Jointing Lumber without a Table Saw or Power Jointer
To build most types of tables or cabinets, the woodworker needs to glue up panels made of jointed boards. Even most pre-dimensioned lumber needs the edges jointed to ensure they are straight and perpendicular to the board’s face.
Jointing long boards can be done with a jointer plane; however, it requires skill to master this task so that you can do it efficiently. For those looking for a quick and easy technique, a track saw is a welcome addition to most shops. It allows for quick, safe and accurate preparation of sheet goods in any shop, large or small. With the use of a long track, you can easily cut to width and joint lumber and plywood in excess of eight feet.
After your material is cut to width, you can clean up the edge with a hand plane, such as a low-angle jack or even a smoother. With the edge already jointed flat by the track saw, there is no need for a long plane to complete the job. A few quick passes to remove the saw marks and the boards should be ready to glue into that panel for the project at hand. To avoid cutting a bevel on the edge of the board with the hand plane, ensure the plane is set up properly and the blade takes an even cut. Check every few passes with a square along the length of the board to ensure you are not introducing a new bevel.
Here are a few tips to make this approach as efficient as possible:
Double-check the angle of the blade in the track saw and ensure it is cutting at exactly 90 degrees to the base. You can test this by fully extending the blade on the unplugged saw and checking with a square. Next, set the stop so the blade protrudes just enough to cut through the material, remembering to account for the track thickness.
As long as the track’s non-slip tape is intact on the underside, this can be done without clamping. Place the board against a bench dog or secure stop to keep it from moving in the direction of the cut. Place the track on top of the wood and make the cut. Support the board underneath, either on the edge of the bench or on scrap material on workbenches or the floor. When ripping narrow boards with the track saw, it is helpful to use another board of the same thickness to support the back edge of the track to avoid any movement during the cut. The more stable the track, the better the final cut.
When ripping the board with the track saw, the key is to ensure that the saw cuts at a constant speed and angle to get the best quality cut. To ensure the saw stays tight to the track, the non-push hand should hold the leading edge of the saw bed tight against the track to keep it from wobbling as you walk along the board. A smooth motion is imperative and saves you from having to later clean up the edge with a hand plane.
Sometimes the saw wants to bog down in thicker or harder material. To get the smoothest cut possible, it may be necessary to make two passes. The first pass removes the bulk of the material leaving less than a blade’s thickness behind. A smooth second pass with the track exactly on the cut line yields an easy cut that will produce a much cleaner edge. This approach is often required on material thicker than 5/4 or in harder woods such a beech or hard maple.
To get the best possible jointed cut that requires minimal hand-plane clean-up, smoothness is key. The track should extend beyond both ends of the board, the saw should be started before entering the wood, and the cut continues until the saw exits the wood – one smooth motion. If any hesitancy or shifting occurs, the board will require plenty of clean-up after the fact, so avoid it if possible.
Top: It’s important to remove only the mill marks left behind by the track saw to avoid losing the jointed edge.
Bottom: Keep an eye on the edge to ensure you are not introducing a bevel.
A good quality track saw is still a significant investment for most – albeit one that can pay dividends very quickly. It allows woodworkers of all skill levels to accurately rip and crosscut boards and sheet goods in a safe and manageable way. For many small shops, it can delay or completely offset the need to buy a table saw. Couple a track saw with some basic hand tool skills and the small shop can produce big-shop-quality projects.
Sometimes it is easier to divide the glue-up into sections to avoid trying to level too many joints before the glue sets.
Paying careful attention to the joints during glue-up makes clean-up and final levelling much quicker.
Text and photos by Richard Wile
Richard Wile, Lee Valley staff member, is a woodworker from Nova Scotia who has built musical instruments and furniture from all genres and has also taught and written about woodworking both locally and abroad. Follow him on Instagram: @rdwile