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Thread: What are the benefits of planing instead of sanding

  1. #1

    What are the benefits of planing instead of sanding

    Hi All,

    A question from a relatively inexperienced woodworker - I cannot seem to see the benefit of planing instead of sanding -


    Don't you get the same end result, with sometimes one method being quicker than the other?


    So, when would you plane instead of sanding, and when would you sand instead of planing?!!


    Eoin
    Last edited by Eoin Ryans; 03-25-2013 at 2:52 PM.

  2. #2
    you get instant gratification and uniformity from sanding

    planing a finished surface does take some skill and the piece has to permit it, or you have to think about how you're going to accomplish it, at least. You can plane interim if you want to relieve some of the sanding you'd do later.

    Far and away the fastest sanded surface I can come to (I don't sand often) is to do an appropriate job smoothing and then do one single grit of sanding. 320 grit or something. I would much rather have the planed surface, though, the wood looks far better and brighter, and has much better depth.

    Planing is cheaper, too, at least if you have to sharpen anything in your shop and must have the sharpening tools, anyway. I could teach you to finish plane with a $20 plane in a weekend easily, but trial and error will take you longer, and it's my opinion that what you get with most beginning planing classes leaves you wanting for some detail in terms of actually taking finish planing to a piece of furniture that you don't want to spend years on.

    One other side benefit if you're planing and using a film finish, it takes less of it. Take a test piece of cherry and cut it in half. Sand one to 320 or whatever, finish plane the other to a bright surface and apply a coat of wax. Look at the difference. It takes about 3 coats of wax to get to the same place with the sanded surface.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by David Weaver View Post
    you get instant gratification and uniformity from sanding

    planing a finished surface does take some skill and the piece has to permit it, or you have to think about how you're going to accomplish it, at least. You can plane interim if you want to relieve some of the sanding you'd do later.

    Far and away the fastest sanded surface I can come to (I don't sand often) is to do an appropriate job smoothing and then do one single grit of sanding. 320 grit or something. I would much rather have the planed surface, though, the wood looks far better and brighter, and has much better depth.

    Planing is cheaper, too, at least if you have to sharpen anything in your shop and must have the sharpening tools, anyway. I could teach you to finish plane with a $20 plane in a weekend easily, but trial and error will take you longer, and it's my opinion that what you get with most beginning planing classes leaves you wanting for some detail in terms of actually taking finish planing to a piece of furniture that you don't want to spend years on.

    One other side benefit if you're planing and using a film finish, it takes less of it. Take a test piece of cherry and cut it in half. Sand one to 320 or whatever, finish plane the other to a bright surface and apply a coat of wax. Look at the difference. It takes about 3 coats of wax to get to the same place with the sanded surface.
    Thanks David, so I can get the project to completion quicker by incorporating planing, I can get a slightly better finish?, and I can save on wax for the finish if I have planed the surface rather than sanded it.

    Would I be correct in saying that planing can be more accurate in terms of preserving the contours or edges of a machined piece?

  4. #4
    Assuming that your plane is well set up you would will, as David Weaver said, get a better finish than from sanding. There are however some provisos.

    You would need to plane to dimension your wood, unless you are using plywood or some other kind of board. In that case however you will find that planing the cut edges will give you a better finish and crisper edges.

    If you are staining you will find that, with many woods, you get a better, more even, staining on a sanded surface.

    For what it is worth, and I doubt that my woodworking is up to Weaver's standard, I plane while building, sand all over at the end and then finish. My "fear" is that apart from wax, which I do not use, a planed surface will not give me a good enough key for varnish or lacquer.

    Please note that this is a personal opinion.

  5. #5
    I usually use either lacquer over shellac, or for something fairly plain that will take a beating like the bookcase that I put in the weekend accomplishments, I will pad shellac 3 or 4 light coats and then wax (those pictures are pre-wax, though).

    I don't use stains. I know enough to know that on a planed surface, the bright finished part of wood that has curl or blotchiness will be more uniform compared to the grain oriented with the straws running out in the face when if you sand, and if you're staining, you probably won't care so much about the brightness and depth of the wood, anyway.

    Plane and then sand, or plane, scrape and then sand is probably a good route to take until you get more comfortable with your planing. Once you are good at planing a finished surface, it is very quick if the design allows, but there are some growing pains and some bit of experience required where you just know what works and what doesn't (for example, if you have tool marks from an improperly set up smooth plane or because the wood moved before you got to finish plane it, you might have a piece of cherry that's quartered and not that hard - and you'll find that while it planed very well, it doesn't scrape worth anything and doesn't look good when you scrape it).

    It's a skill to build, and when you get there with it so that it's reflexive, you'll appreciate that you have it.

    Don't discount things (if you want that type of finish, vs. a sanded finish that is a good stain prep) like finish planing and then sanding to 400 grit or so to remove tool marks, and then going back with a hand full of shavings and burnishing the surface to bring back some brightness.
    Last edited by David Weaver; 03-25-2013 at 4:11 PM.

  6. #6
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    If you look at a piece of sanded wood under a microscope you will see that it leaves the surface "fuzzy". Progressively finer grits of sandpaper leave the surface "less fuzzy". Planing on the other hand doesn't fuzz the grain like sanding does. After you work with wood for a while you can see the difference between the two methods.

  7. #7
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    I think some folks find that when they use a water-based finish, they need to raise the grain and de-fuzzy a sanded surface, but they don't need to do that with a planed surface.

    I'm pretty new to this, so I can't say how true that is.

  8. #8
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    Word of caution: David is talking about hand planing, NOT running wood through a planer (power tool). A planer leaves machines marks that are very visible when you apply a finish (except thick paint). The planer (+ a jointer and saw) is used for dimensioning the lumber. You will need to sand or scrape after that step.

  9. #9
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    Doesn't the answer to the OP's question need to consider the kind of woodworking or surface that is being dressed (and the experience of the woodworker)?
    It's one thing to use a smoother or a scraper on a table top or the face of a raised panel but achieving nice flush surfaces of intersecting rails and stiles on a door or cabinet frame with the same technique will make most "woodworkers" happily reach for their favorite RO sander.

    I absolutely agree with the superior esthetics of a planed wood surface over a sanded surface but wouldn't you, David, or others agree that a "relatively inexperienced woodworker" (and lots of folks with plenty of skill and ability too) should not dismiss sanding as a way to achieve a good result?
    "... for when we become in heart completely poor, we at once are the treasurers & disbursers of enormous riches."
    WQJudge

  10. #10
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    I'm with Sam here....it depends on what your talking about. Building a kitchens worth of doors and you want to send them through a sander. Building a wall full of built-in bookshelves....sand and finish. An heirloom piece of furniture....bring on the hand planes. There's a LOT of different work that falls under woodwork, and there's almost always several ways to accomplish any given task within. The key is finding what works right in each situation

    good luck,
    JeffD

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Murdoch View Post
    I absolutely agree with the superior esthetics of a planed wood surface over a sanded surface but wouldn't you, David, or others agree that a "relatively inexperienced woodworker" (and lots of folks with plenty of skill and ability too) should not dismiss sanding as a way to achieve a good result?
    I agree, thus the suggestion to plane and then sand for a while until the planed surfaces are satisfactory. There are still places that will need sanding no matter what unless you want to spend a lot of time making purpose-built scrapers, etc, if for no other reason just because you can't always get wood as perfect as you'd like.

    I don't want to make the suggestion that everyone should learn to plane if they don't want to, either. It shouldn't be like taking medicine. I know i'm in the wrong place for the kind of talk that's about to follow, but the first time you get a double iron plane figured out and you can plane any direction you want with with a cheap plane, it's super joy. No serious tearout on any reasonable wood ever again, even in a heavy smoothing cut. I tore out and scraped my share of surfaces at first, and went down the road that was marketed to us for the last 10 years or so, that you should go up the ladder in the steepness of the plane bed and up the ladder in plane price to be able to plane moderately difficult surfaces. Folks with a lot of experience knew better the whole time, but now we all do.
    Last edited by David Weaver; 03-25-2013 at 7:09 PM.

  12. #12
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    There is no satisfaction in woodworking quite like a sharp edge (that you have developed with your stones on a plane or chisel or scrapers even) meeting a gnarly wood and passing along the surface with a shishh of a sound, leaving a feather of wood curl and a polished surface in its wake. I haven't been smart enough to make a living that way though .

    But anyway - we agree planing and sanding both have their merits - the former is just more fun and satisfying than the latter .
    "... for when we become in heart completely poor, we at once are the treasurers & disbursers of enormous riches."
    WQJudge

  13. #13
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    Didn't see mentioned here, but if the lumber stock is dirty, sanding should be the first step. Remove the grit, before it gets to any sharpened edges.

    And if you are felling trees, remove the bark (Use an axe) at the base of the tree before cutting near the ground. That bark can ruin the cutting chain.
    Last edited by Tom Fischer; 03-26-2013 at 6:21 AM.

  14. #14
    wire brush and a fore plane would be fine, too, that's what I've always used on dirty wood. You can always sharpen an iron, and one that is cambered a good bit will cut well even as it dulls. Most of the cutting edge is below the dirt in use.

  15. #15
    Real men plane. Real busy men sand. LOL. Seriously, though, given a choice I'd learn to scrape before learning to plane. There are lots of places on my work.....most places, actually....where a plane simply will not work because of the shape. A scraper always works, though. They're cheap, easy to sharpen, versatile and will leave a phenomenal finish if used properly. They cut and take shavings just like a plane. In fact, there was a big kerfuffle some time ago about a Japanese video examining the function of the chip breaker. The thing that struck me most was when the system was taking the best shavings, it only took a smidgen of imagination to see how similar it looked to burr on a scraper.

    Anyhow, that would be my first step.

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