I have been building furniture and cabinets for almost 30 years. For most of those years I’ve owned a 13-in. planer. Of course, there have been plenty of times when I found myself wishing for something bigger, but as the old saying goes, “Necessity (and I would add, a lack of funds) is the mother of invention.” Here are some tricks I use to increase the capacity, or at least the capabilities, of my planer and perform tasks not usually associated with a machine best known for making boards thinner.
Scenario 1: A Section At A Time. An obvious problem occurs with a large glue up, for instance a table top. If you glue up the whole thing at once, you’re faced with hours of laborious belt sanding with questionable results or an expensive trip to a shop with a wide belt sander. A simple strategy is to glue up the wood in sections that fit your planer. Once each section is surfaced, carefully glue them up one section at a time.
Surface a Large Slab in Sections. Build up large slabs with planer-sized sections. Each section consists of glued up boards that have been surfaced through a planer. Carefully glue the sections one joint at a time. Make sure the joint is perfectly flush. The result will be a slab that requires minimal sanding to make smooth.
Scenario 2: Hide The Joints. There’s nothing like a beautiful slab of wood, except when it won’t fit through your planer. As much as I hate to cut a perfect plank, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. Strategically locating the cuts is the key to minimizing the effects of this reconstructive surgery. The key can be found in the end grain.
Avoid The No-rip Zone. A single cut down the middle of this plank is all you need to get it through a 13-in. planer. But the resulting grain shift along the glue line will be obvious. A better approach is to make two cuts; one on each side through the straight grain areas. The glue lines will be almost invisible.The end grain of wide slabs often exhibit an arched grain structure in the middle with angled grain running along the edges. The angled grain is what’s known as rift grain. Rift grain produces straight grain on the face whereas the arched middle creates cathedral patterns. It’s much easier to hide your cuts in the straight grain edges than through the cathedrals. Once the board is ripped into narrow strips you can plane it, then seamlessly glue it back together.
Scenario 3: Smooth Tapers. Here’s a great way to remove the saw marks from tapered legs. Just run ’em through your planer! Well, first you need to make a tapered bed for the leg to ride on. I use the offcuts from sawing the taper. Depending on the leg design, you may need to glue an extra 1/4″ or so to the bottom of the wedge in order to keep the square portion of the leg elevated above your planer table. Attach the wedge to the leg so the taper is up then run it through the planer.
Shave Off The Saw Marks. Make very light passes to shave off the saw marks. Remove the leg from the wedge. Turn the leg 90-degrees and reattach to the wedge to smooth the other taper. Make sure you feed the material so the cut is “downhill”Â on the grain, meaning the large end of the taper feeds first.
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