Tips on Fore Planes and Flattening Panels - Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Handplane Techniques, Handplanes, Reader Questions, Woodworking Blogs

I recently bought your “Coarse, Medium, and Fine” DVD, from Lie-Nielsen. I wanted to thank you for it, I found it very informative and useful. I have two questions:

1. Would a low-angle jack plane qualify as a coarse plane for basic work, if used diagonally cross grain, with a cambered blade, and a wide mouth? I have a Lie-Nielsen scrub plane, but as you mention in the video it is pretty rough, and also rather small.Ã?  I also have a 5-1/2 Lie-Nielsen jack, but I like that for lots of other stuff.Ã?  So I was wondering about the low-angle jack …

2. Has anybody done a video on planing glued up panels?Ã?  I can flatten a board OK, and joint an edge. But when it comes to cleaning up a glued up panel, HELP!!!!Ã?  Some people say to glue up alternating grain, for stability, some people say to have all the boards in the same direction for ease of planing, and some like to consider only appearance.Ã?  I tend to try to visually compose with grain, which is hard enough without adding the problem of varying grain direction …Ã? Ã?  In any case, this is one video I keep looking for (hint, hint)!

– Alan Belkin

Thanks for your letter. I’m quite pleased to hear that you liked the DVD. As to your questions:

You can indeed you can use a low-angle jack plane as a fore plane. When I taught a class on hand tools last month I set up several low-angle jacks from Veritas and Lie-Nielsen to do this task.

Personally, I think it’s a bit overkill to purchase all that precision workmanship for such a coarse operation. I usually encourage readers to purchase an older Stanley No. 5 or No. 6 (or a transitional plane, like the one I was using in the DVD), and then put the money they saved toward buying a really nice jointer or smoother.

A very good source for used hand planes is Sanford Moss. I see he has several planes that qualify for $50 to $60 on his site right now.

As to glued up panels, I follow two rules for selecting boards:

1. Choose the widest, clearest boards and arrange them for best appearance.

2. Try to move the boards around in position so that all the grain runs uphill in the same direction. A little bit of effort on this can usually produce a top that looks just as good and is easier to plane.

After I glue up the top, I asses the joints. If there are some misaligned edges that exceed 1/32″ or so, I’ll begin flattening them with the fore plane, working at 90Ã?° to the grain. This approach to the work reduces tearout and flattens things up quickly. (Note, however, that it will cause some breakout on the edges of your panel; compensate for this by adding a little extra width to your panel.)

Then I check the top with winding sticks and proceed to the jointer and treat the assembly just like it’s a really wide board: Work diagonally first and then with the grain.

And then the smoother and scraper. If you are aware of where the grain changes direction in your top, you can work one section one way and another section the other way. Skewing the plane radically near the boards’ seams can sometimes help reduce tear-out at the transition points.

If the grain is quite unruly in the top, I will do everything I can with a smoothing plane and then turn to a scraping plane to finish the top. That tool can generally can ignore the grain direction anyway.

And if it’s a really really bad day (or the top is quartersawn sycamore), I’ll sneak over to the drum sander.

Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 4 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    The advantage to the fore plane for this operation is it’s not as heavy to wield as a jointer. So you don’t wear yourself out. A jointer plane with a cambered iron and a rank set will do the job, however.


  • Andrew Homan

    Hi Chris,
    Is there any advantage to using a #5 for the rough perpendicular planing? Or could a #7 (or #8) do the trick just as well, provided the blade was cambered? I’m still trying to flatten a very large benchtop and could use all these pointers.

  • Mike Wenzloff

    CS: (Note, however, that it will cause some breakout on the edges of your panel; compensate for this by adding a little extra width to your panel.)

    Alternately, you can also lightly chamfer the edges to a scribed line to help avoid breakout and, subsequent to making the panels even, gauge final thickness.

    Take care, Mike

  • betii

    Nice article

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