Sticking with the theme from Michael’s guest spot last week, let’s talk about preparing rough stock for joinery.
One of my most favorite things to do in the world is plane a piece of wood S2S (i.e., Surfaced Two Sides) by hand. Going from rough stock to two perfectly straight, perfectly square sides entirely by hand is such a joy. A face mark, then a square mark and some arrows to indicate grain direction. Onto the next board!
One of my least favorite things to do in the world is plane a piece of wood S4S by hand. Going from two sides perfectly straight, perfectly square to four square entirely by hand is such a pain. And that is why I still own and often use a thickness planer (it lives at my parents’ house), even though I do mostly hand tool woodworking.
On thicker stock like the above Douglas Fir which is for a miniature workbench for my niece and nephew (more on that another time), it is so convenient to send the S2S boards through the thicknesser to clean up the remaining sides. Then just a quick smoothing plane to take out any plane marks and I’m good to go. On thinner stock, I’ll actually thickness just one face (making it S3S?) and use the traditional method to square the final side.
I quickly came to realize that when thicknessing it’s imperative to know grain direction. Tear-out from power planing is so much worse than tear-out from all but the heaviest set hand plane. That’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of indicating grain direction on all my S2S boards. Keeping track of which way to pass a board through the thicknesser can mean the difference between a light pass just to square up a side and having to mill down another 1/4 inch to get to clear grain (or, even worse, having to mill another board entirely).
My thickness planer may be an hour and a half round trip drive away (plus the time for milling), but it ultimately saves me time and frustration. And that is good enough for me.