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Thread: Workbench Top Grain Direction Question

  1. #1
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    Workbench Top Grain Direction Question

    I'm in the early stages of a new split-top workbench build and I'm trying to be careful about grain direction for when I need to flatten this thing. Is it best to have the two halves going in opposite directions so it's easier to plane for a right-hander, like this?

    -----------> Back Half
    <---------- Front Half

    Or is it preferred to have both halves in the same direction as you are working across/diagonal to the grain?

    -----------> Back Half
    -----------> Front Half


    Maybe I'm overthinking this?
    There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.” - Dave Barry

  2. #2
    Your top illustration makes sense to me. FWIW, before I knew about router sleds, I flattened my solid top, maple edge grain bench with my #7. I worked alternating diagonal until it was flat, then with the grain with the #7, taking a smaller shaving. I don't recall having any issues with tear out, etc.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Bain View Post

    Or is it preferred to have both halves in the same direction as you are working across/diagonal to the grain?
    Many would agree that planing across the timber is a recipe for making your slabs thinner than intended,
    one mere extra swipe is all it takes if doing such, and certainly shouldn't be thought necessary
    for any future dressings.

    Charlesworth made the best videos with no bad habits, i.e specifically planing in rows, and paying utmost attention to the perimeter of the work,
    in both planes, displaying how much cigarette paper of 0.2 thickness, can cause a straight edge to pivot about,
    after demonstrating the stopped shaving technique.

    That should answer your question I think.

    All the best
    Tom

  4. #4
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    I like your first illustration - for final planing. If there is any significant amount of material at all to remove, I'd start diagonal and if it's a mess, straight across the grain. Just careful of where the plane exits the material on the far side or you'll take some chunks off that side.

  5. #5
    Funny, I just re-flattened my southern yellow pine split-top bench with my #5-1/2, and was wishing that I had paid attention to this same issue when making it! There were a few spots that tore out pretty badly.

    I'd go with alternating directions on each slab.

  6. #6
    I have a split top. Absolutely you want both going in the same direction. When you flatten, you want to treat it as ONE top that happens to have a gap in it. If you flatten the front as one top, then flatten the back as one top, even if you alternate back and forth, you will wind up with two tops that are flat, but not on the same plane. Then when you put a work piece down that spans both halves it will wobble.

    Now if your arms are so short that you can’t do diagonal passes all the way across the width of your bench, then maybe you need to do each separately. But if that’s the case, maybe rethink how wide your bench is!

  7. #7
    Only grain direction I would consider important is “ bark side up” ….but get rid of the bark ! Bark side up makes sure you will not
    have any popping up sharp edge grain.

  8. #8
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    Chris, a diagonal pattern works with either. Once you're flat, you (or I rather, not telling you what to do) take the smoothing passes along the length. To transition from one side to the other and keep flat, simply change direction, use a longer plane and skew it so the heel rides on the first side (the already planed side) of the split top.

    Quote Originally Posted by chris carter View Post
    I have a split top. Absolutely you want both going in the same direction. When you flatten, you want to treat it as ONE top that happens to have a gap in it. If you flatten the front as one top, then flatten the back as one top, even if you alternate back and forth, you will wind up with two tops that are flat, but not on the same plane. Then when you put a work piece down that spans both halves it will wobble.

    Now if your arms are so short that you can’t do diagonal passes all the way across the width of your bench, then maybe you need to do each separately. But if that’s the case, maybe rethink how wide your bench is!

  9. #9
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    If you have a bevel down plane with a chipbreaker, I'd spend some time learning how to set the chipbreaker so you can plane without tearout. This is a situation where there's no great way to orient the boards so you can always plane with the grain. If both slabs are oriented the same then you'll be stuck planing one side left handed or with a pull stroke. If you orient them opposite, you risk tearout when you cross from one to the other. And in any case there is likely to be reversing grain somewhere no matter how you orient.

    I'd do as much work as possible with full length shavings down the length versus diagonal or cross grain. It seems more efficient to me, and you won't pull a big splinter out of the edges. Bridge the gap in the middle by angling the plane so the heel is on one side and the toe on the other, but keep the plane going straight down the length.

  10. #10
    The op mentioned it was a spit top. To me, that indicates a a gap between the tops. Let's make sure we know what he is planning exactly.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Hutchings View Post
    The op mentioned it was a spit top. To me, that indicates a a gap between the tops. Let's make sure we know what he is planning exactly.
    It will be a split top with a gap stop ... I assumed that it's best to flatten with the gap stop in place.
    There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.” - Dave Barry

  12. #12
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    I'd spend some time preparing the bottom side of the bench top, so they sit flat on the bench frame.

    Make the two pieces as straight and of similar thickness as you can before you mount them.

    After they're installed you shouldn't be monkeying with diagonal plane passes and other coarse work that should have been done in advance.

    Rafael

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