Joint Boards Without a Jointer

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About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

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 Discussions

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    josiahkerley

    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    Phil Bjosiahkerley

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    glorybePhil B

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    josiahkerleyPhil B

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    Phil Bjosiahkerley

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    wilwrk4tls

    8 years ago on Step 6

     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.

    router planer.JPG
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    Phil Bwilwrk4tls

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    Phil BScott_Tx

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    gfixlerPhil B

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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!

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    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.

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    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?

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    Phil Bgfixler

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    gfixlerPhil B

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    rargfixler

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    gfixlerrar

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    Phil Bgfixler

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    gfixlerPhil B

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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 :(

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    Phil Bpaddyofurniture

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

    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.