We’ve all experienced it. You’re preparing the face of a board (either by hand or with a jointer or planer). Things are going along just fine when all of a sudden, it happens – tearout. No matter what we do, it’s just a part of woodworking. Wood is a natural material and is very rarely perfect.
If your preference is to surface boards with machines, tearout might be a real head scratcher. But if you’re not averse to doing a little hand work, then the surface is typically easily repaired. In most cases, tearout is a localized problem. In the pine board above, for example, the grain changed direction on me about mid way. This grain change occupied a 2″ wide strip along the near edge of the board. The rest of the board planed fine from end to end.
Change Direction for Unidirectional Tearout
To remedy tearout, first try planing in the opposite direction. In a flat sawn board, it is very common for the grain on one side of the board to run in the opposite direction that it does on the other side of the board. In these cases, planing the two sides of the board in opposite directions often fixes the problem. Just be careful not to creep over the line of grain direction change. Doing so will cause tearout on the other half of the board. This is the primary problem when using a machine.
Plane Towards or Out from the Center
Sometimes, changing directions doesn’t solve the problem. Such was the case with the board I’m working on here. Changing direction only served to create tearout in the opposite direction. That’s because the grain in this board changed direction at the center of the board’s length.
In these cases, the solution is to plane in both directions. Check the grain direction on the adjacent face or edge and plane from the ends towards the center, or from the center towards the ends. This is where a short plane shines.
Using my small smoother, I started in the middle, and planed toward the end of the board. Then I turned the board around and planed the other half of the torn out area in the opposite direction. The remainder of the board was planed from end to end, all in the same direction. The whole process took about 3 or 4 minutes; much faster than trying to sand it all out.