Often, when I rout, plane, or joint stock, especially figured wood, small chunks of wood tear loose from the surface, leaving it as pockmarked as the moon. What should I do differently?

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Q:

Too often, when I rout, plane, or joint stock, especially figured wood, small chunks of wood tear loose from the surface, leaving it as pockmarked as the moon. What should I do differently?
—Bernard Burke, Leslie, Mich.

A:

Before we get into the finer points of avoiding grain tear-out, let's dispense with a few basics. No matter the tool, sharp cutters, light cuts, and slow feed rates will help deter tear-out. When routing end grain on a router table, back the exit end of your cut with sacrificial stock. And always rout the ends of boards first­—often, subsequent edge cuts will clean up any grain tear-out left by the end cuts. If you still experience tear-out, try moving the router or workpiece in the opposite direction as typically recommended. To maintain control over such a "climb cut," remove just a slight amount of material.

And always think of wood grain as if it were cat or dog fur. If you pet the animal "with the grain," so to speak, everything goes smoothly. But stroking in the opposite direction isn't fun for you or the pet, and makes the fur stand up. Similarly, wood grain should be angled as shown in the photos for best results.