Can You Plane Wood Across the Grain?


Planing wood may sound simple, but it requires proper grain reading for the right action. Are you planing your wood across the grain? You might want to avoid doing it now, and here’s why.

Wood planing requires a better understanding of the grain on your lumber. You can’t plane wood across the grain because it may cause chip out, and may ruin its quality. So, you’d want to plane with the direction where grain rises. You can also mark the cathedral pattern, and always start wood planing against the tip of it – either at the bottom or side.

When it comes to planing wood, technique matters. So, we’ve listed some tips to help you with plane your wood for your next project. 

What Is Wood Planing?

It is the process used to flatten, reduce thickness, and smoothen the surface of rough lumber. Wood Planing is also for creating horizontal, vertical, or inclined flat surfaces on workpieces that are too large for shaping. For each specific shape, there’s a particular Hand Plane tool that can do the job accurately.

How to Read Grain on Wood?

How to Read Grain on Wood

You can see the beauty and appeal of the wood on its grain. It is the longitudinal arrangement of wood fibers resulting in a pattern. Each lumber has its own identity, diversity, and uniqueness that you can see through its grain. However, misreading the grain can result in ruining its elegance.

It also helps in achieving a smoother surface. The problem arises because there are times when a grain changes direction on a single board, or it’s not always visible.




1. Determine the Grain Direction on the Edge

You have to understand the orientation of rays, vessels, and figures on the edge of the wood. Aside from fibers, these are the major components making up the wood’s core. There are different ways, but you can start with its rays, vessels, and figures. These rays, vessels, and figures have the same direction as the wood fibers. Hence, they are indicators of the grain direction as well.

  • Rays. These are the tiny patch of colors. They also are the wood cells that shed from the core of a tree to its border. It looks like a series of small and long mark going in the same direction, which indicates the course of the grain.
  • Vessels. They appear as long and open tubes on the edge of the board. They seem like small, open pores aligning with the direction of the grain. However, both rays and vessels may sometimes not visible to the naked eye because of their microscopic structure.
  • Figures. It is the actual grain or pattern lines that you can see at the open edge of the wood. It occurs when the annular growth rings intersect with the surface of the board.

Inspecting rays, vessels, and figures are an excellent way to help in determining the right direction, whether it’s for cutting or smoothing the wood surface. No matter how small these components may be, they are essential in deciding the right action.

2. Mark Your Cathedral Pattern

It’s Cathedral Pattern because it’s almost similar to the shape of a cathedral. Woods usually have upward, downward and oval-shaped cathedral patterns. In the case of either upward and downward cathedral pattern, start wood planing in the direction where the model points. On the other hand, oval-shaped cathedrals have two tips.

So, you need to plane the wood at approximately 7 degrees angle to avoid hitting the tip of the pattern. Otherwise, you may accidentally rip off the grain causing chip out. It is essential to avoid the scenario wherein the blade of the hand plane hits the tip of the cathedral pattern first. It prevents tear-out and ruining the lumber. 




3. Follow the Rising Grain Toward the Edge

If ever you have smaller wood wherein cathedral patterns are not visible, you’ll probably have lines. These linear patterns will still show you the direction of the grain. Look closely at first, and start wood planing from the bottom going to the course that the lines rise towards the edge. Doing it in the opposite direction can also cause tear outs.

Types of Wood Plane and Their Use

There are so many types of wood planes today. Technology advancement may be one of the reasons for evolving planing wood tools, but it may be because of various applications.

Types of Wood Plane

To know and be familiar with its different kinds, here’s a simple demonstration. Let’s begin with the two major types. The simple Hand Planes, and Powered Hand Planes.




1. Powered Hand Planes

Powered Hand Planes are almost the same as the traditional hand plane, except that it uses electric. There are some advantages of using them like the ease of use, more accuracy, and less use of human power. 

A power planer is perfect for massive wood and can do the job in less time. It comes in handy and huge machines. Regardless of the size, the function of smoothing the wood surface remains the same.

2. Traditional Hand Planes

Traditional Hand Planes is a tool for shaping wood, wherein it requires muscle power to run over the lumber’s surface. Even with the creation of powered devices, most woodworkers still prefer these Hand Planes because of fine-scale planing. It gives them more control in smoothing the wood.




Categorization of Traditional Hand Planes By Materials Used

Identifying the different hand planes is a lot easier in categorization. For example, some manufacturers classify hand planes based on their materials. It helps in picking the right kind of Hand Plane.

  • Wooden Plane. It is entirely wood wherein it holds an iron blade. A wooden plane is the most proficient plane for woodworking.
  • Metal Plane. It is 100 percent made of metal. Plus, it has a considerable advantage when it comes to mechanisms and control. 
  • Transitional Plane. The equal mix of both wood and metal plane. It features a wooden body, with a metal casting to hold and adjust the blade.
  • Infill Plane. Another combination of wood and metal, which has a metal body filled with dense hardwood that holds the blade. It is perfect for smoothing difficult-grained woods.

Categorization of Traditional Hand Planes By Purpose

Another way of understanding the various types of hand planes is to classify them based on their use. Hand planes are for flattening, smoothing, and shaping wood. So, these are its classification based on their purpose.

  • Scrub Plane. It is approximately 9 inches long, which removes wood residue quickly. As the name suggests, it scrubs off a large number of wood chips rapidly — the shortest and most stringent type of wood planes.
  • Jack Plane. It is 14 inches in length and highly accurate in flattening the wood. When it comes to smoothing, it is more efficient and precise than scrub planes.
  • Jointer Plane. This 22-inch long tool is perfect for the jointing and final flattening of the lumber.
  • Smoothing Plane. It is around 10 inches long suitable for preparing the surface of the wood for the final finishing. It is desirable to use this on smoothing the edges of the lumber.
  • Polish Plane. It is a traditional Japanese plane for smaller shaving to create a highly smooth surface.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What Is the Difference Between a Jack Plane and a Smoothing Plane?

Usually, a Smoothing Plane is more suitable if you want to have a glassy finish. It prepares the lumber to have that kind of texture. On the other and, a Jack Plane is a bit larger and ideal for early smoothing stages in straightening the wood for jointing.

What Is Edge Grain or Vertical Grain Lumber?

The edge grain is what you will see on the open end of the wood, while the vertical grain is on its face. Edge grain dictates the vertical grain, but the first one is sometimes too small to be seen by naked eyes. So, most woodworkers prefer to look at the vertical grain.

What Angle Do You Sharpen a Plane?

Lower angle means sharper for your plane blade; however, the edge becomes less durable. Overall, 30 degrees bevel angle is ideal for a plane blade.

Final Words

Reading grains of wood is almost like a guessing game when it comes to inspecting the edge. However, you can increase the odds of wood planing with proper knowledge. It’s better if you can identify the grain direction through wood cells at the edge.

If you can’t, base it on the pattern on its face. Avoid planing wood across the grain as much as possible because it can cause tear outs. It is about studying the board, listening and feeling your wood, and making mid-course corrections whenever needed.

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