Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thicknessing Stock By Hand

I had a plan for this blog post.  I was going to thickness three similarly sized boards for my Shaker side table build by hand using three different planes: my newly restored vintage scrub plane, my home-made Krenov style scrub plane, and a special technique with my jack plane that I read about and always wanted to try.

The problem was I was so amazed at how well that vintage scrub worked that I couldn't put it down.

Getting started with my scrub.
Here is my process:

First, plane one side of the board flat.  I took some really thick shavings with my jack plane to clean up one side.  I backed the blade off a bit to work it down to a perfectly flat surface.

Second, run a marking gauge all around all four edges of the board (using the flat face to reference the fence of your gauge) to indicate the thickness you want the board to be.  The first one I did was about 1 3/8", so I marked it down to a little over 7/8".  Plane a chamfer on one long edge of the board that goes down to this mark.  This will help support the wood and prevent blow out.

Mraked for thickness and a chamfer to prevent blow out.
Next, secure the board on your bench and start planing perpendicularly to the grain.  I like to start in the middle of the board, plane over to one side.  When I get to the end, I move the other direction until I reach the opposite end, then return to the middle.  Here is a shot of this board after this point.

One pass with this aggressive plane.
At this point, I may move to a diagonal stroke until all of the perpendicular marks are gone.

Diagonal strokes.
Normally, I would go the other diagonal, but this board did not like that at all.  Massive tear out.  I just alternated between cross grain and diagonal strokes until I got close to my line.  It is important to keep checking your lines so you don't blow past them.  It's also a good idea to check them to ensure you are taking an even amount off the whole board.  If not, focus on the high spots until they are even.

Once you are down as close as you  dare with this plane, it is time to clean up all of those crazy waves with your jack plane.  A few minutes with an aggressive cut and I was very close to my line.  I backed off to a fine cut for the last few passes, ensuring everything was square, flat and true.

This took less that 15 minutes, from start to finish.  Way faster than I expected.  Indeed, this was so much fun, I had to do the next one with this scrub, too.

This piece was from a different board which was a little thicker.  I also decided to take it down to a true 3/4" just to see if I could.  The first piece will be the back rail, and won't get in the way of anything if it is a little thicker than the side rails.

A bit more to plane off this time.
I went through the exact same process and brought the thickness down.  It took about 30 minutes, this time.  This was not nearly as unpleasant as I was expecting it to be.

Before and after.
I am not scared of thicknessing lumber by hand any more.  Granted, these were small pieces, but normally one doesn't hog off quite so much wood when thicknessing by hand.  The secret is a dedicated scrub plane.  There are a few other options, but nothing quite like this.  For example, the thickest shaving I could get with my jack plane on this cherry was .031"  That is a pretty big shaving, but I was getting shavings thicker than .051" without really even pushing this scrub plane to it's limit.  Shavings that thick remove a lot of stock in a hurry.

After today, I will have one more side rail and the drawer front to thickness in this manner, and I will have all of the stock for this Shaker side table processed by hand.  The thing that took the longest was the legs, due to the fact that I couldn't get straight, clear stock in thin boards to cut them out as CS recommends in his DVD.  That would have saved me about eight hours of labor.  I cut them out of much thicker stock to ensure I could get the bastard grain on all four legs.

All of this work probably seems unnecessary to someone with a tablesaw and a thickness planer.  I am not so lucky.  I did want to try doing this entire project by hand without taking my wood to another shop for machining, though.  So far it has been successful, albeit a bit slower.  I am sure I'll get faster over time, but for now I want to ensure accuracy.

Next time, I hope to show some progress on the joinery.

P.S.:  There was a request f\or a better view of my grinder, so here it is:

See, hand cranked!


  1. A wonderful demonstration. Keep passing on the good information.

  2. Very instructive! Thank you Brian

  3. I like your planing stops. I am personally amazed at how well planing stops works.

  4. I regret going cheap on my tail vise. The planing stops work better. One is held by a lip in the vise, and is blocked up against the stop in my bench, the other has a couple dowels screwed to the underside that drop in two holdfast holes. Everything is plywood and Phillips head screws.

  5. The German scrubs are great aren't they? A jackplane doesn't come close. But they do leave a terible surface.

    1. The most aggressive camber I've heard of on a jack is an 8" radius. I use a 3" radius on this plane. It eats wood for breakfast. To get the surface relatively smooth after that scrub I use my jack at a very aggressive cut with the grain. I think this part burns more calories than scrubbing the wood cross grain.

  6. Hi Brian. Very interesting. I especially like pictures. What is the finished product?

    1. Thanks, Mom. I am working on a Shaker side table just like the one on Christopher Schwarz' DVD.

  7. You're giving me courage... I'll be soon hand-process my stock. Looking ahead, it seems like a big step from just doing hand-joinery.

    1. It does take patience. I have been working on this "good weekend project" for what seems like a long time, and have yet to do any joinery!