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

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


Use a finely tuned smoothing plane (like the below Stanley No. 4 or No. 4 ½ handplane) and take a few passes lengthwise to give a better-than-sandpaper surface to your reference face.

You will want to produce very thin and fine shavings in this step, referred to as “gossamer” shavings (like a silk scarf).

A slightly cambered (i.e. arced) iron (i.e. blade) will prevent “plane tracks” and give you a glassy surface. When I say “slightly” I mean “barely”. Chris Schwarz has the best tutorial on tuning & sharpening handplanes on his DVD: “Super-Tune a Handplane”. You can buy it here or here.

Now that your reference face is perfectly flat & smooth, make a traditional squiggly mark to notate the reference face:


You will use a long jointer plane to “joint” (i.e. true-up or flatten) the first edge of your board, to provide a perfect 90 degree angle between the reference face and edge. You can either use a metal jointer plane, like the Stanley No. 7 or Stanley No. 8 jointer planes, or a quality wooden jointer plane.

Place the board in your workbench vice, with the reference face toward you.

The process used to joint a board’s edge is essentially the same as I used to flatten the reference face in step 4. The main difference is how you hold the plane. To achieve a reference edge that is 90 degrees to the reference face, pinch the jointer plane with your thumb and index finger, and use your other 3 fingers (hopefully you still have that many digits…I’m talking to you table saw users) as a fence to maintain the 90 degree angle:

Push the handplane lengthwise, producing moderately thick shavings, until the board’s edge is flat.  Adjust your plane so that your shavings are ejecting from the middle of the jointer plane.

You’ll gauge the flatness by placing your straight edge on the board’s edge:

Look under the straight edge to see if there are any gaps. It is common to create a valley from improper planing techniques. Just refer back to step 4 for a review on how to avoid valleys:

Periodically use a small combination square or try square to check for the 90 degree angle along the entire edge of the board. Don’t ruin your combination square by dragging it, but just take incremental measurements.

Use your pencil to mark where your high spots are:

Then tilt your jointer plane to take down the high spots with a pass or two, then take another full pass or two. Then recheck until the entire edge is square to the reference face.

When you first get started, this process can take a little while to figure out, but you’ll eventually be able to quickly achieve a true edge that is square to the reference face. You can also look into making an “edge shooting board” to speed things up when truing edges. I haven’t had much luck with the fence attachments for handplanes. Use your pencil to make a traditional “V” mark on the edge to indicate that this is the reference edge:

Now you will see a perfect 90 degree angle, from which you will circumscribe the other faces & edges.


Use an accurate panel gauge to make the next edge parallel to your freshly trued reference edge.

I’ve found that antique panel gauges are rarely accurate or stable, so I purchased this excellent new panel gauge at Highland Woodworking. You can also make one, but it’s tough to beat something as stable as this one:

Set the width of the panel gauge to your required width, lock in the measurement (with the screw or wedge), and run the cutting edge to make your perfectly parallel mark. This mark is where you will cut or plane down to.

My panel gauge has a slot for a pencil on the opposite end of the handle…just flip it around. Since I’m not cutting on this line (it’s just a visual guide), I prefer the pencil end.


If the line you just scribed with your panel gauge is very close to the rough edge, then you can simply use a jointer plane to bring down the small amount of wood.

If you find that you have too much wood to remove (and don’t want to spend all day planing down to the line with your jointer plane) you have two alternate options:

(1) Use a jack plane to quickly remove most of the waste wood, and then finish with the jointer plane:

(2) If you have too much waste, even for a jack plane to remove, then use a rip panel saw to get close to your line, then finish up with a jointer plane:

CAUTION: If your board’s width is critical, then make certain to NOT get too close to your line with the jack plane or rip saw. Get close, and then use your jointer to finish the job. Just remember that you may need some extra wood to get the edge square:

Now you should have two jointed edges that will be perfect for gluing together.

 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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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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