How to Square a Board Without a Jointer

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A jointer is one of the most time saving and useful tools in a woodworker’s collection. However, it’s also one of the least necessary and the last machine woodworkers usually get. If you are looking for alternatives, then keep reading to find out how to square a board without a jointer.

How to Square a Board Without a Jointer

Jointers are large, cost a lot, take up a lot of room and use lots of power, so it might not be the machine you need right now. Let’s go over the best alternatives to face jointing and squaring a board over the edge.

Some great alternatives to jointers include:

Let’s quickly look at how to use each of these machines. 

How to Square a Board Using a Hand Plane

The good old hand plane has been used by masons for centuries. Even with a power jointer available, you’ll still find most workshops having a hand plane to trim some troubling spots on a board. For example, a board might be too wide to effectively get a side flattened with a benchtop or stationary jointer.

Man demonstrating how to square a board without a jointer using a planer

You can start by sighting down any wood distortion with the help of metal or wood with straight lengths over a span. Then, move the hand plane over the sections you need to trim to make them flat. As a tip, use pencil marks over the distortions to help you see which sections you have trimmed or need to be.

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How to Square a Board Using a Planer

Many people confuse a jointer with a planer although the two are quite different. Whereas a jointer flattens a distorted board, a planer makes it have a uniform thickness over its span.

To effectively use a planer, you’ll need the board to have a flat surface as the rollers of the planer press down on the workpiece as it’s being trimmed. Even though you can get a flat face with the help of a router sled on your planer, you can’t make an edge joint with the machine.

For an edge joint, you can still use a hand plane or table saw which we will look at later on. There are two common board defects that you can correct with a planer: cup defects and a twisted board.

How to Correct a Cup Defect Using a Planer

To make a cupped board flat using a planer, glue a pair of runners along its length. Next, place the crowned face up and run the assembly through the planer. The runners act as support, while the blades in a planer make the surface flat with every run. 

Finally, flip over the board to lie on its now flat side and run it through the planer to get a uniform board across the two widest surfaces.

How to Correct a Twisted Board Using a Planer

If your board has other defects such as twists, it can be much harder to fix them with a planer. You’ll need to add runners along the span of the workpiece as you would with a cupped board and add wedges below to support the board through the distorted sections to keep it from rocking.

Next, run the board through the planer to flatten the top with each subsequent pass. Finally, remove the workpiece from the supports and plane the opposite face.

How to Square A Board With a Table Saw

If your board is flat along with one of its broad spans, you can make it have a square edge without a jointer with the help of a table saw. A straight, flat, and square edge ensure full contact on glued joints. Small gaps can eventually lead to structural weakness and failure.

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Wood being cut in a table saw

Here are some quick steps on how to square a board with using a table saw. 

Step 1: Calibrate the Table Saw

Ensure the table saw blade is perpendicular to its face. You could use a combination square to check for consistency.

Step 2: Set Up A Straight Edge

Append a straight edge over the board that you need to joint using tape or make a jig for holding the workpiece flush. The straight edge with a bit of overhang will ride against the table saw’s fence.

Step 3: Make the First Cut

Slide the straight edge appended with your board along the fence and cut away the edges. Ensure to cut the board at a constant and smooth motion.

If your workpiece doesn’t come out cleanly due to something like losing contact with the blade, then cut off another piece until you get the flat edge.

Step 4: Cut the Opposite Side

Remove the guide on the board with the new straight edge. Place the freshly cut straight edge against the table saw’s fence and cut the opposite side.

Step 5: Check for Consistency Along the Cut

Lie the trimmed board over a straight edge or level, and check for any gap or rocking. Repeat the processes if necessary, to get perfectly flush boards.

Person shaping wood with a jointer

How to Check if Your Board is Square

If you need to check if your board is correctly squared, you can use either the Pythagorean theorem or the 3-4-5 rule. 

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Pythagorean Theorem

The simplest method of determining whether any assembly including your board is square is by using the Pythagorean theorem. This means, squaring the width (A), length (B), and diagonal (C) of your board ensuring they all add up.

The measurements should fit the formula A^2 + B^2 = C^2. Cut off edges that are too long as shown by the calculations to make the board square.

The 3-4-5 Rule

Another simple way of determining if your board is square is by using what woodworkers commonly refer to as the 3-4-5 rule. With this method, you don’t need to make any calculations and is therefore much quicker

Essentially, all you need to do is take the diagonals of the workpiece. If the measurements you get are the same, then your board is square across the measured face. If one diagonal is longer than the other, then that’s the edge you’ll need to trim. 

Do I Really Need a Jointer?

A jointer is usually the last piece of equipment beginner woodworkers buy, right after a planer and a table saw. With the latter two woodworking machines, you can make boards square as detailed. However, the work will take much longer.

There isn’t much use for distorted boards when looking to make quality products. So, figure out which equipment you can work with since a jointer isn’t cheap at all. You could get one that’s used and save a buck. 

However, if you are not on a budget and have a few dollars to spare, a jointer will make your work much easier.

Conclusion

Don’t let the lack of a jointer prevent you from diving into that project. In fact, it’s better to start with the limited alternatives to hone your craft and solve problems as they come. You’ll be forced to understand how the tools work together and function to get the best square board without a jointer.

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An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.