Planing wood is one of the most important steps to complete your next wooden project.
It’s so important that a lot of woodworkers plan for a planing step anytime they’re putting something together made of wood.
But what if your planer breaks or you don’t have one on hand? Are you out of luck?
No! Of course not!
There are a lot of ways you can plane wood without a planer. The main advantage of a planer is that they plane wood quickly and with a minimum of additional steps or processes.
In this post, I’ll explore how to plane wood without a planer and much more. Let’s get started!
Why Plane Wood?
The first thing we need to talk about is why you should plane wood in the first place.
After all, there’s no reason to learn how to plane wood without a planer if you don’t know why it’s important to plane wood in the first place.
The main goal of planing wood is to get a uniform thickness across the entire board, along with a smooth surface.
Smoothing the wood might be the first step in preparing for other decorative processes, or might be your goal for the finished product.
Electric wood planers help with that by working quickly and giving you a flat surface very efficiently. But there are plenty of power tools and even manual tools that can take the place of an electric wood planer.
7 Best Ways To Plane Wood Without A Planer
Let’s talk about the some of the options you can use either as an alternative to an electric wood planer, or as your go-to option when you’re in a pinch.
Sandpaper is probably the first wood planer alternative people think of when they need to figure out how to plane wood without a planer.
Sandpaper can be an effective option, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best one.
For one thing, any time you’re sanding by hand it’s a slow process.
Unless you have an electric sander, it takes a lot of time to level a piece of wood the way a planer would, especially if you’re working with wood that has a lot of bumps and knots or that isn’t quite the right shape yet.
The use of time means that sandpaper is generally most useful on small projects and projects that are already 90% of the way to being finished and ready, or even closer.
You don’t want to waste hours of your time slowly hand-sanding a board to consistent thickness and a smooth surface.
However, sandpaper can be incredibly useful as a finishing touch when you’re making furniture or almost anything out of wood.
It’s also a good step to take after using another plane alternative. Just be careful to make sure sanding a board flat doesn’t get too time-consuming or labor-intensive.
Run The Wood Through Your Table Saw
If you’re working with wood that isn’t quite the right shape yet, or if you need to make boards with a piece of wood that hasn’t been shaped, a table saw can be a good alternative.
A table saw will work faster than coarse sandpaper, and the saw blade will last longer than the sand paper, which means that this is a good option for projects of a reasonable size to work with your saw.
Like all power tools there are a lot of limitation to a table saw, however.
For one thing, you can only cut one edge at a time.
If the wood you’re working with is wider than the saw blade can handle, you’ll need to flip it to create flat wood without a planer.
This is a good option for cutting rough lumber into smaller thinner boards, but it will waste more wood than other options, and you’ll run the risk of creating burn marks if you try to work too quickly.
Lastly, if you’re working with a table saw and want a smooth finish that looks and feels professional, you’ll need to go in with sandpaper or another planing tool later.
That said, if you need square edges or to work through a lot of material quickly, this is one of the least time-consuming and most effective alternatives to a power planer.
If you don’t have a planer, you might also be curious how you can cut wood without a saw.
Try A Drum Sander
A drum sander is another alternative to a smoothing plane or power planer.
This is probably the tool that will mimic the function of a planer best and works well as an alternative to a thickness planer.
However, remember, drum sanders aren’t planers, and there is a fair amount of wood loss depending on how much material you need to remove to smooth and get the right thickness wood.
It’s a good idea to switch to a wide belt for your drum sander as well, otherwise, you’re likely to need to use sandpaper by hand to help even out the results.
It’s also important to make sure you’re using the right grit sandpaper in your drum sander. Coarse sandpaper is going to strip off a lot of material quickly, while finer grit sandpaper is more suitable for creating a smooth surface than removing a lot of material.
The other thing to consider when planing with a drum sander is that it’s incredibly important to make sure the wood is in the proper position for the finish you want to create.
It’s much easier to accidentally create a curved surface with a drum sander than with a planer.
Consider using an engineering square and a level to double-check your results if precision matters.
Remember, you’re not using a thickness planer, so you’ll need to do a little more checking on your project, even with a wide belt.
If your wood is wet, you might be wondering if you can sand wet wood. Check out this post to know if you can sand wet wood!
Consider Using A Router
A wood router is probably the tool that will give you results closest to the results of a planer.
Most wood routers still need some sandpaper and smoothing treatment after you’ve got the right thickness and a smooth surface, but your wood router offers a lot of speed and highly consistent results.
The trick with using a router is that you will likely need to make a jig to make sure the router is the right depth for your desired thickness when the wood is finished.
It’s also important to remember that using a power tool in a way that it’s not designed to be used can be dangerous.
Routers can cause some nasty injuries when things go wrong, so you need to double and triple-check everything while using a wood router as a planer alternative.
That said, the process of using a wood router, assuming you have a well-made jig and know what kind of results you’re looking for, is one of the fastest planing options.
The router won’t care about high spots or gaps in the wood, protects the grain of the finished surface, and is relatively fast compared with sanding and other planer alternatives.
Use A Hand Wood Planer
When you’re without a power planer a hand plane is probably the next best alternative.
The results from a manual plane are almost identical to the ones from a power planer, and they can even be more precise.
There are even some woodworkers who only work with hand planes, not because they’re opposed to power planers, but because hand planes offer a wider variety of functions and give you more control over the project.
So why doesn’t everyone use hand planes?
Well, there are a few problems, regardless of whether you’re using a jack plane, jointer plane, or scrub plane.
First and foremost, it can be hard work, especially if you’re working with hardwood or knotty lumber.
Planing by hand can also take a fair amount of strength and precision, especially if you’re trying to flatten wood that’s got a lot of bumps and bad edges.
Hand planing relies on the wood grain and following the wood to help remove even strips across the lumber.
Different blade options can also have a big impact on your project, and matching the blade to the grain of the wood is important for a professional finish.
Flatten Wood With The Moisture Method
Want to flatten wood and don’t really have any suitable tools?
In some cases, all you need is some water, a few towels, and a source of heat. Hint – the sun is a great source of heat.
To be clear, this process is mostly effective for warped wood, and it’s an alternative to planing both sides of the boards to get a smooth and flat surface.
This method can also be a good way to salvage warped lumber!
There are limits to how much warp you can fix, even with relatively soft lumber, but this woodworking trick is a fantastic way to save materials that would otherwise be scrap.
The way this works is by allowing moisture into the wood to loosen tensions and allow the wood’s grain to straighten out naturally.
Generally, you wet both sides of the wood, but apply heat to one side, specifically the side the wood is curving toward.
Depending on the severity of the warping you may need to use clamps to hold the wood in place in your shop, a steam clothing iron to provide a lot of heat and some additional moisture, or some weight on top of the curvature to help the wood return to normal.
To be clear, this technique isn’t suitable for changing the thickness of your wood. It doesn’t work like a sander or some of the other tools on this list.
This technique is strictly a replacement for the ability of a planer to flatten warped or bumpy wood. You’ll need to use other techniques to change the shape, size, or thickness of your lumber.
It’s also important to plan for a lot of drying time after straightening the wood.
It can take days or weeks for the wood to get back to a suitable dryness for woodworking of any kind.
Working with it too early risks splitting, shrinkage, and additional warping in your finished piece.
Try A Hand Saw And Straight Edge
This option is a good option of last resort.
Did you lose power in your shop but want to keep working on your project? Did your planer break and don’t want to replace it right away?
A hand saw is a good option for planing small pieces, but it takes a lot of skill and patience to get good results.
A jig or set of clamps to hold the lumber in place can help you get a better finish.
Having a straight edge to help make sure the saw isn’t wavering as you work is also helpful.
The better your saw, the more likely you are to get the desired result you’re looking for.
If your saw blade is going through more wood in a single pass there are fewer chances for your hand to shift or for the blade to turn mid-pass.
The result is a better, straighter edge.
However, like most hand tools, you’ll need some additional finishing steps to get a smooth surface.
A jack plane, sandpaper, or other smoothing tools can be helpful.
Also, a hand saw is one of the best options if you need to create thin boards and don’t want to lose all of the extra material.
If you have a little extra wood you can afford to lose when you finish with a hand saw, a drum sander is a good way to finish quickly.
Final Thoughts on How to Plane Wood Without a Planer
When it comes to woodworking, there are many projects that might require you to plane wood – but not everyone has access to a wood planer.
Learning how to plane wood without a planer is easier than you think and there are several methods you can try.
From sanding the wood to using a power tool like a router – you can plane wood without a planer in no time.