Mark ( on January 10th, 2009

When readying parts to be edge glued, most of us probably trust the surface left after a pass over the jointer knives as being smooth and ready for gluing. After all, it feels smooth, and when the boards are placed edge to edge the fit looks pretty darn good. We don’t see how the fit could be much better and we forge ahead, slop on some glue and clamp the pieces together until we think we’ve pressured them far enough into submission such that they will yield a seamless joint. I know I’ve  been down this road – and sometimes the joints are fine, but sometimes they are less than perfect.

I was working with some pieces of Walnut today and nearby there was some white chalk on the bench that I was using for marking out parts on the dark wood.  The pieces I was working with were about 2 inches thick and 8 inches long and I needed to edge glue them. As is the norm, I held two of the pieces together edge to edge and inspected the joint it offered after a pass over the jointer knives – it looked OK, but not perfect.

edge-marked-in-chalkclose-up-of-chalked-edgeI spotted the chalk again and thought maybe I should see just how good that jointed surface was. In the pictures you can see the surface of one of the boards after rubbing the edge lightly with the white chalk (the second one is a close-up of the same board). You can clearly see the uneven surface left by the jointer.  As you can see, the rotating knives of this tool leave little scallops on the wood surface – in fact the width of these scallops changes depending on how fast the piece is moved over the knives. The slower you go, the closer together the scallops are and the better the resulting surface – better yes, but not perfect.

hand-planed-edgeclose-up-of-hand-planed-edgecleaned-hand-planed-edgeAfter seeing this, I felt I could make the surface better. I don’t have a jointer plane, so, I pulled out my #4 smoothing plane to see what I could do. I made a few passes along the edge of the board watching as the plane removed the white chalk leaving a stripe of chocolate colored wood in its wake.   The first picture is the resulting surface (the second picture is a close-up of the hand planed edge). I put some Naptha on a paper towel and wiped away the residual chalk that was still in the pores of the wood. The smoothing plane only removed one or two thousandths of an inch of material, however, as seen in the pictures, the surface quality was now infinitely better.

I often use my smoothing plane on the faces of panels and other parts that have been face jointed in order to remove these milling marks. However, I don’t always edge joint with a hand plane after using the jointer.  My edge-glued joints are usually pretty good but, I sometimes think that they can be better.  After this little experiement, I’m sure of it.  Of course, a smoothing plane is not the best tool for this job…so, it looks like I’ve got a good reason for a jointer plane to be the next entry in my hand tool arsenal!

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10 Responses to “Exposing the Jointer”

  1. Sounds like fun. Now you just need a jointer plane.

  2. Good observations. Once you have seen how good the cut quality is with a hand plane it is hard to let machined edges go. I will still glue line rip and go from the jointer when time is tight, but on show pieces with glue lines it will be done with a plane.

    A jointer is great. I have both a no7 and no608 but I have been favoring the no608 since I got it. The mass is fantastic as is the wide blade. Surprisingly for Stanley’s biggest cast iron plane it can produce excellent surface finish if you tighten up the mouth. At any rate, I highly recommend getting a hand jointer.

  3. Scott,

    Yep, I think you’re tight. Thanks for visiting the blog.


  4. Doug,

    I was thinking about a No. 7. I’m not sure I’ve seen a No. 608. I’ll have to take a look. From the number it sounds smaller than the 7, but you indicate that it has extra mass so that makes me think otherwise. Thanks for stopping by the blog.


  5. Mark,

    The 608 is the bedrock version of the #8. If you get a Lie-Nielsen #8 you are getting a modern reproduction of the 608. This is a great post. I have been rough milling lumber for my workbench for almost 3 weeks now and the longer the board gets the more inadequate the jointer seems to be. I haven’t been planing the entire face, but I find myself touching up parts using my #7. Great observation, I like the chalk technique. Now I need to go get some chalk. Fortunately that is cheaper than a jointer plane.


  6. Shannon,

    Thanks. You’re right, the chalk is definitely cheaper!

    I am currently thinking that the #7 may be a better match for my physical size. I understand that the #8 (or the #608) is pretty massive.


  7. I use a #5 to clean up the edge before edge jointing. I clamp both sides together so that the face sides are on the inside. I then use my #5 to plane both sides at the same time. This way, even if you skew the plane to one side a little bit, the fit will be perfect.
    You could probably do this with a #4 too.
    But this won’t work with 2″ thick material unless you find a 4″ wide plane somewhere.
    I picked this up when talking to one of the craftsman at Williamsburg 5 or 6 years ago.

  8. Carl,

    Yep, that’s exactly how I do edge jointing with my plane. As you said,the back to back orientation cancels out any error that you get if you are not perfectly square to the face when you plane. Great technique! David Charlesworth’ method of using different parts of a cambered blade to shave partsof the edge to achieve square is also a good one.

    For these pieces, as you stated they are 2″ thick and also have a 4 degree bevel on the edge – you can see what I am doing with them in the Sculpted Rocking Chair posts). So, back to back was not as god of an option.

    Thanks for the comments!


  9. Mark,

    how has the joiner/handplane combo worked for you since the original post. a question i would have is what the glue joints now look like. i’m not sure you need a #7/#8 since you’ve already created a flatter edge ( how long is your joiner bed vs a #8 ). a shorter plane will follow any highs/lows; but does a smoother put waves into the “face” of a board already flattened with say a #8.

    again, is the glue joint tighter? it might be the same thing as obsessing about super thin fluffy shavings coming out the plane mouth. Gaussy shavings are fine, but at the end of the day they go in the trash. The finished surface on your project is whats important.

    Another example would be what we stress at MASW. Dont obess about the joiner fence being 90.0000 degree. Whats important is that your board be 90 degree ( or complimentary angle for a multiple board glue up). Even if the fence is 90 you can screw up by not feeding the board in properly.


  10. Hey Jeff,

    Great meeting you at MASW this past week. Sorry that I did not catch up with you one more time before I left on Friday.

    As far as your questions…actually the joints for this piece are the headrest for the Sculpted Rocker that I am making (interrupted to come to MASW). So, they are in the same rough glued up state. However, the glue joints went together very well. Definitely tighter than the original power jointed surface…had that suction kind of fit when put together dry.

    I agree about not obsessing about the fluffy-ness of the shavings. The best, most efficient, shaving is the thickest one you can take without getting tear out, right?

    That’s a good point on the jointer fence, too. Especially when the pieces are large, it’s very easy to mis-handle them and get a non-square edge. Alternating the board faces (in, out toward the jointer fence) does work to give complimentary angles as long as you take a light cut to avoid tearout of going against the grain due to the alternating faces.

    I would still like to get a jointer plane…not so much for shorter pieces like these (smoother works OK for these), but for longer ones and also for helping to flatten pieces that are too wide for my 6″ jointer.


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