TedsWoodworking Plans and Projects

Great Techniques Using A Thickness Planer

planer photoI know, I know. Why did I call the planer by its real name, a thickness planer? Just to be more specific. Most individuals start out planing like I did, just put the wood in and let the machine do its thing – cut the wood down. But there really are techniques to planing to get the best plaining job possible. Here are a few.

These techniques are going to help you to prevent or lessen ridges, tearout, and even snipe. Let’s start with explaining exactly what these things are.

Tearout happens any time that you run the lumber through your planer and the wrong end is going forward. So instead of cutting the wood only, the planer knives catch the fibers on the wood as they rise, and it actually tears them. When using rough lumber you can tell which end to feed into the planer by simply running your hand across the board. If you run your hand across the board and it smooths the fibers out, then this is the end needing to be fed into the planer.

Sometimes no matter what direction you feed into the planer the board will still have some tearout, but you want to minimize it by feeding it the best direction forward. Another way to prevent tearout though is to take smaller amounts off of each pass. I recommend only taking off 1/32 of an inch on each pass, but that really depends on the type of lumber you are running. Cypress and cedar are softer, so their tearout is going to be different than say a hardwood like oak.

Wood that isn’t rough cut though can’t be checked this way. A good rule of thumb then is to inspect the grain on the board. If you are planing the wider surface of the board, check the grain on the sides, or on the narrow edge. Find out which direction the grain runs. Make sure to feed the board in the direction of the grain on the edge and not go against the grain. Of course, you have grain patterns at times that run both ways, so just go with the more prominent one.

Snipe is something that many of us know about but just don’t know it by name. Once you feed the lumber into the planer and also when it is leaving, you can get a gouge on the end of the board. The sound is that of it barely touching the planer knives, skipping past them.

Some say to get less snipe to leave an extra 5-6 inches on the end of each board and just cut the snipe out after it is planed. But this is a waste of lumber! That would be around a foot of lumber you would be cutting off of every board, and we don’t want to do that. So what can you do?

There are planers out there that have a mechanism on the outfeed that will hold the lumber down as it comes out and prevents snipe. But if you don’t have this mechanism, here is what can be done. When feeding a board into the planer push down on the end as it enters the machine. If you do this it will prevent the lumber from popping up and hitting the planer knives. When it pops up it takes a second for it to level out, and by then it is too late. Snipe will occur.

So use this trick. It works most of the time. If you are planing multiple boards, feed one board against the other as they go in. But the first board use a piece of dunnage that is the same thickness as the boards you are planing. Then butt a short piece of dunnage for the final board. If you are planing just one board, still have one piece of dunnage in the front and one that follows in the back of the board. All of the snipe will go to the dunnage instead of the piece you want.

What is happening is the planer is treating it all as one long board, so the snipe will be eliminated or at the very least, minimal. These are just a few methods of eliminating problems on your “thickness” planer. The video below will demonstrate how to run the dunnage fron to back to prevent the snipe:


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Ted Leger –


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Updated: December 11, 2014 — 10:21 pm
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