Vol. 4, Issue 1
Make Plane-Friendly Panels
Using a handplane to dress an assembled tabletop or carcass
side frustrates many woodworkers. Because you have several boards
with sometimes differing grain directions, there's a greater
risk of tear-out. Also, getting a large panel really flat seems
to require hundreds of strokes with a smoothing plane.
Some woodworkers solve the tear-out problem with high-angle
planes or scrapers. Many have also resigned themselves to long
planing sessions with their panels. However, you can greatly
reduce frustration when dealing with panels by paying close
attention to your material and borrowing tricks from our ancestors.
Looks Are First
Whenever you create a panel from several narrow boards that
will be visible in the finished project, the primary consideration
is the appearance of the completed panel; other concerns are
secondary. Alternating the growth rings in a panel (heart-side
up, then bark-side up, then heart-side up) is fairly modern
advice. Early joiners and cabinet-makers rarely did this, according
to texts and the surviving-furniture record.
So arrange your boards with the most attractive sides facing
up. Then mark on every face (including the undersides) the direction
that the grain runs in each board. Use arrows to indicate which
direction the handplane should travel to surface that board.
Sometimes a board can have grain that reverses or it
runs in two different directions in two places. Mark each area
with its own arrow; sometimes you can trim a panel to remove
a section of squirrelly grain.
use large arrows to indicate the grain direction on the faces
of all the boards.
Bold marks help ensure you won't make a mistake at assembly.
Getting the appearance of the grain similar at the seams makes
for the best-looking panels. That means putting quartersawn
grain next to quartersawn grain. I avoid using boards that have
an edge that occurs in the middle of a plainsawn cathedral.
It's difficult to incorporate that figure into a good-looking