Introduction: Joint Boards Without a Jointer

Picture of Joint Boards Without a Jointer

A planer/jointer is not always available to the home woodworker who wants to do fine cabinetry. Look at the piece of cabinetry in the photo. Each face has three pieces that were jointed and glued, but without a standard planer/jointer. The glue lines are almost invisible. You can find them only by looking closely for changes in the grain pattern.

Step 1: Use a Sanding Drum in Place of a Jointer

Picture of Use a Sanding Drum in Place of a Jointer

The graphic shows the basic setup. The work passes between a spinning sanding drum and a fence with a very straight edge.

In the graphic the sanding drum rotates in a counter-clockwise direction. The work moves over the table from right to left.

Cuts taken are very light. Flip the work over frequently so both sides of the work are staight and true when finished. When the sanding drum no longer cuts, loosen one of the "C" clamps and move that end of the fence nearer to the sanding drum only about the thickness of a pencil line. Clamp again and continue feeding the work past the sanding drum.

Step 2: Equipment

Picture of Equipment

You can make your own sanding drum table with a piece of plywood, an old eletric motor, and a mandrel. You will want more of the table on one side of the drum than on the other. This is so there is room for the work and the fence.

Step 3: The Mandrel

Picture of The Mandrel

Shop hardware stores and suppliers. Often you can find a mandrel for mounting a saw blade on a motor. Remove the nut and the washers for holding the blade. Pay attention to match the thread size and shaft diameter to the sanding drum you buy. Also match the hole in the body of the mandrel to the shaft size of your motor.

Sanding drums are available through Sears Craftsman and other sources. Get one about two or more inches in diameter with a face two or three inches long. Although not easy to predict for the long term, give some thought to the availability of replacement sanding drum sleeves.

When you are finished, the sanding drum should run without vibration.

Step 4: With a Radial Arm Saw

Picture of With a Radial Arm Saw

I use a radial arm saw. By setting the shaft to the vertical position and removing the parts of the saw table behind the saw's fence (including the fence), I have a good sanding drum setup for doing jointery. One advantage to using a radial arm saw for this setup is that it is easy to crank the face of the sanding drum up or down when the grit in one area is worn down.

The jointing fence here is one of the boards from the saw table that holds the saw's fence in place. If you make your own fence, just saw about four inches from the end of a new sheet of plywood. The factory sawn edge of the plywood is straight and true. It also gives you a very long faux plane bed.

In the photo the green paper arrows indicate the direction of the drum's rotation (counter-clockwise) and the direction of travel for the work.

Step 5: Finished Product

Picture of Finished Product

Again, look at the finished product. You will be able to make cabinet surfaces from solid wood that equal or surpass the work done on the best planer/jointer.

The piece in the photo is made of birch. Woods like birch and maple sometimes have irregular and unpredictable grain patterns that would tear out if jointed with cutter knives. The sanding drum cuts so gently that there are no problems with grain that suddenly runs against the cutter knives rather than with them.

The original idea for this came from a Popular Mechanics encyclopedia published in the mid-1960s.

Step 6: Update: Idea in Response to Gfixler's Comment

Picture of Update: Idea in Response to Gfixler's Comment

Below is a way of using a router for jointing so the router bit cannot vibrate or jump into the work and make a cupped indentation in the work's edge. The fence (yellow) clamps to the work (brown). The router bolts onto the attachment (yellow). The attachment rides on the fence.


josiahkerley (author)2008-11-30

I have tried this in the past, but it tends to leave small divits in the board (due to the irregularity of a drum sander) , plus it's hard to measure and usually doesn't give you a true 90.

Phil B (author)josiahkerley2008-11-30

If you are getting small indentations from the drum sander, you are probably making cuts too deep. Also, keep the work moving in a smooth and steady motion. Make more and lighter cuts so that the last passes barely make any wood dust at all. If the edges of the work are not 90 degrees to the face, try adjusting the table with respect to the drum so the drum is 90 degrees off of the table. You can also do one piece face up and the piece that joins to it face down. Any error away from 90 degrees will be cancelled out.

glorybe (author)Phil B2010-09-02

I have some concerns with the use of sanding media in general. Tiny pieces of grit tend to embed in work and are hell on all tools. Yet sanding is so convenient and versatile that it is just hard to resist. For may tasks I like these new synthetic pads as they seem to give great finishes and leave no traces of embedded grits. Perhaps we will see sanding cylinders made with these pads.

josiahkerley (author)Phil B2008-11-30

Well, I usually set it up for a 1/32. The indentations are hard to notice, but if you look close at a bookmatch, you can see them. Also, I think I just need a new chuck (or drill press), it may just be a tad bit bent.

Phil B (author)josiahkerley2008-11-30

1/32 inch sounds like a large increment. When I use this setup I have a 4 foot long piece of plywood for the fence guide. I loosen the clamp on one end of the plywood and move it inward less than the thickness of a pencil line, really, about the thickness of a fingernail. At the center of the plywood piece that would be only a very few thousandths of an inch.

wilwrk4tls (author)2010-01-07

 A method I used was to make a fence for my router (used in a router table) that had a hole sized for a bit, where the very tip of the router blade was tangent to the router planing fence edge.  Then I used a table saw and cut down one side of the fence (based on the rotation of the router bit) so that it was slightly shallower than the other edge.

As you run your board against the planer board the router bit takes off however much material you took off of the one side.  Make sure not to take too much off so that your router can handle the removal, which means you may have to make several passes.

Hopefully the attached image helps.

Phil B (author)wilwrk4tls2010-01-22

I apologize for responding so late to your router and fence arrangement for putting a straight edge on a piece of work.  You are essentially replicating a planer/joiner bed.  I tried this early in my serious woodworking days when I had a molding head cutter for my radial arm saw, but no router.  With that setup I found it was just a little too tricky to align the back half of the fence with the cutter.  What is so nice about running the work between a long fence and a sanding drum (or router bit) is that the straight edge of the fence is automatically reproduced on the edge to be straightened.  There is much less that can go wrong.

Scott_Tx (author)2008-09-24

I reckon you could use a table router too... if you had one, of course.

Phil B (author)Scott_Tx2008-09-24

A table router would work under some conditions. The table would need to be larger than most commercial table attachments I have seen in hardware stores. And, the operator would need to be very cautious to keep the work firmly pressed against the fence at all times. The least movement away from the fence would put a round indentation in the otherwise smooth face of the board to be glued. Even hitting a little bit of some tougher grain could cause the work to jump a little and create a problem. The sanding drum does not easily do that so long as the cuts are light. But, the overall principle would be the same with a table router. It is just a little more tricky to make it work. By the way, it is not that difficult to make a good table for a router.

gfixler (author)Phil B2008-09-25

I've been using a table router setup for joining work for a few months now, and the results are fantastic. Granted, it's a killer router Porter Cable 7518 with a great lift in a giant table w/ a great positioning system and a good 1/2" shank bit, but I think the idea is sound. I use a nice, meaty pushblock to hold wood down and firmly against the fence and like you I'm getting totally invisible seams in panels I've made with 1/8" through 5/8" thickness.

I wanted to say"nicely done," too! I have a drill press with a sacrificial plate that I drilled a big hole in so I could drop a drum sanding bit in, but instead of a single board in front of the piece - as you show here (smart!) - I tried to set up a split fence by clamping 2 boards down. I had the outfeed 'fence' flush with the front of the drum bit, and the infeed jogged back slightly. That's how I do it on the router - flush the outfeed, drop the infeed back a whisker. It was too hard to align my boards well, though, and even with some powerful Bessey Tradesman clamps, the vibration of the drill press and my pressing firmly into the fence wiggled things out of true. I got lousy results. I'll have to try your method if/when I use this technique again. Thanks for sharing!

threesixesinarow (author)gfixler2008-09-26

I made a two-piece fence like that for my router, too, it's nice for end grain but now I mostly use a hand plane with a old fence attachment. I try to avoid putting too much sideways pressure on my bench drill press spindle because of the chuck but if the table pivots you can make very small adjustments using the technique described here by positioning it slightly off center from the spindle so by rotating the table and fence you can change the thickness.

gfixler (author)threesixesinarow2008-09-26

I still don't know how people use hand planes. I've tried a few in my life, and regardless of how I hold them, or how I adjust or sharpen the blade, I always get terrible tearing and chattering. I haven't managed a nice, clean shaving from birch, nor even pine. Maybe hand planing needs an instructable?

Phil B (author)gfixler2008-09-27

Is there the slightest possibility you could have the blade upside down in the plane? It sounds too obvious to mention, but I remember doing it once when I was much younger. Also, you want to plane with the grain, not against it. If people are using hand planes to joint boards, lay the two boards on a table arranged as they will be glued. Then turn one over and press it against the other so that the edges to be glued are both up. Place the two in a vise and plane both at the same time. Any irregularities are supposed to compliment each other. The exception would be if you removed more material from the middle of the boards than from the ends.

gfixler (author)Phil B2008-09-28

I doubt it. The blade came in it that way, and it's bottom is parallel to the wood surface, meaning it's definitely cutting. I've managed to get some long ribbons, but they're all ugly, and they were very chattery to cut. I had clamped a 3/4" birch board vertically on edge in a big drill press vise, and clamped that to a workbench. I was running with the grain along the thin edge. Maybe the blade just isn't sharp enough. I'm actually considering getting a WorkSharp, as it might open up the doors of proper block plane usage finally, as well as letting me sharpen up chisels and other things.

rar (author)gfixler2009-05-15

First ever reply but could not resist. I was never able to produce decent results with my plane until I bought a WorkSharp 3000. I always thought hair shaving sharpening results were just bragging but I can shave with my plane iron and chisels now if I so desired. You will be amazed at how easy planing and chisel work is with a very sharp edge. Good luck with your woodworking.

gfixler (author)rar2009-05-15

That's funny, rar. Since that comment, I actually got a WS3k, too! I sharpened up a bunch of chisels, and the difference was incredible. It went from me needing a hammer to drive the chisels enough to shave anything off at all, and then it was a mess of shredded wood, to literally being able to casually plane a 2x4 with one hand, and no fighting, and the finish was better than sanded.

The alert for your comment confused me, because I was just talking planes and sharpening in another forum elsewhere, and we had a similar conversation. That person wholeheartedly recommended Hack's Handplane Book. I'm going to pick it up soon.

Phil B (author)gfixler2008-09-25

Shortly after I got my radial arm saw I experimented with straight knives in a molding head. Like you, I set up a two part fence arranged like that on a jointer. I could never get the outfeed fence adjusted just right. I do not remember, but I guess that must have been before I bought a sanding drum for the saw. From experience I am nervous about a setup where pressure has to be employed to keep the work from vibrating into the router bit. I would be more comfortable with an arrangement that makes the router more like a power planer. The bit can go into the work only as far as the guide attached to the router base allows. That could be augmented with a straight fence clamped over the work. The router guide would ride on that fence. It could never cut too deeply. Maybe I can make a drawing and post it on this Instructable as an update image.

gfixler (author)Phil B2008-09-25

I agree that it's probably a little risky on lighter duty router tables. I'm remembering all of the troubles I had on my old cheap Ryobi router and its pressboard + stamped metal legs. This thing is kind of monster, though - one of my most outlandish gifts to myself ever :) - and the split fence w/ the precision positioning system basically turns it into a pretty solid little jointer. The power of the router, and the quality of some good bits I've gotten means it cuts through so much more easily, too. I get no cupping on the edges of the boards, even when you look down them at a diffused light source. They're about 220 grit smooth, maybe slightly higher. There's no vibration. It's not a planer, though, and I'm missing not having one of those. I have a thickness planer, but you need a fairly flat reference face for those. I tried to take the warps out of some boards with it, but it just pushes them flat, planes them, then they spring back up once they pass the rollers, thinner, but still warped. Also, I'm absolute crap with a hand planer :(

paddyofurniture (author)2008-10-23

Be so kind as to move the photo out of the way of the text, will you?

Phil B (author)paddyofurniture2008-10-23

In my browser the photo (graphic) and the text are widely separated from one another. Could the problem be with your browser or monitor settings? (I assume we are talking about step 3 "The Mandrel" in the Instructable "Joint Boards without a Jointer.") I really cannot tell what it is that is showing up for you as a problem.

Clayton H. (author)Phil B2008-11-18

That hapens to me too! Do you use Internet Exploder? To fix it I just refresh the page.

icurays1 (author)2008-10-07

Good instructable! I only see one real problem with the drum sanding method, being a long time woodworker. Many times when you need to joint a board, neither edge is straight. Using a fence to guide the piece through a tool will make the board parallel - not straight. So if one edge is pretty straight, you'll be fine, you can make the other edge parallel (and thus straight) The idea with a jointer is that you rely on the outfeed side (after the cutter) of the jointer to provide flatness, not the board itself. The router method you outlined works great if you go slowly, take a very thin pass, and have a straight guide piece. You can even buy aluminum clamp-on guides for just this. Another method (besides the 'ol hand plane) is to attach your to-be-jointed piece to a straight piece (with screws or cam clamps) and run it through a table saw. There's also a commercial product for this type of thing.

Phil B (author)icurays12008-10-08

I have worked with pieces on which neither edge was straight. The sanding drum and fence procedure worked fine and the end results were just as good as if one edge had been straight and true. I just took a little off of one side. Then I flipped the piece and took a little off of the other side. After flipping again, I took a little off of the first side. I kept doing this until each side became progressively more straight until both were true. The fence I was using is four feet long (end of a sheet of plywood). Most jointers do not have a fence nearly that long on either the inboard or outboard sides. I have generally avoided fastening a work piece down to a guide with screws because the screw holes would have interfered with the finished look I wanted. I might consider gluing it with a sheet of newsprint inside the glue joint, like when you chuck up something on a lathe faceplate so you can separate it later and sand off evidence of the glue. Anyway, thanks for the comment.

careforapint (author)2008-09-25

Very cool tips, thanks! BTW- I've got (had) that same RAS. It's been recalled and they'll send you $100 for the motor. I've also got a table saw and compound miter saw so I didn't really see a need for my RAS...until I read your post.

Phil B (author)careforapint2008-09-30

I posted my Instructable about how to make worn indexing holes accurate again on a Sears radial arm saw, and it just went up for everyone to see.

Phil B (author)careforapint2008-09-25

Sears sold that radial arm saw from the late 1940's through the late 1960's. I bought mine new in 1972 and have used it heavily enough that I had to replace the motor bearings a few years ago. I have had no other trouble with the motor. I have also replaced the on/off switch. My radial arm saw is to me what a Shopsmith is to other people. I want to post an Instructable about that radial arm saw fairly soon. A long time ago someone told me the metal used to cast the yoke is softer than that which Black and Decker used. In time, they said, the indexing holes would become egg-shaped and if the saw cut correctly on a cross-cut, the blade would heel on rip cuts, etc. Sure enough, mine eventually did, too. I have come up with something fairly simple that, in effect, makes each hole independently adjustable. I hope to do that Instructable in the next couple of weeks.

handidad (author)2008-09-25

One method of using a router for jointing is to first fasten the 2 boards together with a gap that is just lightly narrower than the width of the router bit.. A router attachment that is fastened to a fence would be ideal for this application. The purpose of jointing the 2 boards at the same time is that any irregularities will be mirrored on the other board and then cancel out when they are glued together..

Phil B (author)handidad2008-09-25

I remember reading about this a few years ago in Fine Woodworking magazine. In theory it is supposed to work. In practice there could be some slight variation between the two pieces, if I remember correctly. There is also the problem of the bit hitting a tough area in one work piece that deflects the router a little toward the other work piece. But, I never actually tried it.

handidad (author)Phil B2008-09-27

I also have not tried it. It would only be successful if the router was attached securely to a very strong guide or fence.

jdege (author)2008-09-24

So this is advice for someone who doesn't have a joiner, but does have a drum sander or some other power tool he can adapt into one? Fair enough. But when I read the title, I was expecting advice on techniques for joining using hand planes and sanders. Planing the face of a board with a hand plane can be a lot of work. Planing the edges is pretty simple.

lasersage (author)jdege2008-09-26

Yeh I think perhaps the title should read "Joint boards without a jointer but a whole load of other power tools instead". I love my plane, get you're iron good and sharp and everything will go smoothly. Otherwise, for those with all these power tools a great instructable. Unfortunately I have neither money or space for this sort of set up.

litllejedi (author)2008-09-25

Many thanks for the instructable. I have been after a jointer/planer for some time now but holding back because of cost. I'll be building one of these very soon. I don't have a radial arm saw but I do have a plunge router and drill press that can be adapted to this idea. Time to hit the shop!

Phil B (author)litllejedi2008-09-25

Thanks. There are a variety of equipment arrangements a person could use. The important thing is a sanding drum that does not wobble, a solid table, and a long straight fence. It helps if you can raise or lower the sanding drum to take advantage of the grit on the entire face of the sanding drum. I predict you will be very pleased. It would be a tedious way to joint boards if you were making tabletops everyday. But, for the home woodworker who needs to lay up a panel only now and then and does not have either space or cash for a jointer, it is a great solution.

killerjackalope (author)2008-09-24

Joinery without joiners! Nice job, great results...

Phil B (author)killerjackalope2008-09-24

Thanks. For a long time I seriously coveted a planer/jointer. The sanding drum method may take a little longer, but a fence three to four feet long makes for a much longer than usual plane bed with the result that you get a fine, fine end product. And, the cost of setting it up, especially if you already own a radial arm saw, is quite small.

killerjackalope (author)Phil B2008-09-24

Yeah, the only other method I would tend to use is a bit of a cheat... Using a combination of biscuits and for arguments sake a 35 degree and a 55 degree angle to make it, sometimes I find off 45 degrees can work really well, granted this was because I had minimal tools to hand... This is comparable to the 'proper' method in finish and quality, it really is just the time it takes that's the difference oh and the massively lowered budget factors in there as a plus...

Phil B (author)2008-09-24

I do have a jack plane with about an 8 inch bed. It is really too short for jointing boards to be glued. To do the job right requires a jointing plane with a much longer bed. Those are quite a bit moer expensive. Even then, some care and experience are necessary to get a good joint after the pieces of wood have been glued. Again, the wood shown in the piece of cabinet work is birch. I found the grain has whirls and changes direction so that any kind of cutting knife, whether a router bit or a plane blade frequently kicks up chunks of wood. The sanding drum does not cause that problem.

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