Joint Boards Without a Jointer

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Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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37 Comments

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 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.

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.

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

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.

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!