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Tricks for truing lumber without a jointer

Boards on table saw

No jointer? No problem! You can still mill flat boards with square edges. Your grandad may have reached for a hand plane (see More Resources for a video on flattening boards by hand, on last slide), but today there's an easier way. With a few common power tools, you can use any of these five easy methods for flat boards in no time.

Quick Tip! Before starting, identify any wood distortion with winding sticks: a pair of short, straight lengths of wood or metal, as shown below.

Ruler on board
To identify wood distortion, sight down the length of the board and across the top edges of winding sticks in contrasting colors.

For a cupped board

Cut a pair of straight runners the length of the workpiece and glue them to both edges, as shown at right. After the glue dries, remove the clamps and run the assembly through the planer -- crowned face up. Continue planing until the planer flattens the entire top face of the board. Then, flip the workpiece over and run it through the planer again to flatten that face. Use your tablesaw to rip away the runners and square the edges.

Curve board with clamps
To flatten the board accurately, cover your tablesaw with craft paper and use it as a flat reference surface when attaching the runners.

Curve board thru planer
On roughsawn boards like this one, the flattened area becomes visible as it exits the planer. Make repeated passes until the face is completely flat.

To flatten a twisted board

Make a sled from a scrap of flat plywood or MDF slightly longer and wider than your workpiece. Glue a cleat on the trailing end of the sled to capture the workpiece as it goes through the planer. Using scrapwood wedges held in place with double-faced tape, shim the gaps between the sled and the twisted board to keep it from rocking. Now, run the sled and board through the planer to flatten the top. Remove the workpiece from the sled, place the flattened face down and plane the opposite face.

Board thru planer
Insert shims without tape first. Once you've stabilized the board, remove one shim at a time, apply tape, and return it to its location.

To rip a straight edge on boards

Build this sled and use it as a secure platform. To make a T-slot, use a Forstner bit to drill 3/8"-deep starting holes where shown; then run your router against a straightedge clamped to the sled base and plow the channel between the two holes with a 3/8" straight router bit. Without moving the straightedge, install a T-slot cutter bit and rout the channel.

To use the sled, let the rough edge of the workpiece overhang the sled and secure the workpiece with hold-down clamps (#35283, 800-279-4441, rockler.com). Butt the opposite edge of the sled against your fence and rip the crooked edge away, as shown previous slide, top.

Tablesaw sled

To thick for the tablesaw

use a router, bearing-guided flush-trim bit, and a plywood straightedge instead. As with jointing on the tablesaw, one edge of the workpiece must overhang the straightedge. A 1/16" overhang should be adequate for most boards. Set the cutting depth so that the bearing runs against the straightedge, as shown, then trim the rough edge.

Router against board
If your tablesaw lacks the power to cleanly cut thick stock, use the tablesaw sled as a straightedge to guide a flush-trim bit.

For small, short, or highly figured boards

Prone to tear-out, set up your router table as an edge jointer. This technique also saves time when edge-jointing several pieces because you won't have to clamp a straightedge to each workpiece. To start, install a straight bit in your router table, and then use thin spacers to offset the outfeed side of the table 1/16", as shown right.

More Resources

  • FREE for a limited time: View a video on truing up a board with a hand plane at woodmagazine.com/handplaneflat.
  • For a free trick to help you see your winding sticks, go to woodmagazine.com/windingsticktip.

Cardboard spacer
Place thin cardboard spacers behind your router table's outfeed fence to offset it like a jointer's outfeed table. Space them evenly so the fences remain parallel.

Red bit in center
Adjust the outfeed side of the fence flush with the bit. Remember, this isn't a jointer -- feed stock slowly to minimize tear-out and give the smoothest edge.

Boards on table saw
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