How to plane end grain
The challenge of Planing the end grain of a piece of wood has for centuries been every woodworker’s nightmare. The reason why many woodworkers hate to plane end grain is because of the endless splitting of the wood. With a little bit of knowledge, the process of planing end grain can be a breeze. With a little ingenuity and some techniques explained in this tutorial you’ll find and the skill of planing the end grain of a piece of wood simple. Read this tutorial to the end and you should be enlightened on the process of planing the end grain of a piece of wood.
Choosing a hand plane for planing end grain?
You can use a number 4 Stanley Bailey smoothing or even an old wooden ‘Coffin Plane’ for this job but you’ll find it much easier to use a low angle block pain with an adjustable foot. With a low angle block plane, you can sharpen it to a much finer edge. The lower angle and the blade in the opposite way round and you can easily peel away the wood.
These two types of hand planes are very much different. They are different in many ways one fundamental difference is the orientation of the plane iron.
Bevel up or bevel down plane iron?
- Bevel down plane iron Has the bevel mounted on the underside of the plane iron and usually packed with a chip breaker.
- Bevel-up plane iron is mounted with the bevel on the top side and normally there is no chip breaker.
What plane to choose for planing end grain
The low angle block plane has the bevel up which is contradictory to the number 4 smoothing plane which has as the bevel down. The old wooden coffin plane is an early variation of the traditional smoothing plane. Hand planes used to always be made out of wood but even today you can still buy or make wooden hand planes. Wooden hand planes are usually made out of some fruitwood or Beech sometimes with a metal fore sole.
The common Stanley Bailey number 4 smoothing plane would have a cutting angle of 45° no matter what the ground bevel is on the plane iron. This applies to most standard bevel down bench planes. So the angle of the plane iron is determined purely by the angle of the Frog which holds the plane iron.
The low angle block plane is different because the bevel is up. To determine the cutting angle? you need to know the angle of the plane bed and the Grind angle of the plane iron. So, if you’re plane bed angle is 12° and your bevel angle is 25°. The cutting angle is the multiplication of these two angles so in this case, it is 37°.
So the cutting angle of the low angle block plane isn’t that different from the smoothing plane. I believe the main difference between these two planes is the adjustable mouth in the sole of the low angle plane. Another difference is that the bevel up the shaving can leave the blade without any obstruction from the chip breaker.
You’ll have to choose which sort of plane you would prefer to use to smooth the end grain of your timber. Both planes have their merits but if you’ve already got a smoothing plane you would probably be happy just to use that. The smoothing plane for planing end grain does need to be very sharp and tuned well.
My’How To Video’ of planing end grain wood without annoying splitting.
let’s plane some end grain
Use a sacrificial piece of wood
This method is done in The woodworkers vice. The concept is is is that the sacrificial piece of wood becomes the wood that splits instead of your workpiece. Place your workpiece in your woodworkers vice with the sacrificial piece of wood behind it. Make sure that the sacrificial piece of wood is flush with the workpiece. Using a hand plane make passes across the timber at a slight angle. Making sure to pass over the workpiece and the sacrificial piece of wood. Any splintering of the wood should occur only on the sacrificial piece of wood.
Please note that your hand plane must be extremely Sharp. A blunt plane will just jump across the timber and not make clean end grain shavings.
Homemade shooting board for end grain 90° and 45°.
The shooting board is also very nice to use and it helps by guiding the plane across the end of the piece of wood. These aren’t the sort of things that you buy off the shelf but something that you can make yourself. My shooting board doesn’t only work with end grain at 90-degree but also I have it set so it can do 45 degrees as well.
Shoot end before width?
This can be a simple solution but does create a little waste. Simply just make some passes across the end grain first. You will get some breakout but this will be removed when you trim your workpiece to width.
Shoot end grain in the opposite direction
Like the title says, shoot the end grain in both directions so not to exit the board and break fibres. This is fine for work that does not need accuracy as it can be difficult to true the end grain with this method.
Prime end grain with Cascamite wood glue
Use Cascamite to bond endgrain. This suggestion may sound odd to some hard line traditional woodworkers. I have experimented with the concept of prepping the endgrain before planing with ‘Cascamite Powdered Resin Woodglue’.
- Mix Cascamite to a paste as per our Cascamite mixing video
- Thin the glue mixture with water
- Soak the end grain of the timber with the Cascamite solution
- Allow the glue to harden
- Plane the end grain with a sharp low angle block plane.
How it works?
The Urea Formadahide Cascamite bonds the pores and fibres of the timber to be planed. This prevents the fibres from breaking away from the timber. The Cascamite also hardens the wood. The concept works similar to applying masking tape to a cute line to prevent break out.
No matter how great your tools are you will need to Hone your sharpening technique (excuse the pun). Sorry, but if you don’t manage to get a fine edge then you will fail at the first hurdle. Don’t despair as with some practice and following a few rules you too will get satisfaction from your efforts.
By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989
Woodworking for me is in my blood as a son of a traditional boatbuilder. My Father Malcolm Kett was highly skilled and inventive individual often referred to as ‘Malcolm The Boat’.
Although I have spent a considerable portion of my life seeking further education and gaining qualifications in woodworking, electrical installations, bricklaying and to top it a degree in photography.
Yes, it is a medley of possible career choices but the one that I felt truly at home with was Woodworking. Woodworking has been my staple career choice that has given my family stability.
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By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989
Based in the Nouvelle Aquitaine of France
Tel: +33 7 81 45 32 82