Joint the Unjointables

4 simple ways to work around your jointer

Before starting any project, you first have to prepare your stock. You know the drill: flatten a face, plane to thickness, joint an edge, rip to width, joint the sawn edge, and, finally, cut to length. Since the first face and edge serve as reference for every other step, getting them right matters.

Typically, flattening and straightening is done at the jointer, but special cases come along. How, for instance, do you safely and successfully joint a board that measures a meager 12" in length, or one that’s too wide for your planer, or a piece of wild-grained wood that tears as you machine it? Over the next few pages, you’ll learn techniques to rehabilitate these “unjointables” and turn shop clutter into shop projects.

Face-joint big boards with a router

While face-jointing boards of average size poses no problem if you own a jointer and a planer, extra wide stock does. Sometimes you can’t bear to rip the wide stock, such as a treasured piece of crotch walnut, into narrower widths to fit a 6" jointer. And you surely don’t want to saw up a big slab set aside for a rustic bench. 

For oversized stock, turn to your router, a dishing bowl bit, and a simple jig, like the one shown above.

This jig consists of a base and a bridge. To make the base you can screw into, simply clamp a piece of ¾" MDF or plywood  to your benchtop. Place the workpiece on the base and tack it down with a few screws angled through each end. Insert wedges between the workpiece and base to keep the stock from rocking while you’re routing.

Make a pair of rails about 8" to 10" longer and ½" wider than the thickness of the board you plan to surface. (Joint the rails straight because any inaccuracy will telegraph to the workpiece.) Attach a ¾ × 1" cleat to each rail. Now screw the rail assemblies to the base, leaving a 2" to 3" gap between the rails and workpiece so that the router bit can enter and exit the cut without chewing up the rails.

Finally, build the bridge. The bridge, which rides atop the rails, amounts to nothing more than an extra long router base. The overall length of the bridge needs to be twice the distance in between the rails. The width of the bridge is determined by the base size of your router. Use ½" plywood for the bottom and screw on 1 × 3" hardwood rails to form the sides. This combination makes the bridge strong enough to resist any flexing.

To use the face-jointing jig, set your router bit to a depth of 1/8" and methodically work back and forth, taking full-width cuts. Listen to your router and don’t overtax it. It will take time but a flat-jointed face will begin to appear. Sand the resulting surface with a random-orbit sander.

Flattening A Workbench

The rails-and-bridge surfacing technique can be easily adapted to flatten and/or restore the top of your workbench benchtop.

To set the rails, first screw a pair of 2 × 4" cleats to the bottom edges of the benchtop as shown. Next set the rails perfectly parallel to each other and to the bench. Start by leveling your workbench across its top. (If the benchtop is twisted, strike an average.) Next, screw one rail to its cleat and use clamps to temporarily hold the other in place. Using a level laid across the two rails, adjust the clamped rail until it sits level with the other. Do this in several locations and recheck. Once you positioned the clamped rail, screw it in place, remove the clamps, and start jointing the surface.

Face-joint smaller boards with a planer

Outriggers are simply wood strips glued to the edges of the workpiece. With a wide board that exceeds the capacity of your jointer, the outriggers establish a flat reference face along the bottom, so that the cutterhead can flatten the top face. With short boards, the outriggers “stretch” the stock’s length to safely feed it through a planer.

Make the outriggers out of 3/4" hardwood stock sized 1/4" taller than the thickness of the board to be jointed. For pieces of wood less than 12" in length, cut the outriggers 18" long to prevent snipe at workpiece ends. To mount the outriggers, clean up the edge of the board with a hand plane, jointer, or table saw enough to make a passable glue joint. If necessary, position a few wood strips underneath the board to center it on the outriggers during glue-up (Photo A). This ensures that the outriggers are in full contact with the bed of the thickness planer and not a warped corner or bowed face of the board. (If the board is cupped, orient the cup upward for the same reason.) Most importantly, use a flat reference surface such as the cast-iron top of your table saw when gluing up to make sure that the outriggers are perfectly parallel.

Run the outrigger and board combination through the planer (Photo B), using light cuts, so the pressure of the feed rollers doesn’t press down and distort the board. With longer stock, saw off the outriggers once you establish a jointed face, and plane the opposite face.

    When face-jointing short boards, I remove the outriggers after planing the second face. At this point, the thin strips aren’t working to keep the piece flat, but help prevent kickback and reduce snipe.

Shim the workpiece so that the planer’s infeed and outfeed rollers reference against the outriggers. Use a flat work surface to ensure that the strips are parallel.

Outriggers make your planer think your stock is flatter than it is. Remove the strips from long boards before planing the opposite face. If the stock is shorter than 12", keep the strips attached to prevent kickback.

By keeping the plane perpendicular to the work, this long shooting boards does for edges what shorter shooters do for ends. Just make sure that the blade is square to the side.

Shoot the edges of short stock with a plane

Manufacturers warn against running stock less than 12" in length across a jointer. The end of a short board can unexpectedly tip into the cutterhead, causing a dangerous situation. Thankfully, you have a safe alternative—a hand plane.

One of the challenges of jointing with a hand plane is producing an edge that is consistently 90° to the face. The shooting board solves this challenge by maintaining that relationship. The plane rides on its side along the base of the jig as you hold the stock being jointed against a stop on the table board as shown in Photo C.

Of course you’ll need to “arm” your shooting board with the properly sized hand plane. A rule of thumb is that a plane can joint a board that’s two to two and a half times the length of the sole. For the shooting board shown in Figure 1, I used a No. 5 because it has length and mass for smooth and accurate jointing.

Edge-joint tough boards with a table saw

Sometimes my hand plane and jointer can’t make the cut when they encounter tough, gnarly wood or a severely irregular edge. For those times, I rely on a table saw, a jointing sled, and the right saw blade as shown in Photo D.

A jointing sled works by holding the board tightly in place and allowing the table saw to cut a straight and accurate edge on the board as the edge of the sled registers off the saw’s fence. To prevent splintering on the board’s lower edge, set the table saw’s fence so that the saw blade rips a whisper off the jointing sled. Once you establish the good edge, remove the board from the jig and the jig from the saw table, and then rip the remaining edge with the board’s good edge running against the fence.

Use a jointing sled and your table saw to cut clean accurate edges on tough-grained boards, and, when needed, to remove wane.

As shown in Figure 2, the jig consists of a carrier board, an adjustable fence, toggle-clamp hold-downs (#143933), 5/16"-18 five-star knobs (#142224), and 1/4" T-track (#149081). If you let the ends of the board extend past the jig ends, you can use the jig with boards measuring as long as 5'. The adjustable fence allows you to joint board widths up to 11" on the table saw.

With a well-adjusted saw, you’ll be able to make a straight cut with any blade, but if you want a glue-up-ready edge, you’ll need the right blade. A premium-quality combination blade such as the Forrest 40T Woodworker II ATB sawblade (#85N52) will do the trick quite nicely.

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