Planing Plywood: The Pros, Cons, And Alternatives

Planing wood helps to shape, smooth out, and reduce the thickness of the wood that you are working on. This process is very strenuous on the wood and can result in damage being done. Often though, you will have a beautiful piece of wood as a result. Because plywood is rather thin, we need to look into the process of what planing plywood would look like, the pros and cons, and the alternative solutions that could also result in a beautiful piece of wood.

So, let’s dive into this process of planing your plywood, the pros and cons that could be brought about from planing, and the alternatives that you could resort to ensure that you have a beautiful piece of work. It won’t be an easy process, but it will be a fun one where you will feel a sense of accomplishment from your work.

How To Plane Plywood

Planing plywood will take a lot of patience. Especially with how thin plywood is, you’ll have to go as slow as you can so that you can prevent as many errors as possible. There are two ways that you can plane wood, by either hand planing or using a machine to plane the wood. So let’s go through the steps of how to do both. The longer the body of a plane, the more accurately it will straighten wood, as the length of the body allows the plane to bridge peaks and troughs in the wood’s surface. Shorter planes, however, are often easier to control for precise detail work.

Hand Planing

  • Step 1) Choosing Your Hand Plane:
    • The hand plane that you use is determined by the kind of job that you want to get done. The longer the body of a plane, the more accurately it will straighten wood, as the length of the body allows the plane to bridge peaks and troughs in the wood’s surface. Shorter planes, however, are often easier to control for precise detail work. The longest hand plane is called a Jointer Plane and the shortest that you can choose is a Block Plane. To have more information, do some more research for yourself to see what would be best for you.
  • Step 2) Sharpen The Blade
    • You will need to sharpen the blade regardless of how new the Plane is. To sharpen the blade, you will place a 220 grit piece of wet/dry sandpaper, and hold the blade at a 25 to 30-degree angle. You will then maintain this angle and rub the blade along the sandpaper until a burr appears on the blade. When the burr appears, wipe it away and your blade will be ready to use.
  • Step 3) Adjust The Angle Of The Blade
    • The angle of the blade will determine the thickness of the shavings that will be taken from the wood. You should start at a shallow angle, and then adjust as you go on. You will want to have the blade adjusted to where the tip of the blade protrudes just below the sole of the plane whenever you get to that point.
  • Step 4) Plane The Piece Of Wood
    • After you have the angle of the blade adjusted to your desired depth, it’s time to start planing. To ensure that you are planing correctly have your lead hand on the front knob and apply downward pressure. You will then push the plane forward with your free hand. Push the plane forward in a continuous motion and pay more attention to high or uneven areas. You should also avoid planing directly against the grain, as this will result in the tearing of the wood.
  • Step 5) Check Accuracy Of The Plane
    • After you plane out your piece of wood, use a straight-edge to see if the wood is even. You will do this by seeing if the straight edge sits flush against the face of the wood regardless of its position. If in any position, your straight edge sits on top of the wood in a way where it leaves gaps underneath it, you’ll know that the section of the wood where your straight edge is, is making contact with is a high spot. You will have to plane that spot again until the straight edge is flush perfectly with the piece of wood.

Machine Planing

  • Step 1) The Wood Needs To Have One Flat Surface
    • Surface planers will need the piece or pieces of wood that you’ll be planing to have one flat surface to ensure that it doesn’t damage the machine or piece of wood. If the bottom of the wood isn’t perfectly flat, the planer will maintain this on the top face of the wood. Because of this, you’ll want to use your planer for smoothing wood surfaces only if the flatness of the opposite surface is assured.
  • Step 2) Set The Planer To The Desired Thickness
    • Always start your planer at a shallow cut and then gradually lower the blade as you go on. This will allow you to be able to have the desired thickness and you won’t have to waste any pieces of wood. Some planers also offer an option where you can set a depth that the planer won’t go under. Check your planer to see if you would be able to do this.
  • Step 3) Turn On The Planer And Pass The Wood Through
    • Once you have turned the machine on, carefully feed the wood into the planer in a straight, controlled motion. Once the wood is caught by the rollers of the planer it will start feeding in the wood automatically. Do this until you reach your desired thickness. To track your wood’s progress, before you feed in the piece of wood, mark your desired level of thickness with a pencil. This will make it easier to track where your piece of wood is.
  • Step 4) Pull Up On The Wood To Avoid Snipe
    • Snipe is a condition where the planer’s rollers pull upward on the wood, causing slightly deeper cuts at the edges of the wood than in the middle. To be able to prevent this, slightly pull up on the backside of the wood as it passes through the planer and the front-end as it is coming through. This will help ensure that your wood will be even.

The Pros Of Planing Plywood

Planing wood will be able to help you and your wood projects in a variety of different ways. Here are some of the benefits that come with planing plywood.

  • Time- Using a planer will save you time. As most department stores will take up a lot of your time if you choose to have them finish your pieces of plywood. You would be able to do it within your time frame and get the job done as soon as possible.
  • Patience- Not all of the pieces of wood that you will get are as smooth or precise as you would need. So, this project will definitely help you build your patience and to work on your own time.
  • Money- The lumber companies will usually put premiums on the lumber that they finish, but they won’t on the rougher cut pieces of wood. So, you’ll be saving money on this project by not paying for more than the wood is worth.
  • Custom Board Thickness: You will be able to control how thick your board is. If you mess up, it’s your own fault and you can just move on to another board right away. You wouldn’t have to worry about the store messing anything up which brings peace of mind.
  • Exotic Wood: These pieces of wood will be more regularly found in different cuts and a planer will help you get the thickness to your desired point.

The Cons Of Planing Plywood

Where there are a lot of pros to using a planer, there aren’t very many cons. Let’s quickly go through those.

  • Duplicate Board Defects- If your piece of lumber has a significant dip or lump on the side, it will be reflected by the planer’s cutter blades on the other side of the lumber. That is why it is so important to look at the wood and make sure that there is at least one flat surface on the piece of wood.
  • You Need To Make Multiple Passes- With the depth that the planer is set to, you’ll have to take time to ensure that you achieve desired thickness. This can be time-consuming, so if you wouldn’t want to do this, look for an alternative method.

The Alternative Methods

If you don’t want to use a planer, that is totally fine because I have 4 alternative methods that you could resort to.

  1. A Table Saw– You would have to set up a jig to keep the wood in place which would be a little time-consuming, but you would be able to see results fast after you get the jig set up.
  2. A Router– This would be set up in the same way that you would have to do with the table saw. Have a wooden jig to support the piece of wood and you’ll see results fast.
  3. A Wide Belt Or Drum Sander- Put some heavy grit sandpaper in the sander. You can then feed through the board in the same way as you would to sand it. Just be prepared to spend a bit longer getting your wood to the right depth.
  4. Sandpaper- This would be the last resort because it would take up way too much time, but you would be able to easily control the results you would get from planing the piece of wood.

Ricky Kesler

With all of the projects I've done over the years, you'd think that I work on my house full-time. But I actually enjoy other things like spending time outdoors and time with my family.

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