Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 4, Issue 1
   September 2009
   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.

Marking grain direction
I 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 panel.
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