Milling Strategy for Curly Maple

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Forum topic by harriw posted 09-23-2014 03:28 AM 4562 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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132 posts in 3125 days

09-23-2014 03:28 AM

Hi folks,

A friend of mine has been wanting to make a dining room table for his wife for years, and just got a great deal on some rough cut Curly Maple (beautiful stuff – looks to be around 30 BF, and he only paid $50). He knew I have a jointer and planer, and asked me to mill them up for him, and I’d like some advice on how to go about it, as I don’t have much experience with wider boards.

They’re all rough cut, slightly under 5/4, and most boards are around 10” wide, about 4 feet long. I explained my jointer is only a 6”, but he said he thought they were pretty straight, and would like me to just clean up the faces on the planer and square an edge on the jointer. Well, they’re not as straight as originally thought. They all have some warp to them. The worst shows slightly under 1/4” gap when the opposite corner is held down. Since he’s looking to edge glue all these boards into a 4’ round table top, that warping is definitely going to be a problem.

I’m going to call and ask what he’d like me to do, but would like some more experienced opinions as well. I think the best option is probably to rip the boards down the center. That will both let me get the boards through my jointer, and reduce the amount of material loss. But I don’t really want to rip cup right through that beautiful curly grain… How noticeable would that re-gluing be do you think, once you’ve removed that saw-curf, plus a few passes edge-jointing? Or should he purposely not re-glue matching halves to avoid the slight mis-match?

I’m slowly familiarizing myself with hand-planes, but my sharpening skills need improvement and I’m not ready to try that on somebody else’s lumber. A planer sled would be great but I don’t have one, and honestly don’t see myself using one much in the near future (I don’t tend to use wide boards very often).

My only other thought is whether or not he might be able to force the warped boards to cooperate if he used biscuits, or even a long tongue and groove to join the boards? Pretty sure he could force 1/4” over 4 feet with 3/4” stock, but if I just plane the faces smooth these will probably be slightly over 1” thick… I suspect the seems will also be more visible than you’d like if I edge the boards with that warp still present.

Anyway, just wondering what you might do in this situation. Thanks very much!


-- Bill - Western NY

10 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10792 posts in 4565 days

#1 posted 09-23-2014 03:45 AM

Sometimes you may want to retain as much
thickness as possible. After all, you cannot
make a too-thin board thicker but you can
do the opposite later in the project.

When making these sorts of decisions I may use
the jointer for parts, but in the end the boards
are “flattened” using hand planes to remove twist
enough to run through the planer. The planer
will remove cupping on the other face and it
will follow bowing, which is to some extent
acceptable if you’re going to do something like
glue up the boards using cauls. What’s not
acceptable is twist.

A 10” wide board can be acceptably flattened
on a jointer by flipping it and addressing whatever
problems are left with hand planes.

View realcowtown_eric's profile


638 posts in 2855 days

#2 posted 09-23-2014 04:09 AM

even with uncurly maaple, I run it through the planer and then sand to thickness with a thickness sander.

I just find it more effective, nothing more frustrating that haveing to sand out one little tear out in an otherwise perfect boaard.


-- Real_cowtown_eric

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

580 posts in 3296 days

#3 posted 09-23-2014 05:06 AM

I would be careful with the curly maple on your jointer and planer unless you have helical cutters in them. Yore going to get a good amount of tear out due to the wild grain.

-- Matt, Arizona

View JayG46's profile


139 posts in 2776 days

#4 posted 09-23-2014 09:01 AM

This is a tough one. Curly maple, more than any other wood I can think of, shows glue lines even when they are perfectly tight. That figure is just too irregular and pronounced and your eye tends to jump right to that intersection. One way to mitigate this is to put a strip of contrasting wood with some color like cherry or walnut in between the pieces of maple.

Hand planing would generally be a pretty good solution but even for someone who is excellent with them and is using something ultra sharp and low angled, it’s going to be tough to avoid tear out in curly soft maple.

I have a domino, which I use for gluing things that are too wide to run through my planer but that is just for alignment during glue up. Once the glue dries, I don’t know how big of a difference there is going to be between a regular flat glue joint and a mechanical fastener like a domino or a T&G. As we all know, wood has a way of finding its natural shape no matter what you do to it.

Some combination of Loren’s suggestion about flipping the board around on the jointer (after removing the guard and proceeding with caution, I assume) and using cauls when you glue it up should get the job done.

One other suggestion is that you could try to find someone in your area that has a bigger jointer that would be willing to run your boards for a small fee. If it’s a large operation, they might be able to plane it and run it through the wide belt sander too!

-- Jay Gargiulo, Naples, FL "Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things."- Miyamoto Musashi

View ADHDan's profile


802 posts in 3026 days

#5 posted 09-23-2014 12:35 PM

One way to mitigate this is to put a strip of contrasting wood with some color like cherry or walnut in between the pieces of maple.

This seems like a really good idea. Even with a thin kerf blade, if you rip and reglue curly maple that line will be noticeable and annoying – like a CD with one little scratch where you always brace yourself before the skip. Alternating with a contrasting wood is both practical and interesting/attractive.

Plus it’s a good way to use up off-rips we can never bring ourselves to throw away, like those 8’ long by 1” wide strips of black walnut hiding in my lumber rack.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View retfr8flyr's profile


386 posts in 2587 days

#6 posted 09-23-2014 12:55 PM

I would check with a local cabinet making shop and see what they would charge you to run them through their large planner. If you are going to try it yourself, I would rip the boards in half that have the largest cup in them. You will loose less thickness planning a narrower board then trying to flatten a wide board because you are basically cutting the amount of cupping in half.. As others have stated, without a helical head in your planner you will have lots or tear out on curly maple. Make sure your blades are very sharp and take very small cuts.

-- Earl

View Underdog's profile


1557 posts in 2953 days

#7 posted 09-23-2014 02:00 PM

I’d be one to say that curly maple is very difficult to plane or joint with normal heads. I’ve only been successful in planing to rough thickness, and then using a widebelt sander for final thickness.
One thing you might try is spraying the surface with water before planing to minimize tearout.

-- Jim, Georgia, USA

View DurocShark's profile


65 posts in 3688 days

#8 posted 09-23-2014 02:14 PM

I’ll second all this, and also mention that the more figure in the maple, the more likely a fracture will occur. I had kickback from a planer when a piece of very figured maple cracked. The piece of maple shot out of the planer and impaled itself in the wall. Happily I was standing to the side of the machine when it happened.

-- -Don

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3876 days

#9 posted 09-23-2014 04:06 PM

I second retfr8flyr’s suggestion to find a machine capable of doing what needs to be done. Short cuts often end up with regrets attached. You absolutely will see any lines in the figure, best to minimize them. But the very first thing I always suggest is to let the wood set in his home, where it will forever be, and acclimate to his exact moisture content; figured woods are persnickety, and need to be treated as such. If it is going to change moisture content, it will often tend to move; let it have the chance to do so before any machine work is done. Best of luck.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Loren's profile


10792 posts in 4565 days

#10 posted 09-23-2014 04:22 PM

Curly woods can also be planed successfully by
putting a 5-10 degree back bevel on the planer
blades. This is admittedly an exotic solution
requiring a planer blade grinder.

Standard 45 degree pitch bench plane irons
can also be back beveled to bring the working
pitch up higher, resulting in more of a “scraping”

Brian Burns did not invent back beveling but he
did develop a hand plane sharpening method. In
his original booklet on double bevel sharpening
he described manufacturing a leather working
stripper with a maple body (I’ve seen a few of
his at flee markets) and having a big reject
problem with the wood. He had a Makita wet
grinder on hand so beveling the planer blades
as an experiment did not involve more expense,
and it worked.

I also doubt the wisdom and aesthetics of putting
all that solid curly maple in a table top. If it’s
of sufficient quality it can be sawn up for guitar
backs and sides and be sold on ebay for a pretty
penny and a friendlier timber acquired for the

The easiest way to get that maple surfaced is
to get it milled just enough to glue up flattish,
glue it up and run it through a rented wide
belt sander.

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