Lee Valley Tools Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 2, Issue 5
May 2008
Squaring Boards Using Hand Planes and a Historic Book

Squaring up a board using hand planes alone is more than an academic exercise. Anyone who appreciates wide boards knows the heartbreak of ripping them into smaller pieces to get them into machines.

Armed with only three planes, you can convert a rough-as-a-cob board to something ready to finish. The techniques to do this are so well prescribed that they were written down in the first English-language woodworking book, Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises.

The most notable thing about Moxon's book is that the tools and techniques are the same now as they were in 17th-century England. The only difference is that these techniques and skills were once common—now they are quite rare. So, let's follow Moxon's instructions on truing a board that is
1" x 6-1/2" x 48" to understand how simple it really is.

The Necessary Tools
To convert rough stock into something suitable for furniture, you need three hand planes: a fore, a jointer and a smoother. The fore plane removes material quickly, the jointer plane makes the work flat and the smoothing plane prepares it for finish.

The fore plane is about 14" to 18" long (a jack plane will do) and has a cutting edge with a thumbnail shape. This shape allows it to remove lots of wood. The jointer plane is 22" or longer and has a cutter that is either straight or slightly curved. The smoothing plane is 10" or shorter and has a cutter that is either slightly curved or has its corners relieved to keep them from digging into the work.

  Fore, jointer and smoothing plane  
  Fore, jointer and smoothing planes play an important role in converting rough lumber into smooth boards.  
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