Chris Schwarz's Blog

Planing the Perfect Board

Mr. Peel was shaped exactly like one of the Fisher-Price Little People, he jangled his keys in his pockets nonstop and he had a reputation as a tyrannical shop teacher at Chaffin Junior High School in Fort Smith, Ark.

My friends would talk in the school’s lunchroom about how every student had to get a single board straight, square and flat using hand tools before they could proceed to building anything in shop class. Creating this “perfect board” was daunting for most students, and I was glad at the time that I was exempt from shop class (and Spanish class , whew) because I was in the journalism program.

Since junior high, I’ve heard about other shop class teachers who had a similar exercise, and the “perfect board” is part of the teaching at The College of the Redwoods and Rosewood Studios. During the last few months, I’ve added this exercise to the classes I teach on handplaning and it has been illuminating for me , and I hope for the students.

We don’t start with rough wood (these are one- or two-day seminars). Instead I start with pieces of mild cherry or walnut that is Ã?¾” x 6″ x 14″ and has been accurately jointed and planed on both faces. I quite like using machined wood for the exercise because it points out how machining a board might not make it flat enough for some work.

I instruct the students how to plane a true face using a cambered iron in a jointer plane and then how to use the camber to true both edges to the true face without creating a big hump in the middle. They don’t have to smooth the faces and edges to perfection (though extra points are awarded for those who do) , so it’s a good exercise even if you have only a jointer or jack plane.

Then the students submit the board to my straightedge and ruler. I show them the problem areas , where the light is leaking under the measuring equipment, I mark the high spots in chalk and send them back to the bench. It usually takes them a few attempts, but I’m always amazed that they manage to correct the problems once they can see them marked in chalk on the board.

If you’ve never tried this exercise, I think you should. Give it a shot and report back here on the Comments section below.

Now I’m not yet shaped like Mr. Peel; though after pizza last night and the endless web site coding of the last two months I am heavier and balder. And I hope never to twitch like he does, which was why he kept his hand on his keys I suppose. But I am entirely sympathetic to his “perfect board” exercise.

I just hope my students aren’t talking about me in the lunchroom.

– Christopher Schwarz

4 thoughts on “Planing the Perfect Board

  1. J.C. Collier

    Ditto on the process of flattening a board with hand planes. I assigned myself the task years ago when I was boning up for this avocation. The discovery of how easy it is and how fast you can do the job and swap some sweat for peace and quiet has become my preferred method. I don’t hesitate to do those two adjacent surfaces with a trio of hand planes, winding sticks and a straight edge to get my boards "right-on." AND there’s nothing quite like a hand-planed surface. Sweet!

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Indeed.

    That photo is actually a "Wanted" poster as well. That’s a photo of the Wayne Anderson plane that was stolen at the Fot Washington, Pa., WoodWorks show several years back.

    It’s never turned up.

    The replacement plane Wayne made me is even nicer….

    Chris

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