Those Aren’t Shavings – They are Micro-adjusters

Anytime a woodworker starts tossing gossamer handplane shavings into the air that float around like some visible fairy flatulence, we both know what will happen next.

Some grumpy wag will say something like: “Bah, who cares about the shavings? All I care about is the board. You are playing with your garbage!”

I am always quick to correct these killjoys. Shavings of all sizes are extremely useful to the handplane user – and not just as compost.

When I handplane a case side sitting on my workbench, one of the most common difficulties is being unable to plane the very center area of a panel. Even with a short plane, I sometimes cannot get the last little bit of wood planed in the center.

So instead of planing the entire panel for another hour, I lift up the panel and toss a couple gossamer shavings on the bench right where the problem area is. I press the panel against the bench, secure it between dogs and resume planing. Eighty-six times out of 100, this fixes the problem instantly. Sure, it temporarily bows the panel out a bit, but that’s no big deal – the dovetails, back and shelves will help pull it flat.

Second example: I use a lot of wide boards, so I end up processing a lot of stock by hand in my shop. When I begin jacking one face of the board, I usually have to shim under the board so it doesn’t flex under pressure from the plane. This shimming is either in the middle of the board or at the edges, depending on whether I am working on the bark or heart side of the board.

Shavings to the rescue. I first learned to shim my boards using pine construction shims. But after a few near-vasectomies, I switched to using shavings – usually the shavings from a jack plane. These are thick and fill up gaps quickly.

These two suggestions are old tricks that I’ve picked up from books. They work great – saving you time and injury to your privates.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to Those Aren’t Shavings – They are Micro-adjusters

  1. Charles G says:

    I often use jack plane shavings as a surface preparation scrubber. They break down pretty quickly when used in this way, but they leave a nice smooth and not too slippery finish on things like freshly resealed bench tops and tool handles.

  2. David Pickett says:

    They make superb firelighters, too. Preferably not at the bench, though.

  3. Jason Stamper says:

    I’ve used shavings to burnish the wood before finishing. Did a picture frame this way and it really made the cherry shine with Tried & True’s Original Finish. It’s sorta like a really fine grit sandpaper without the dust.

  4. Julien Hardy says:

    That is what I call hard-learned knowledge.

  5. mikeneves says:

    I use shavings to shim when processing with my Jack too. Well, starting with the second board at at least. After flattening the face of the first board, shavings are freaking all over my bench when processing a board like this, so it is easy to jam the stuff into the gaps of subsequent boards.

    Thanks for legitimizing my laziness!

  6. abtuser says:

    ‘Shavings…takes me a way to where I want to go… do do do…’

    I never really cared much for that song, though I do sail somewhat regularly. Yea, shavings as shims. If you’re too poor, or too lazy, or both (me), to have pine shims, shavings for shims are handy. Another one that won’t hurt your privates, and has predictable thicknesses, are cardboard drywall shims. Careful though, late at night, after a couple of (stout) beers, and some hard planing, a stack of these look and behave a lot like a French baguette.

  7. Don says:

    Aside from the use of the shavings (thanks by the way), I’m a believer in tuning any plane to be able to produce the ultra thin shavings. It’s not that we need such precision from a jointer or jack, but knowing that it can exudes confidence in your tool and knowing that it produces a full range gives a worker confidence. We can all use more of that commodity.

  8. Sean says:

    Sung to the tune of Feelings:

    Shavings, nothing more than shavings
    Trying to plane my, wide wide boards
    Shavings, Oh woh woh shavings …
    Oh woh woh, shavings, under my board

  9. Jimmie Brown says:

    A quick comment on shavings as compost. Here in GA the soil is red clay or sand with very little creepy crawlers in it. If you lay out shavings from your plane or jointer in about a 2″ thick cover and give it about 2 weeks it will attract the worms and turn the soil rich and black. I got that trick from a UGA study and have used it myself. It works and very fast to condition soil for gardening.

  10. Kevin costa says:

    Wife claims most of the shavings for starting hardwood charcol in the grill. So I set all the planes for see through shavings, arms getting a workout.

  11. andrae says:

    abtuser, Sean, you guys are killing me softly with those songs

  12. Michael Hahn says:

    So…. If I read between the lines here, a Flat panel for case sides (or toolchest in my case) does not need to be truley flat to be ready for joinery? How flat is flat enough? This is the main rason my 1″ thick boards are ending up 3/4″ thick :(

    Michael.

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