Name Beech
Location Eastern North America
Texture/Grain Medium/Open
Specific Gravity 0.64
Hardness Hard
Strength Strong
T/R Stability 11.9/5.5%






Jointing & Planing

1. Selecting Lumber for

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2. Jointing Know-How

3. Planing Know-How

4. Using a Hand Plane

5. Truing Lumber

6. Jointing &
Planing Resources


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ost craftsmen buy their materials from a lumberyard, sawmill, or a retailer specializing in woodworkers’ needs. Whatever your source, you usually have a choice of buying your wood rough or surfaced. Your choices may include:
  • Rough-sawn, with the surfaces untouched since leaving the mill
  • Surfaced on two sides (S2S), with both faces planed
  • Surfaced on four sides (S4S), with both faces planed and both edges jointed


Which should you choose? Ready-surfaced lumber saves you the time it takes to plane and joint. But if the wood should cup or bow, you’ll have to live with the imperfections. Rough-sawn lumber gives you some extra stock so you can true a slightly warped board, making the surfaces perfectly straight and flat.

Commercial lumber comes unsurfaced (rough-sawn), face-planed only (S2S), or face-planed and edge-jointed (S4S).*
PROTECTIVE WRAPPER -- When purchasing surfaced lumber, have it planed 1⁄16 inch thicker than what you plan to use. The extra stock serves as a protective “wrapper.” Wait until you’re ready to work to plane the wood to its final dimension. You’ll have a fresh surface, free of stains and dents.

Many craftsmen insist that you can get truly flat lumber only by surfacing it yourself. But this can be impractical, especially if you have a small shop and limited surfacing capabilities. Unless you have a wide jointer and a large planer, it makes sense to buy surfaced lumber (S2S surfaced two sides) for noncritical parts that don’t have to be perfectly true. When making critical parts such as door frame members and drawer sides, however, you should always start with rough lumber and true it.

S4S surfaced four sides – stock should be your last choice. It just isn’t worth the money you pay for jointing the edges. Provided you have a jointer, you can make much straighter edges if you joint the parts as you cut them to size.

After purchasing the stock, let it rest in your shop for a week or two (per inch of thickness) before working with it. The same holds for stock you’ve stored in a building separate from your shop. Resist the temptation to get to work immediately — you might have to do a lot of work over again!

Wood typically expands or contracts whenever you change its location, due to differences in relative humidity. When you first bring a board into your shop, it will be in motion. If you attempt to work it too soon, problems will result. The surfaces that you plane perfectly true today may be less than flat by tomorrow. Joints that fit beautifully on Monday may be nothing to crow about by Friday.

To avoid these problems, let the wood stabilize in its new environment. Stack it in a corner or on a rack until the moisture content of the wood reaches equilibrium with the relative humidity in your shop. This is called shop-drying, and it usually takes just a few days. Most craftsmen wait a week or more to be safe.

 Once the lumber has stabilized, joint and plane the surfaces straight, flat, and square to one another. Although jointing and planing are both surfacing operations, they are actually very different.

bullet Jointing trues a surface and shaves it flat. It also cuts one surface at a precise angle (usually 90 degrees) to another.
bullet Planing cuts one surface parallel to another and reduces the stock to a precise thickness.

Wood can shop-dry vertically for short periods of time, leaning against a wall. But if it sits for much longer than a few weeks, it should be stacked horizontally to keep it as straight as possible. This simple rack is designed for shop-drying lumber horizontally.*

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*Indicates that you can enlarge a photo by clicking on it. To reveal the information in a "Superphoto," first enlarge it and then move the cursor over it.

 "Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be without wood."
Eric Sloane in Reverence for Wood


Woodworking Techniques/Jointing and Planing/Selecting Lumber,
part of  the Workshop Companion,
essential information about wood, woodwork, and woodworking
necessary to woodworkers and practitioners of the wood arts
to become competent craftsmen.
By Nick Engler.

Copyright © 2009 Bookworks, Inc.