Conquer a Wonky Slab

Big slabs of wood move as they dry – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. In my experience, the worst of the movement happens in the first six to 12 months of drying. The hardest two problems to deal with that emerge from the drying process are: a crown over the length of the slab, and the more common twist or wind over the length.

This movement (particularly a bad twist) can mean removing a tremendous amount of wood to get a flat surface. A jack plane with a cambered iron can do wonders, but if there is a lot of wood that has to come of it, can be quite a job. Another factor can be the wood itself. Most of the benchtops I deal with are red or white oak; once dry, it is hard to take much of a bite with a handplane.

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The past couple of years I have been using a hand held electric plane for hogging off the majority of the offending wood. It works quite well across or with the grain. When using it cross-grain it will take close to 1/8″ off each pass. Once I am close to where I need to be, I can easily finish up with handplanes.

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These little electric planes vary in price, I think I paid $120 for the one I have. This one has seen some pretty heavy use and has held up well so far.

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This top had about 1/2″ of twist over 6′ length. It took about 10 minuets to get it true enough to move on to a surface planer or handplane.

In the video Chris and I shot, “Roubo Workbench: by Hand & Power,” we used one of  these electric planes to flatten one face of the benchtop. We did the opposite face of the top with a 20″ surface planer. After all was said and done, wrestling the 300 lb. benchtop through the surface planer was much more exhausting than going the electric plane/handplane route.

— Will Myers

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9 Responses to Conquer a Wonky Slab

  1. Salko Safic says:

    That’s very true red and white oak are a pain in the backside to hog off a lot of material by hand.

  2. rkooch says:

    I watched the “Roubo Workbench: by Hand & Power Video”, did you fill the cracks in the red oak top with epoxy like Chris did with the cherry top on his bench video?

  3. Sean says:

    10 minuets isn’t bad. It would have taken many more scherzos. Sorry, the typo was just too compelling.

  4. Having only used a muscle powered hand plane, do you use the electric hand plane in the same manner? What you propose makes a lot of sense.

    • Will Myers says:

      Yes, for the most part. The main thing to be careful of is when you exit off the edges not to let the toe drop down, the cutter will dig in.

  5. Kyle Jones says:

    I’m having trouble finding a slab as thick as you guys used in the video (also everyone I describe my plans to thinks i’m insane, has anyone else had that experience?). Will the bench be less sturdy for handwork if i get a hold of a 3″ slab? I’m afraid if I get too thin a slab that I will lose some of it when i have to plane down all the twisting and cupping.

  6. Mitch Wilson says:

    I had the same problem early this year when I built my Roman workbench. Red maple-5’x1’x3″ with a 1/2″ wind to it and over a hundred pounds. I’m short, 65 and work alone with a bad spine.
    Fortunately (miraculously?) I remembered the power planer I had bought some twenty years earlier and had used only once to size up a door. After flattening one side, the slab went through my 15″ planer and got cleaned up with hand planes. Maybe it was cheating but I certainly don’t feel guilty about it. I have definite plans for that power planer in my future. And the Roman workbench will make using it that much easier.

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