I start most of my woodwork using rough cut and reclaimed wood. In addition to being cheaper and having more variety, I love rough wood because it's fun transforming messy, plain looking boards into beautiful objects. But before any of that can happen, I have to get the boards flat, straight and square. This instructable is a reference for how I do that, along with tips on how to fix specific defects in wood and how to store the lumber after it's milled.

There are many ways to get wood flat, straight and square - but for this instructable I'm going to stick to using the power jointer, power planer and table saw. I'm fortunate to have access to all these tools at Techshop, San Francisco, so I take full advantage of them. I'll start with an overview of the general process of jointing and planing, then I'll show how to use the jointer and planer to fix specific defects that commonly occur in rough cut wood.

For those without the money to buy all these tools, or the shop space to house them, there are other ways. My favorite woodworking podcaster, The Wood Whisperer, has a great episode about this topic - Episode #6 - The Jointer's Jumpin. He not only talks about the method I will show here, but also demonstrates how to use some other power-tools, including handheld routers, router tables, and the table saws by themselves. You can also use hand planes to clean up wood very effectively, but I'm not yet familiar enough with that technique to write about it.

As always, I'm still a relative newcomer to woodworking - if anyone has any corrections or additional information, please share it in the comments. Just keep the criticism constructive.

Step 1: Face jointing

When buying wood, remember that it came from a once living tree, and continues to act 'alive' even after being cut up. In the face of moisture and humidity wood can swell, shrink, twist and warp in all directions. Everything from reclaimed junkyard wood to the most expensive tropical hardwood can develop the same common defects that get in the way of woodworking projects.

I'll start by talking about the general process of face jointing, edge jointing and planing wood, then I'll talk about how to identify and fix specific types of wood defects, and finally I'll talk about how to treat and store freshly milled wood.

Examine the wood

Before touching the jointer and planer, the first step is to examine the wood, looking for twists, cups, bows, crooked edges and checks. Most boards will have some type of warping or defect, and any given board can suffer from one, two, three, or all of these problems. The best defense is to choose quality boards from the lumberyard to avoid extra work or wasted wood. But even severely warped boards can often be salvaged.

Twists, cups, bows and crooked sides can be fixed on the jointer and planer. The last problem, checks, cannot be fixed. To deal with checks you can either cut away the ends of the board with cracks in them, or choose to fill them with something like wood putty, colored glue or epoxy.

Right now I'm going to give a general overview of using the jointer and planer, then later on I'll address how to identify and fix each type of defect.

Face jointing

  1. Check the fence - the jointer fence should be adjusted so that it's 90 degrees to the jointer table, has enough room to fit the wood being worked, and is locked down so it doesn't move during operation
  2. Set the cut depth for very shallow cuts - I usually take 1/32" - 1/16" cuts. Jointing is very fast, there's no need to hurry by taking deep cuts. Save the deep cuts on the jointer for other tasks, such as shaping bevels or tapers and cutting rabbets.
  3. Place the wood on the jointer so that the grain is facing the same direction as the cut (closeup diagram). There is a saying to remember this - "pet the cat". Think of petting an animal, they are happy when you pet the same direction their fut naturally grows, but get angry when you pet them backwards.
    • Cutting a board against the grain doesn't make it angry, but it can cause dangerous kickback and tear out chunks of wood.
    • Some types of wood (curly wood, burls) don't have one grain direction. For these types of wood, just take very shallow and careful cuts.
  4. Turn on the machine and let up come up to full speed
  5. Keep steady pressure on the front and back of the board throughout the cut, it's nice to use a push stick (pictured) that can both hold the board down and push it forward at the same time. But keep your hands away from the cutters - imagine a small bubble just over the cutters themselves and don't touch that space.
  6. Continue to cut just one face until it's flat, then move onto edge jointing


Tips & Safety

  • Why use a jointer + planer, why not joint both faces? - Jointing both faces would make both of them flat, but not parallel. If both faces aren't exactly parallel to start with, then jointing both of them will only reinforce the existing defect. Jointing one face gives you a flat reference to use for the planer - the planer will cut the second face parallel to the first.
  • Don't joint wood shorter than 12" or thinner than 3/8" without special methods for workholding
  • Keep hands away from the cutters - imagine a ~3" bubble all around the cutters, and avoid that area. If using push sticks for downward pressure, lift up the push sticks as they pass over the cutters.
  • If material gets stuck, don't push it - stop the machine, extract the material and try again - perhaps with a smaller cut
  • If your planer has a power-feed, be careful when feeding the board into the planer. Sometimes the power rollers can snap the board down against the table very hard - don't keep your fingers under the board.
<p>PT 2 x 10 deck steps have cupped :( can't I just wet them down and flip them over?</p>
Excellent info, thanks for sharing. <br> <br>Some years ago I read in a woodturning site that before put in the lathe a piece of wood, sometimes is a good idea to boil it 2 or 3 hours and leave to dry. IT IS TRUE, I turned some pieces omitting that step and other doing it, and the result is awesomely in pro the boiling. Lastly I am using the microwave oven, I put hot water into a plastic container, then the block of wood, over it a heavy stone to dip it, and give it some minutes to boil. After that leave the water cool, and put the wood in a shadowy place 2 or 3 days to dry. <br> <br>Doing this, he wood releases internal tensions and gets its final form.
Good thought. Similar to stress relieving steel products. <br>Que bueno, Osvaldo!
Thanks, Bill. This is particularly true for hard wood. You can see at a glance the difference before/after the boiling. Maybe the few cases I worked was specially bad cured wood, maybe not.
Mi vecino era un trabajador de la madera, que muri&oacute; el a&ntilde;o pasado. Su esposa me dio su torno. Todav&iacute;a no he aprendido a utilizarlo.<br><br>Un abrazo.<br>Bill<br><br>My neighbor was a woodworker, he died last year. His wife gave me his lathe. I have not yet learned to use it. <br><br>A hug<br>Bill<br><br>
UGGGHHH, &iexcl;c&oacute;mo te envidio, Bill! <br> <br>Uggghhh, how I envy you, Bill!
Ha, interesting! Never would have thought of that. I'm just getting into wood turning and experimenting with different things - perhaps I'll give that a try.
This is very informative. I appreciate all the research you did prior to posting/creating this instructible.
Great instructable! Really well written. <br> <br>Found the bit on fixing twisted boards particularly helpful...something I've always struggled with.
Thanks. Yeah, I buckled down and researched this topic after struggling through a project using some twisted lumber.
Ah! Good tip on not pushing the center of the board. I was trying to joint a bowed board this week and after half a dozen passes it was still bowed, only half as thick!
Yup, I too learned the hard way. Basically, if it has a problem and you try to muscle it flat through the jointer, it will come out with the same problem - just thinner.
You have put a very nice tutorial together... Nice work.
Thank you!

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Bio: I'm a long time tinkerer and lover of Instructables, but recently I joined Techshop in San Francisco, and decided to really get creative. Right ... More »
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