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