better left to those with sanders and dust masks. Sometimes, however, it is unavoidable when dealing with boards that have been cut sequentially from a tree.

I’m building an early 19th-century five-drawer chest this week and needed to glue up some panels yesterday for the 20″-wide sides, bottom and top. And when I got down to it, I needed to bookmatch three panels so that the chest  looked its best.

So this morning I drank two cups of coffee and considered my options. Sanding was out. Scraper planes were an option. High-angle planes were another option. But I had a lot of cherry to cover, a few hours of free time and I didn’t want to lose too much thickness, so I pondered other options.

Recently I asked Deneb Puchalski at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks to write a story for Popular Woodworking on how he uses toothing blades in a bevel-up jack plane to dress boards without tear-out. I’ve watched him do this demonstration many times, and I know it works. The manuscript is in my hands, but we’re still working on the photos (Note to Deneb and Mandy: Get moving you slackers! What the heck have you been doing lately?).

So I got out my bevel-up jack with a toothing iron and planed one panel diagonally with it to see how it handled. As advertised, the tool didn’t produce tear-out. But it did take a long time to remove enough material to get the seams true and the panel to the desired thickness.

So I threw a traditional technique into the mix. I used a fore plane directly across the grain to remove wood in a hurry. It leaves minimal tear-out when used this way. Then I fetched the jack with a toothing iron and used it diagonally across the board a couple times to remove the scallops left by the fore plane. Finally, I used a high-angle smoothing plane to finish the job.

The system worked really well. Because there was no tear-out at any point in the process, it was a fairly fast way to work. Plus all the planes were easier to push than a set of high-angle tools. And the surface looked better than a scraped surface.

As I was finishing up one bookmatched case side today, my 8-year-old daughter came home from school and ran to my bench.

“Can I try?” she asked. During our weekend Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event, Katy got a taste of planing with a No. 4 Stanley souped up with a blade from Ron Hock. So I held her hands on my tool and we took a couple strokes together.

“I want to do it myself,” she said. So I stepped aside and wondered about Senior Editor Glen D. Huey’s wide-belt sander.

Katy planed like a champ. She planed the entire panel twice, finishing up my work. Then she began planing the panel a third time.

“Katy, we’re done,” I said. “Katy. Katy. Katy.”

She didn’t want to stop. I was so proud.

As I wiped down the tools with oil, I asked her what the bookmatched panel looked like to her. The panel has two matching knots that look like eyes.

“I see Princess Leia,” she said. “See the buns of hair?”

I saw an enormous evil bug in the board, but her answer earned her extra dessert tonight. Another plane geek is born.

– Christopher Schwarz

24 thoughts on “Face It: How to Deal with Bookmatched Panels

  1. Adrian

    I tried a bevel up toothed blade and it seems to work really well…for the first 30 seconds until all the grooves fill with crud and clog.

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Adrian,

    I’ve heard some theories, but I don’t know what the definitive answer is.

    Chris

  3. Adrian

    I happen to be preparing a piece of 14" wide curly maple and wondering about the toothed blade. Why does the toothed blade prevent tearout? Lie Nielsen has a video where the guy says it’s because it’s like a whole bunch of chisels…but I can get tearout with a chisel if I cut the wrong way.

  4. John

    When you take her photo, stand back instead of crowding in with the zoom. It’s an effect too much overdone. She deserves a better photo than that.

  5. Loogie

    I love it! I can’t wait to get my girls (3 1/2 & 1 1/2) involved in the shop. Chris, Hopefully you’ll do an article some day on how to get kids (girls especially) involved in woodworking.

  6. Jonas Jensen

    To encourage my children in the workshop, I have made them a small bench (actually it was an old school workbench which I lowered the legs of.
    At the age of 4-5 they are able to clamp a piece of wood in the bench and using a spokeshave and a saw etc.
    For the smaller children I once made a very sturdy hammering table.
    It is made of soft pine,4 x 4" glued together end s up. there is a small box on the side for various nails and brads. Children down to maybe 2½ can hammer a nail in the block and they like to do it a lot.
    brgds
    Jonas

  7. Chris Somers

    Chris,

    I laughed out loud when I read, "Can I try?" and "I want to do it myself." These are the mantrae of my 3-1/2 yr. old daughter. While she likes to come to my shop, right now she’s just at the skill level of using a manual (square head) screwdriver to drive screws into a block of wood (I pre-drill, and may need to wax the screws next time!). Otherwise she just goes over to the scrap bin and finds a new stick to poke and whack things with :^)

    Any other ideas on getting a child at her age more involved?

    -Chris

  8. Paul Chapman

    All my planes are bevel-down and after seeing Denib’s demonstration in the UK, I bought a bevel-down toothed blade. It works just as well as a bevel-up. However, you need to set the cap iron (chip breaker to you Americans ;-)) a fair way back to stop shavings getting trapped between the cap iron and the grooves. I ground a little off the end of the cap iron so as to get it far enough back. Works really well.

    Cheers 😉

    Paul

  9. Richard Dawson

    Nathan,

    Deneb answered that question at a woodworking show once — sharpen it as you would a regular blade. I don’t think a back bevel would make sense, and probably a micro bevel wouldn’t be necessary, either, although I would defer to more knowledgeable sources on that point.

  10. Santiago Carmona

    Hi Chris

    She resembles her father a lot!
    You can’t deny you are her dad.

  11. Nathan

    Hi Chris –

    Great article! You’ve sparked my interest in toothing blades. One question would be, how does one sharpen a toothing blade, even if the blade chips a little? Not that I have had a plane blade chip on me, but I know a few who have had it occur (0-1 Steel vs. Cyro-A2 steel susceptibility difference, I wonder?).

    -Nathan

  12. Christopher Schwarz

    Tom,

    A toothing blade will work in almost any plane. In fact, Lie-Nielsen sells toothed blades for both bevel-up and bevel-down planes. Give it a try and I know you’ll be pleased.

    Chris

  13. Ryan M

    Chris,

    Maybe this will be covered in the PW article, but is there an advantage to having the toothed blade in the low angle plane vs standard angle bench plane or can one throw a toothed blade in a #5 bench and have the same success?

    R

  14. Brian

    Chris, It is time for you to build another bench. This one for her height or better yet have her build it with you.
    Brian

  15. Turner Jones

    Hopefully she will see this as a hobby through her teenage years and later. Wouldn’t that be great?

  16. Chuck Nickerson

    Not only is she a budding plane-geek, but she knows about Princess Leia. Keep up the good work (on all levels).

  17. tms

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve used a toothing plane and scraper many times before, but never considered putting the blade in a jack plane. Do you think that this would work in a bevel down #5? Also, do you think that the high angle smoother has any advantage over a scraper on a toothed surface?

    Tom

  18. Mike

    Wayne beat me to it. Time for another bench-build, Chris.

    Seems like a good couple-weekend project for you both if you know how to design a bench to her scale…

  19. Wayne Anderson

    Build this sweetie a lower bench! My arms ache just looking at the photo. You are very lucky. My 17-year-old daughter would just roll her eyes if I asked her to do some planing. -w

  20. rob

    Dude, you have to preview what you write, taken out of context this is pretty funny: "So I held her hands on my tool and we took a couple strokes together."

  21. Ethan

    I’ll have to catalog this entry in the back of my brain in case I need to do some bookmatched panels. In the mean time, thank goodness for small boxes and wide boards!

    Is that a brief glimpse at the periodically-mentioned-but-never-seen home workshop of Chris Schwarz?

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