Remedies for Tear-out When Planing



ABOVE: A cherry board, fresh from the powered planer and after one pass with the jointer plane. Note how it took shavings from only part of the board.

Question: I would call myself a novice with a handplane, but I have used handplanes to
flatten several panels and tabletops including my 6′-long workbench top with
very little problem.

I recently began an end table project and both tables are made of white oak.
I began trying to use my Veritas low-angle jointer to flatten the boards out
of my power planer with disastrous results. On many of the boards I was only
able to take shaving at the edges of the boards, but none in the middle, the
result was a very uneven surface as you may imagine.

On other boards I got huge areas of tear-out where the grain reversed. I
cannot come up with an answer for what happened on this project. My plane
iron was very sharp (sharp enough to take end grain shavings) and was
sharpened at an angle that when added with the bed angle of the plane
equaled to a 50�° cutting pitch. The throat on my plane was set very tight
and my plane is well tuned. I have only had the plane for about half of a
year and it is exceptionally flat and in almost new condition. Why did I
have so much difficulty?  Is white oak just a very difficult wood to hand
plane or was I doing something wrong?

, Jeff Brown

White oak can be difficult to plane. It is exceptionally hard and prone
to grain reversals. And when you combine those two issues, anyone can have
trouble. However, here are some things to think about and try.

1. Whenever I have tear-out problems, I turn to a high-pitch plane. Because
you have a bevel-up jointer, this is a quick fix. Try honing the secondary
bevel at 50�° so your pitch is very high (62�°). This always helps me. A
little tear-out with a jointer plane is OK – that will be removed by the
smoothing plane. Big, bad, ugly tear-out is when I turn to the high-pitch
tools.

2. In very difficult solutions, I’ll turn to a toothing iron, which greatly
reduces tear-out as you level a surface. You’ll still need to so some
serious smoothing, scraping or sanding afterward to clean up the toothing
plane marks, but you’ll have less tear-out to deal with. Scroll to the
bottom of the page to view.

3. When working with a jointer, it’s important to remember that the tool is
trying to level the surface. So if it’s taking shavings in only select
places, those are the high spots it’s trying to remove. Continue to take
overlapping strokes and your shavings should become more consistent. Also,
work first across the grain or diagonally to flatten the top before
finishing with with-the-grain passes. Use a straightedge and/or winding
sticks to find out where your high spots are.

ABOVE: The same board after two passes. Note how the low spot quickly becomes evident.

4. Set the plane to take a reasonably thick shaving , about the thickness of
two sheets of typing paper. And open up the throat a bit. A thin shaving
means more passes and more work. Also, pay attention to where your tear-out
is occurring. If it’s at the corners of the iron you might want to round off
the corner with a file.

ABOVE: The same board after three passes with a jointer plane. See how the shavings are most definitely *not* gossamer. They’re about .008″ thick so the work can get done.

5. Finally, when all else fails, resharpen the iron. It’s a break from the
frustrating work and will always improve things , both your mood and the
planing.

ADDENDUM: Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick asked me why I would flatten a board using a plane that is longer than the board. I’ll not mention my immediate smart-aleck response and instead  explain my more informative second response: The jointer plane can be used for very short pieces. I can use it on pieces that are as short as 3″. Think of your jointer plane like you think of your powered jointer. With the 6″-wide machines, the bed can average 47″ long, which allows it to flatten and true boards that are 48″ long and a little longer. And it has no problems with boards that are shorter. It’s the same thing with a jointer plane.

, Christopher Schwarz