Flatten a large table top
I am getting ready to build a rather large table (42”X96”) that will have one or two leaves. I am confident that with the jointer I can get reasonably close with the glue up, but the final flatting could be challenging. <!—-> <!—->
Since I do not have access to a machine that will flatten a piece this size, is it reasonable to do the job with a Stanley #7 plane? If so ,what is the best way to assure that the sides will match with both the leaves inserted and removed?<!—-><!—->
The material is 6/4 Walnut.<!—-> <!—->
I would surface my material before glue up. I use cauls to keep the glue up flat and the individual boards fairly close on the surface. This means it will just take some sanding to smooth things out. When laying out and cutting the table edges and leaves, I do them assembled as a unit, so everything lines up.
Hand planes are a lot of fun but they come with some issues. Walnut is a great working species but it can often have swirling grain. Hand planes can dig in and chip out the surface. If you are a hand plane nut with an arsenal of smoothers, along with the experience to use them, you will want to use planes. Otherwise, I'd try to reduce the need for a lot of leveling work. Big flat surfaces can be challenging and unforgiving. If you want to use planes, pay careful attention to grain direction so you can have all the boards going the same way.
Beat it to fit / Paint it to match
A recent video of Philip Lowe shows how he approaches this with a plane.
You will have to flatten both sides. The underside needs to be flush with the aprons. Also, you will have a better chance that the tabletop will stay flush if you remove approximately equal amounts from both sides. In practice, take a bit off one face, flip, take similar amount from other face, flip, and repeat until done.
The easiest, fastest and safest way to flatten a large surface with a hand plane is to plane across the grain. Planing across the grain you will be able to set your iron for a thick shaving. Also, going across the grain there is virtually no chance of tearout. The only drawback is that you must pay attention to your straight edge and winding sticks and test with them frequently. Carelessness here will cause much more work.
To start, you will need an 8’ straight edge and a pair of 4’ winding sticks. Longer winding sticks are better because they exaggerate error, making it easier to detect a problem. You will also need a sturdy flat bench large enough to support the work.
Find and mark the high spots on both faces. Remove high spots until the top sits flat on the bench if either face is down.
Here is a technique I’ve used successfully. You’ll need an extra winding stick. On one face, plane trenches near the ends until the ends are flat and not in wind. Now plane a cross-grain trench half-way between the ends. Take care that it is co-planar with the ends. Remove the high material in between the three trenches. You should now be very close to your goal for that face. Repeat on the other side, but first use a marking gauge, with the good face as a reference surface, to gauge the finished thickness of the top.
When both sides are flat and in parallel planes, clamp or install the leaves and bring them to the established levels.
The cross-grain planing will leave a fairly rough surface. I use a scraper plane and then sand to prepare the surfaces for finish. You could just sand. If you do, move your sander in a methodical pattern to insure that the flatness is not compromised.
If you are brave and have a lot of experience with hand planes you could try planing with the grain with a smoother plane after the cross-grain flattening. Myself, I think the possibility of tearout is too great, so I scrape and sand.
In between work sessions, support the top on stickers so air freely circulates on both sides.
going across the grain there is virtually no chance of tearout.
This may be really obvious - though I seem to recall having to learn it the hard way: While chance of tearout on the face is reduced - remember the threat of tear out on the edge. I drew a crappy pic that shows what I'm talking about better than I can describe it in words - the red area in the cross section of the panel shows where tearout can easily happen if you plane all the way across a panel (sort of the same as when planing across an entire width of end grain):
I will second that, particularly with the mahoganny I am presently working. I have purposely left extra material on the edge to be trimmed later to account for that.
Maybe that's why our woodworking forebearers came up with chamfers, round overs, coves, ogees, etc. for edges!
I didn’t think about the winding sticks, but I did realize that even material removal from the top and bottom is required. Even without the apron issue, I like the smooth feel of the clean underside - it’s a detail that counts.<!----><!----><!---->
Planning is hard work for sure, but it seemed to me that it’s the best method of having a seam will be flush with and without the table leaves. I tend to agree that the best method of dealing with edge tear out is an inch of oversized material.<!----><!---->
Thanks to Sampson for adding the caution about edge blowout. Since this top is so wide, Neil will probably be working inward from both edges (unless he has veeery long arms) but if the work is narrow enough to work from one side the backup board will save the day.
I agree with Hammer. Flatten the boards with a jointer the best you can, then take great care in the glueup. If you have to, just glue up two or three at a time so you can adjust everything perfect. If you do the glue up right you should be able to flatten the top with normal sanding.
When I have a top that includes boards too wide for my jointer I glue up then use a power planer. The power planer is a great tool, but takes a little time to figure it out. After that I use a jack plane or bench plane to smooth it out.
Pardon my spelling,
Make sure that your next project is beyond your skill and requires tools you don't have. You won't regret it.
I went to a cabinet shop & had them run it through a drum sander-
At the risk of stirring up a hornets nest, while I've no doubts that hand planes can and will make a superb job of a large project, based on personal experience, I'd be extremely reluctant to trust the job to anything other than good quality tools. If you've used wood munchers to hog off the bulk of the waste prior to glue up, you could get by with little more than 2 planes; a large jointer and a jack...
Work in 3 main directions... across the grain is the safest way to remove a lot of material without risking tearout, working diagonally maintains the tearout control while taking out any discrepencies in wind... working long the grain will flatten the boards along their length. As has been mentioned, winding sticks and good straight edges are essential tools to check your progress.
As for final smoothing, provided your jack plane can be tuned really find and it has a nice thick blade, there's no reason why you can't use it as a finish smoother. If the figure in the board has a lot of charactor, the extra mass that the jack has over a regular smoother can help you power through difficult grain while maintaining the necessary control. One advantage that a hand plane has over a power plane is that you can change your direction to suit the direction the grain is running in; the end results when you get it right need to be seen to be believed. Another advantage if you're lacking hands on experience with the planes is that you can practice how you finish the surface smoothing long before you reach finished thickness, giving you the opportunity to gain experience with the planes while learning how the board behaves to different cut depths, vectors and state of tune... It can bea lot of fun, and there's no better way to gain a thorough understanding of how the nature of the board chances as you work it.
Ultimately, the final choice is best placed in whatever tools you have that you believe you can trust to do the job, but personally, given the pressure to get this right first time, I wouldn't loose a second's thought to tool choice; my L-N's wipe the floor with any power tool when it comes down to finished quality of the final product.
Stay safe....Have fun
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