Tame Tear-Out in Figured Wood
Use a drum sander
If you don't own a drum sander and you work often with figured wood, consider getting one because abrasives don't lift the wood surface like the knives on a jointer or planer will. A drum sander slowly reduces the thickness of a figured workpiece without tearing out the grain. Most sanders built for the home shop will only remove about 1⁄64 " with each pass, but the results will be worth the wait. (You'll still need to flatten one face first on a jointer, but the sander will clean up any minor tear-out.)
Prices for home-shop, 16" models begin around $800, but you can find 10" and 12" machines, like the one shown below, for around $500. Not cheap, but you'll probably find yourself using a drum sander on most projects, figured wood or not. If you don't think you'll use one often enough to justify the cost, pay a local cabinet shop to run your material through its drum or wide-belt sander.
If you're not ready to go the drum sander route, don't despair. You can still dimension figured wood sans tear-out using your jointer and planer. Machines with helical or spiral carbide cutterheads, shown center, cut cleanest because they shear the wood at a skewed angle, compared to the head-on attack of straight knives. Although no benchtop planers have helical or spiral cutters, many 15" or larger planers do. Jointers, on the other hand, are available with these special cutters as options on 6" and larger models. You can buy replacement cutterheads, starting at $250, that retrofit most jointers. Contact your machine's manufacturer to find one.
Don't rip out those curls
Low-cost options can also pay dividends. Merely replacing or sharpening your machine's knives will reduce tear-out, as shown center, but you'll also need to use the slowest feed rate possible (whether determined by the machine or your hand-fed rate) to allow the sharp knives to take smaller bites. In addition, remove the wood in 1⁄64 " increments. Finally, when possible, run the workpiece through the machine at an angle.