Friday, June 27, 2014

V.26 - Yes, a ‘snipe hunt’ is a real thing.

Ok, so we’ve talked about planers, what they will do and what they won’t...what causes the biggest problem (and it really is a simple solution). Now this time, we get to talk about one of the biggest pains in the you-know-where.

This week I’d like to introduce you to one of the most frequent problems of a planer. Snipe. Yes, it really IS called that…among other things. The basic symptom is that after the board has been run through the planer, the thickness of the ends is thinner than the middle of the board. Remembering that the purpose of a planer is to make the board the same thickness in all areas, Snipe is not an acceptable outcome.

Snipe can also be known as ‘cut out’; ‘dip out’; ‘notching’- names like that.

Essentially tho, one looks at the board surface and sees where, for the first few inches and usually the last few inches, the knives have made a deeper cut than they do on the rest of the board. For the purpose of our discussion, we’re going to limit ourselves to lunchbox planers that do not have bed rollers. [Bed rollers, which are mostly found on industrial planers. create other situations that we aren’t ready to talk about].

Alright, so you’ve sent a board thru and you see and feel snipe on the ends of the board. The first thing to realize is that this is being caused by the head of the planer rising as the board gets underneath both feed rollers. Again, we’re talking about lunchbox planers that usually are pretty simple- they have a fixed bed and a movable head. The head moves up and down to adjust the thickness of the cut.

So what happens- as the board is placed on the bed and pushed into the planer, the infeed roller grabs it and pulls it in, about 2 inches into the planer, the board runs underneath the knives and starts being cut. About 2 inches after that, the board runs underneath the outfeed roller and starts being pulled by both rollers, AND this is where the snipe stops… on the front end of the board. As it comes out, it leaves the infeed roller and snipe starts on the trailing end of the board. In this case you would have a 2” snipe on each end of the board.

Lots of background I know, but knowing the basics is essential to knowing why snipe occurs and what to do about it…and that we will do next time.

Send your questions or comments to: and we’ll see what we can do to help you. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

V5.25 - Is it Dull Knives, or something else?

I just got to thinking that these past couple of columns have been more and more like a Saturday morning cliff-hanger…I set out the problem and just when you think I’m gonna give up the answer, I put it off until next week…?

Alright, this week, I really will give you the final solution to the problem.

We do need to recap, if we have some new readers…So here it is: you’ve been using your lunchbox planer, and it has been working just fine…but all of a sudden, it refuses to plane the wood. You can’t even shove the wood in and get it to work. It used to be that it practically pulled the wood out of your hand as you fed it…now, it ain’t happening. Last week, we brought up a dirty, or pitch encrusted bed surface and dirty or wood flour-caked-up feed rollers.

I left you with a teaser about there being one more solution that many people think should be number 1 on the list.

Here it is… Dull knives. Yep, that’s it. I have seen many a planer, just quit planning and the owner changes the knives, or flips his over to a fresh edge, and the planer resumes ‘doing it’s thing’ just fine. One needs to understand that when the knives get dull, they start beating on the wood and they actually create more resistance to the job the feed rollers can do (that being push the wood through the planer). Yes, changing the knives CAN do that.

Now, if you’ve read the past couple of columns, you may be asking: “If it’s that simple, why didn’t he just say so?” Well, here’s why… let’s pretend that your planer quit working as we have described and you change the knives…and…it…still…doesn’t…feed. Now what? Well. More than likely, your problem was a dirty bed or caked up feed rollers (or maybe both)…which you will now have to clean, with those freshly sharpened knives right within a finger’s reach. Do you know how easily fresh knives will cut flesh? LIKE BUTTER.

So, as I suggested, clean the bed and the rollers first. That way, your fingers are at least close to used knives. Don’t get me wrong, they will still cut the mess out of you, but not quite as easy as fresh knives will.

Also, there is a possibility that you will get more board feet cut with your knives before you need to change them, if you will clean the bed and rollers first. That was my thinking behind my suggestions.

Send your questions or comments to: and we’ll see what we can do to help you. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

V5.24 - Oh No, My Planer quit planing

Let’s see, where were we?... Oh Yes, you’ve been using your lunchbox planer, and it has been working just fine…but all of a sudden, it refuses to plane the wood. You can’t even shove the wood in and get it to work. It used to be that it practically pulled the wood out of your hand as you fed it…now, it ain’t happening. What’s a woodworker to do?

Well, in this scenario, the FIRST thing to do is to make sure that the planer’s bed (or “table”, if you prefer, by either name, it is the surface the wood slides on) is not caked up with sticky pitch or sap. If it is, you may have found your problem. What you need is a good bed cleaning. There are several tar & pitch removers on the market and I am sure they work great and are not as hazardous as my personal favorite – fingernail polish remover. Also known as, acetone. I like it, I use it, but I make doggone sure that I have good ventilation while using it. Back when I was in the Navy, I got wasted by working in an enclosed space with lots of free-flowing acetone. That taught me a good lesson. Anyway, clean the bed if it needs it.

SECOND: Check the feed rollers and make sure that they aren’t caked up with wood flour. If they are, they could be slipping on the wood and not grabbing it enough to pull it through. Here again, a good cleaning is the answer. If your planer has steel rollers, acetone could be your friend once again. On the other hand, if your planer has urethane or rubber-coated rollers, as most lunchbox planers do, you’ll need to clean them a different way. Some people say to use alcohol, but I have seen this cause those types of rollers to get harder than they should be...which also causes them to lose their gripping power. My personal favorite for urethane rollers is…Dawn. Yep, dish-washing soap. Mix up some in a bowl with water as hot as you can stand it and use a Scotch-Bright pad to scour and scrub the rollers. Rinse all the soap off and let them air dry and they will be good as new… and pull like it, too.

Ok, we’ve covered two corrective actions for when a lunchbox planer abruptly quits planning...there actually IS a THIRD solution…and some people would say that it should be the first thing to do. I don’t think so and I’ll tell you what the THIRD option is, and why it is third on my list…next week.

Send your questions or comments to: and we’ll see what we can do to help you

Sunday, June 8, 2014

V5.23 - What is a Planer to do?

OK, I jumped the gun a little bit last week. I said we would start talking about lunchbox planers...and we will, just not quite yet. The reason is that we should really have a discussion about what a planer will, and will not do. What’s it designed for? Does it straighten out crooked boards? Will it flatten out twisted boards? …or not?

As I mentioned last week, Europeans call a planer, a thicknesser and I said that ‘thicknesser’ is a more appropriate description of what it does, than the word ‘planer’ is. Here is what I mean. The wood planer (remember, aka - thicknesser) is designed to make the stock that is passed through it, the same dimensions in both the left/right directions and the front/back directions. In other words, after being passed thru the planer, the piece of stock should be the same thickness in all areas.

A planer is NOT designed to flatten warped stock, or straighten curved stock, or remove a twist in the stock. Those are the jobs of other shop machines. A planer simply makes the stock the same thickness. I have seen people try to flatten bowed stock by running it thru their planer. The stock comes out the same thickness, but the bow is still in it. What happens is that the planer forces the stock down, removes some of it and then, as it leaves the planer, the wood springs right back to its previously bowed shape. Here is the secret: Surface joint your stock first. If you will create a flat bottom surface which will slide on the planer’s table (aka, bed), then the planer (thicknesser) can do what it was designed to do and make the stock the same dimension in all directions.

Now, that is what a planer is meant to do. So, let’s start our discussion about the lunchbox planers. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that you bought one of these little beasts- and there are several good ones to choose from- and you’ve been using it, and it has been working just fine…but all of a sudden, it refuses to plane the wood. You can’t even shove the wood in and get it to work. It used to be that it practically pulled the wood out of your hand as you fed it…now, it ain’t happening. How frustrating.

Let’s hold up for this week and we’ll get you out of this predicament next time.

Send your questions or comments to: and we’ll see what we can do to help you. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

V5.22 - Introducing the Wood Planer

Ok, after a few weeks of ‘detours’, we’ll get back to our roots this week and introduce an old friend. But FIRST: God bless our troops- wherever they may be!!

This week is the lead off column of a series on a machine that many woodworkers find to have an almost ‘mystical’ air about it. This is the Wood Planer or, as it is known in Europe, the wood thicknesser. In all fairness, “thicknesser” is a more appropriate description of what the machine actually does, than is the name ‘planer’. While handtool history is not my ‘thing’, I suspect that the thicknessers acquired the name ‘planer’ simply because what they did was so similar to a hand plane that smoothes a boards surface.

Over my many years in the industry, I don’t suppose there was ever another machine that caused as many headaches and problems for my customers as did the planer. I think most of that was because the average woodworker just doesn’t understand how these things work, and because the typical planer has so many adjustments that it is a bit intimidating.

The best starting place for our discussions is most likely to define the types of planers that are out there. Decent sized shops would have a planer that would be capable of planing 18” – 20” – 24” or even 36” wide stock. These types of planers are the ones with all those adjustments I mentioned because they have chipbreakers, pressure bars, spring-loaded infeed and outfeed rollers and bed rollers. All of those components must be adjusted properly and they have to be adjusted with consideration given to each of the other components. This is what I call an Industrial Planer.

Further down the scale is the planer that is typically found in home workshops. It’s easily portable and usually has a capacity of only 12”- 15” wide. These planers do not have pressure bars or chipbreakers or bed rollers. As you can see, the number of adjustments is way down from the Industrial types. These planers are fondly called “lunchbox” planers.

I think we will start or series off talking about lunchbox planers because I think that is the most likely type of planer my readers would have. Now, I could be wrong and if I am, I trust those of you who may have industrial planers in your shop to drop me a note and let me know.    

Most lunchbox planers are ready to use, right out of the box. Oh, there might be some accessory tables to add or a stand to put together, but essentially the planer is ready to plane wood… and that is a bonus for the buyer.

Let’s pause here for the week. See ya next time…

Send your questions or comments to: and we’ll see what we can do to help you.