Winding Laths – Improve How You Flatten a Board
A good pair of winding laths or winding sticks is sometimes hard to find – I suspect not many have survived the burn pile. The good news is that a new set is easily made in a few minutes at the bench.
Why would I want a pair of ‘Winding Sticks’? What do they do?
- This pair of matching straightedges is a fast and invaluable tool that allows you to quickly see if a board is flat.
- By placing them at each end of a board, sighting across the near stick and looking at the far one, you can more easily see any twisting or warping in the board. The sticks help accentuate any non-planar surfaces.
- By moving one stick and sighting the board at a few locations along its length, you will quickly see how the board flows.
- Using a single stick you can also check for any cupping or warping as you would with any other straightedge.
- Once you identify parts of the board that need to be addressed, you can quickly plane them and re-evaluate the board using these sticks. (After a bit of practice, the process goes quite fast.)
From Otto Salomon’s “Teacher’s Handbook of Sloyd” (above) you can read a nice description for how to use winding laths efficiently. The pair of wooden Sloyd winding laths shown in the picture nest with each other via a set of fitted wooden pins and have a nice relief one edge so you can easily get a finger hold in there and separate the sticks when you want to use them. Salomon also calls out an interesting alternative you can use in a pinch – by turning two handplanes on their sides you can use them as an impromptu set of winding sticks and sight across them.
Tips on making your own winding sticks:
- Use quarter-sawn hardwood like hard maple or beech
- Consider adding a contrasting inlay or strip to make it easier to sight across the sticks
- I like to use sticks that are 1/2″ thick, about 2″ wide and about 18-24″ long
- Sticks that can nest with each other or otherwise stay together are more likely to survive
- Taper each stick on one side so that it’s clear which edge is the top (it will not stand on its own on the edge you plane down to 1/8″)
- If your sticks ever get out of true you can easily square them up again with a plane
The next time you are out in the shop, make a quick set of winding sticks and see how much it can improve your board flattening efficiency.