How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools

//How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools


Set a pair of winding sticks (pronounced “why-nding”) parallel to each other on opposite ends of your board and site along the winding sticks. The winding sticks will make any twisting appear more exaggerated, showing you which corners need to be lowered.

Having dark ends or bars on one winding stick makes twist easier to spot. You don’t even need to make fancy winding sticks, but can simply use two straight pieces of wood that are the same size.

Use your pencil to mark the high corners. Because of how boards twist, the high corners will usually be opposite each other.


Place your straight edge on the high corners to verify how much wood needs to be removed.

Use a longer fore plane (No. 6) or jointer plane (No. 7 or No. 8) to remove the high corners and check your progress with a straight edge.

If you are getting “tear-out”, that means that you are planing against the grain. Flip your board around and plane in the other direction.

Below are several options for handplanes for flattening the board’s face (from left to right): A Stanley No. 6 “Fore Plane”, a Stanley No. 7 “Jointer Plane”, a Stanley No. 8 “Jointer Plane”, and an 18th century style wooden jointer plane (I built it, so it’s my favorite!):

Your shavings will still be somewhat heavy in this step, but not nearly as heavy as with the scrub plane / jack plane.

Just don’t remove too much on the corners or you’ll have to lower the rest of the board to match your new low corners. Once the straight edge lies flat across the previously-higher corners, move onto flattening the rest of the panel face.

The longer handplane will uniformly bring the surface downward, skipping all the valleys that a smaller handplane would fall into. As you’re planing be conscious about not introducing a lengthwise arc.


Here’s how to avoid getting “valleys” in the middle of your board when planing: When your handplane starts on the board, keep the downward pressure on the front knob of the handplane only:

When your handplane is in the middle of the board push downward on both the front knob and the rear handle:

When the front of your handplane moves over the edge of the board, remove the downward pressure from the front knob, and only push downward on the rear handle. For practice you can even remove your hand from the front knob:

Use diagonal passes, then lengthwise passes, periodically using a straight edge and your winding sticks to check your progress toward perfect flatness.

When you’re getting full length and full width shavings, and your board’s face starts to look flat and smooth, then you’ll know that the board is about ready.

The straight edge should show no gaps no matter which way you turn it on the board’s face.

 This board dimensioning blog post continues on the next page….


About the Author:

Joshua loves mixing his passion for traditional hand tool woodworking with his ability to teach in a simple manner. He lives on a small farm in Earlysville, Virginia with his wife and four children, and builds furniture in his workshop / woodworking school.

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VinceJoshua FarnsworthDana FriedelChris AJ Nutt Recent comment authors
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The main reason I’m posting is because I’d like to enter the Damstom D300 giveaway. The clamps look fantastic. That said, I’ve been reading the articles on this blog for quite a while and I always find them very interesting. This article is especially helpful. While I work with both hand and power tools, knowing the basics helps with overall woodworking technique. As far as the prizes for the giveaway, I’m looking forward to winning the clamps. If I’m not so lucky, I would take the Shaker Candle Stand DVD or the t-shirt. Thank you for taking the time and… Read more »


This site is amazing. There is so much terrific information! This is one of my favorite and “go to” videos. I love to reference it before I grab my hand planes.

Those clamps in the give away look great and I would be rheilled to get them. If I do not win those, I would like the Shaker Candle Stand video. The shirts all look great but i really like the red or brown hand plane shirts. My size is XL.

Thanks and keep up the great work.

Bob from New York


This site is excellent. I had no idea that it existed. I’m going to pour through all of these forums as I am sure that I will be able to glean much! Great idea, Joshua – having a giveaway to bring woodworkers to this site. Kudos!

J Nutt
J Nutt

I have a 2x8x12 plank of wood that is splintered and looks like it’s been through the ringer a few times. Lots of water damage, but it looks beautiful. I want to make a planter box out of it, but it needs to be planed. What is your recommendation?

Chris A
Chris A

If you need 1/2 or 1/4 inch thick boards for a project, where do you get them from? I find a lot of evidence that people are resawing with a bandsaw, a few who resaw by hand, some people buy wood cut to thickness. In this article you had wood that could be planed to thickness – what if it had needed to be half this thickness. How do you dimension thickness??

Dana Friedel
Dana Friedel

Hi Joshua,
I found your post about hand planing enormously helpful as research for a story I am writing about a 17th century French boy who’s truing up warped boards for a primitive fort. I wonder if you would be so kind as to share with me any sort of accidents or injuries that might occur to someone undertaking this task. Thank you for your consideration.



Really, 17th century, building a fort. Tough it up.
You build a house today, and you hit your finger with a hammer, are you going to lay down and die?
Seriously, suck it up.

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