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Which tools to square small blocks of wood? (Beginner)

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Jof

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Hi there.

I'm a wood carver (mostly in-the-round pieces) and the things I make require a decent amount of dimensional accuracy. This means I often need to get my blocks smooth and square all round before marking up. They don't need to be super smooth (enough to take a pencil or for me to glue on a drawing) nor exact dimensions, but they do need to be decently square - including the end grain. Typical wood is lime or walnut. Very rarely I might use some maple or beech.

If I'm lucky I'll get my wood planed for me to size, but that's not always an option. To make things even harder on myself, I don't have room for a power planer. So hand tools it is!

If I look online for this kind of thing most people seem to recommend a No 5-1/2 BU plane with a No 4 smoother... however, they are generally talking about much larger pieces of work and the blanks I have are generally fairly small. For instance, on my desk right now I have 2 x 5 x 8", 1/2 x 6 x 12", 3 x 3 x 12". I can get larger pieces, but I'll still need to cut them down and ultimately be faced with the same problem.

Size-wise a No 4 smoother would be ideal but I'm guessing from the name they aren't up for removing more than fine slithers? Meanwhile, a No 5-1/2 looks on first glance to be enormous so maybe that's not right either?

I'm stuck!

Can any of you recommend a solution to my woes? :)
 

AndyT

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A number 4 would be fine. They are probably the commonest planes around so it's easy to find a good old one.
You can adjust the thickness of the cut you take, to get close to size a bit quicker, but on the scale of work you are doing the differences in efficiency of lots of thin shavings against fewer thicker ones is going to be negligible.

That said, if you come across a nice 4½, 5, 5½ or even a number 3, that would be fine as well.
 

Jof

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Thanks Andy. That's good to hear. It's easy for me to get a No 3 in the plane I want (new generation Wood River / Quangsheng) so is it worth going for that one versus a No 4? In terms of width they seem to be basically identical.
 

AndyT

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A no 3 is 1 3/4" wide, a no 4 is 2". If buying a new one I'd choose the no 4, but largely because that's what I am used to and I think it's a good compromise size where the 3 is a dainty thing for small fine work. Some people find the no 3 a bit fiddly to hold in large hands.
I'd also suggest a look at some of the lengthy threads on choosing your first plane and the new/old dilemma.
 

Jacob

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5 or 5 1/2 bevel down stanley or record, expect to pay £15 to £45.
You also need a solid bench, or a surface firmly braced/butted against a wall or whatever. You can't plane on a light table or even a workmate, unless it is well braced
Size-wise a No 4 smoother would be ideal but I'm guessing from the name they aren't up for removing more than fine slithers?
With any plane the amount of wood removed depends on the camber. A huge no8 with a straight edged blade could only remove fine shavings, a small no4 with a heavily cambered blade would remove much more/faster.
 

sunnybob

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For pieces that small, there is a cheap and small footprint power tool option.
A bench top router table.
With a bit of time spent making a coping sled for it, you can get super smooth totally accurate sides in one pass.
 

samhay

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A number 4 is a good all round plane and is long enough to straighten a 12" board.
A block plane can also be helpful if the pieces are too small, or irregular to fit in a vice as you use these one handed. I would pick one of these (e.g. a 60 1/2 or 9 1/2) over a number 3.
 

thetyreman

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what jacob said, plus making a shooting board will help getting them dead square, and using a knifeline for judging the final length, however without a decent solid bench it's not going to be easy.
 

MikeG.

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sunnybob":lycs026j said:
For pieces that small, there is a cheap and small footprint power tool option.
A bench top router table.
With a bit of time spent making a coping sled for it, you can get super smooth totally accurate sides in one pass.
True, but I reckon a small belt & disc sand combo would be easier and more useful for this job.
 
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MikeG.":20n8dtw8 said:
sunnybob":20n8dtw8 said:
For pieces that small, there is a cheap and small footprint power tool option.
A bench top router table.
With a bit of time spent making a coping sled for it, you can get super smooth totally accurate sides in one pass.
True, but I reckon a small belt & disc sand combo would be easier and more useful for this job.
It's a real shame you can't just recommend the ideal solution! ..... a bench top planer/thicknesser (or just planer). Sadly, good ones don't exist anymore!
 

sunnybob

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Mike, he says he has pieces up to 12".
No way are you going to make that flat with a 6" disc and 4" belt sander, the tables just arent big enough ( and I KNOW that :shock: :roll: )
It take a lot of skill to plane square ( I KNOW that, ;cause I aint got none :roll: ) so if he isnt that skillful (who knows?) a router table is the answer.
 

Jof

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Router table would be excellent. Good advice. And in the end I'd much rather just get on with carving than becoming a planing legend... That said, looking at the various router tables I've just seen online I'm not sure I have the space :/ Maybe I can borrow the kitchen table...
 

MikeG.

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sunnybob":2dy98py8 said:
Mike, he says he has pieces up to 12".
No way are you going to make that flat with a 6" disc and 4" belt sander, the tables just arent big enough ( and I KNOW that :shock: :roll: )
It take a lot of skill to plane square ( I KNOW that, ;cause I aint got none :roll: ) so if he isnt that skillful (who knows?) a router table is the answer.
I'm reading that as 12" long. I reckon that'd be pretty easy on a little sanding machine, and with the planing option being ruled out by the lack of a bench (that's what I'm deducing from the use of "desk" in the OP) this hand-tools-first guy thinks that a power tool might be the best answer this time.
 

Jof

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Before too many people continue along the lines of power tools, it's worth clarifying I'm doing this in my living room and bedroom. Generating a tonne of dust with a large bench setup isn't an option*

(Hopefully when I get my own house it'll have a shed finally!)

*EDIT: Although I'm guessing this could be solved but a well thought-out dust collector...
 

MikeG.

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I think you are going to need to out-source this work. You don't have a bench or a workshop, and that rules just about everything out. Maybe one of the sturdy old Workmates and a plane might just work, but you've essentially got no chance. Maybe only buy wood that is already planed all round.
 

Jacob

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A bedroom planing bench could be just a heavy board or plank of, say 1" mdf, with a planing stop tacked on. The board sitting on a table (or trestles etc) with as much support as possible and the far end (towards which you plane) braced against the wall.
Look at "Japanese planing beam" - same idea, many variations possible.
Edge planing - tack on another bit of mdf to use shooting board fashion.
PS workmates on their own are utter craap, but a workmate with a heavy planing board as above, clamped in and braced to the wall, could work very well.
PS basically this sort of thing below. The vertical supports could be tables/chest of drawers/workmate etc. Stops screwed or clamped on including piece for shooting edges.
DSC02763-small.JPG
 

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Jof

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Interesting. That looks like it might work! Whilst I don't have a huge amount of desk space (well... it's a huge desk but has a lot of other things on it too!) it's in just the right position to put the end up against the wall as you say, Jacob. Funnily enough I was just watching a video about making a shooting board and that seems like the perfect ghetto combo!

Ok... I'm just going to try it and get myself a plane. If it all goes horribly wrong and I fall back to getting someone else to shape the blanks then at least someone will benefit from a used plane on eBay.
 

Rich C

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sunnybob":117pb19b said:
It take a lot of skill to plane square ( I KNOW that, ;cause I aint got none :roll: ) so if he isnt that skillful (who knows?) a router table is the answer.
If it's small pieces they can be planed square with a shooting board without that much skill surely. Just needs a methodical approach.
 
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