Planing rough sawn poplar

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23 Jul 2019
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Hi all, I've had some rough sawn poplar for a while now and today started to tidy it up before it gets put together. I am very new to this. When planing (using my low angle Jack plane) there was a lot of tear out. Its figured timber. No matter how careful I am working with the grain there is too much going on for that plane to do the job. My question(s) is what is the best way to get it to finished standard? All the videos I see mention scrub planes, scrapers and smoothing planes but no definitive answer. It seems like smoothing planes with a high enough angle frog will do it but how would that finish? Would it need sanding after? Or what condition would a scraper or scrub plane leave it in? Does it all depend on something I haven't mentioned?
Any help much appreciated, thanks
If this is new to you, then I'm guessing your blade isn't sharp enough and you're taking too deep a cut. I do this far too often.

If you can take wispy shavings but still get bad tearout, then there are several things you can try. How well they work depends on the wood - I used some mahogany recently that would accept nothing but a scraper and sanding!

Things to try:

Plane at 45 degrees to the grain. Or even 90 degrees.

Use a smoothing plane with a very close set cap iron (just a hair's width or two) and take very fine shavings.

A toothed blade might work well, followed up with a scraper.

A no 80 scraper plane is pretty effective but slow.

When working figured wood down to 1.8 mm thickness for musical instruments I might use all these, switching as the wood seems to demand.

If it's highly figured and uncooperative, bite the bullet early and settle for a long, slow sanding job.
Poplar is pretty soft stuff from what I've read.
Use a double iron plane for the job.
You should be able to take some pretty heavy shavings without getting tearout, you will notice the shavings not curling, but coming straight up and out from the plane if you have the right setting.

If you are still getting tearout, then the cap iron isn't close enough, so back to the stone again to remove the camber.
If that's still not working, you still have too much camber.
A cambered iron, to be used for a close set cap iron, will not be noticeable until its paired with the cap, only then will you know if you need go back to the stone.

You need the frog all the way back, so you have a open mouth, otherwise it won't work.

Since you mentioned both rough sawn and tearout...
I would suggest having a second plane with more camber than the other, for tearout reduction
until you get your timber close to flat.

Look up David Weavers stuff, as he has gone to more effort to make the influence of the cap iron widely known, than anyone else, yet few practice this..
Even though history has proven it to be a no-brainer for over 200 years, long before Joe Soap had access to sandpaper and the likes.
You will never, ever use sandpaper planing a surface flat if you try it out.
Good luck
Here's some examples of the close set cap iron in use...

David's video is the one that I'd recommend watching.
Check this one out, aswell as reading the description, as there are very good close up pictures.
Unfortunately youtube post won't work for this video, so here's the link.

Brian Holcombe

Hernán Costa
Won't work either, so here's the link... skip to 4:19

Kees van der Heiden

Richard Maguire

There are only a rare few that use the cap iron, and upload videos on youtube.
With most of the top youtuber guru's, pretty much all of them are in denial that this works so well.

Makes a huge difference to me, being able to work with tropical timbers that my skin gets irritated by, instead of sweating it out tearing up chunks which makes lots of dust.
Since learning to set the cap my scraper plane has been untouched.
Previously, It was a whole load of silly work scraping down to the bottom of that torn out grain.
Never again thankfully

I find poplar probably one of the nicest woods to plane. Hard enough to take a fine shaving, soft enough to not require a lot of effort to do so.
I’m a couple of years in to my journey on woodworking and I’ve found planing timber effectively to be a learned art. Watched many videos but in the end TIME setting up a plane and practicing with it has been the only solution. Videos make it look easy but once working a piece of timber where the grain is less than ideal I find I have to try different approaches I’ve learned (plane type, angle, camber, depth, cap/mouth position etc) to get an acceptable outcome.

Don’t get disheartened and don’t give up when your initial efforts are not giving you the result you want. Keep on practicing and every piece will get a little easier to manage.

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
When planing (using my low angle Jack plane) there was a lot of tear out. Its figured timber.
Low-angle jack and figured timber don't really go together in my mind. I don't want to launch into a long diatribe on the subject because fans of them may leap to their defence and this risks derailing your thread, but standard bench planes are cornerstone to what I and others (including Ttress already) will suggest to you here so it has to be addressed. Bailey-pattern planes are easier planes to use overall, they're less finicky in multiple ways (most especially honing) and give better assurance of predictable outcomes for those will less experience wielding them.

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
My question(s) is what is the best way to get it to finished standard?
There's no best way, like with seemingly everything there are multiple routes and some are about equal (and potentially all are capable of equivalent results, which is probably the key take-home fact).

Even restricting yourself entirely to hand tools, with no power tools at all, you can do this perhaps a dozen ways, as the responses so far give an inkling of.

Before this thread progresses much further, please remember that there's no one standard. What you find acceptable is your call, other people's standards don't have to apply unless you decide you agree.

A flawless surface is achievable by you, but you may not be comfortable with the amount of time and effort it takes to get to it so you may accept less than this. And that's fine. If you're okay with a bit of tearout don't sweat it; and you're in good company, lots of historical furniture has show surfaces that are far from perfect!

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
All the videos I see mention scrub planes, scrapers and smoothing planes but no definitive answer.
Well these go hand in hand, it's not that you would use only one of the three.

A roughing plane of some sort, be it what is called a scrub these days or more traditionally over here a 'roughing jack' or fore plane is used for the first step in planing, for taking a lot of material off. From full dimensioning to just giving boards a tidy up as you've said you're doing.

Full-on roughing planes like modern scrubs are really only for dimensioning because the pronounced cambered edge on a narrow iron leaves a visibly scalloped surface (along with unavoidable tearing). The camber on a jack or fore plane is less severe and can leave much less obviously scooping, and with a light cut little tearout because these planes have a cap iron and this can be brought forwards to help directly limit it. Just to be clear, you need to do both; with a cambered iron even with a light cut you can get disastrous tearout on any area of difficult grain if the cap iron is set too far back from the edge to have any effect (as it would normally be set on a plane of this sort).

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
It seems like smoothing planes with a high enough angle frog will do it but how would that finish?
Any typical smoother is fine for work on figured wood if tuned right and used right. There's no need to use a (generally much more expensive) high-angle smoother.

The idea that a high angle is needed for highly figured woods is false. Yes a higher angle can help, but it's not a necessity, and anyway the same effect can be simulated by simply adding a back bevel on the iron in any standard smoother. So in effect a £2 vintage Stanley can give equivalent results to £300 Norris or L-N or whatever.

The above aside, I think you should early on get past the idea that smoothing planes are the last thing to touch the wood. This is sort of the ideal, but it's mostly theoretical because almost nobody does this in the West. Even among full-time pros you'll discover that exclusively finish planing (no subsequent scraping or sanding at all) is the exception, not the rule.

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
Would it need sanding after?
Doing something after, take it as a given. Scraping would be better in a number of ways but sanding is perfectly fine if that's your method. If you sand properly nobody can tell the difference after the finish goes on. This is especially the case if you're using a film finish because the film becomes the final surface, not the wood.

Harry581010":1tu26q3y said:
Or what condition would a scraper or scrub plane leave it in?
Dead smooth (and hopefully very flat) and highly ridged (with tearing) respectively.

Just to reiterate something profchris said, your plane irons could probably do with being sharper. Sharper virtually always helps and practically everyone starting out isn't as good at honing as they will be after another year, and then two years later their edges will be even better.