As your woodworking skill increases, you might feel the need to mill your own lumber. Not only does milling your own lumber give you the precise pieces you need for your unique projects, but it’s also a money-saver. Essentially, milling your own lumber is an investment where your returns are in the form of money saved by avoiding overpriced boards from retailers.
One of the most crucial tools needed to produce your own boards is a jointer – a tool with an upward-facing cutterhead that flattens faces and squared edges of boards. If you’re looking to save some on some floor space, then consider getting a benchtop jointer.
You might have some questions regarding how to mount a benchtop jointer onto your workbench or table and how to properly joint boards on it. In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to begin milling your own lumber with the help of a benchtop jointer.
1. Placing the benchtop jointer
A benchtop jointer is a compact version of the regular freestanding model. It’s a great choice for people who don’t have the floor space to dedicate to a single tool. Instead, with a benchtop jointer, you can take it out of storage and place it on a surface when needed and put it away when you’re done.
It’s a good idea to find a benchtop jointer that has some weight to it. Many models don’t come with screw holes that let you mount it onto a workbench, so having mass will prevent the legs from slipping from under it. Models with a cast iron frame are not only durable, but they usually weigh enough to not go sliding all over the place when flattening your boards.
The proper place for a benchtop jointer would be on a level surface at the height which doesn’t require you leaning or bending over in order to flatten boards. There also needs to be several feet of clearance, both to the right and left of the machine so that you can pass your boards comfortably over the cutterhead.
2. Ensuring co-planar tables
In order to ensure that the faces of your boards come out flat and the edges squared is by setting the height of the benchtop jointer’s tables are perfectly level. You might need a straight edge to help determine whether the infeed and outfeed tables are parallel to one another or not. You can check out the owner’s manual to help with setting the heights of each table and make adjustments if required.
3. Squaring up the fence
The fence – a long piece of aluminum, plastic, or cast iron that sits perpendicular to the machine’s tables behind the cutter head – needs to be perfectly squared up. The angle of the fence can be adjusted, usually between 45° and 135°, to accommodate oddly shaped boards. It’s also essential that the fence is squared up, or perpendicular to the tables, to help make good clean edges.
Squaring up the fence will require some external tools. The best of which is a digital angle gauge. You can also get by with a machinist’s square if you don’t already have a digital angle gauge on hand. If you go by eye, you might end up with perfectly flattened surfaces but angled edges.
4. Setting the depth of cut
You need to set the depth of the cut prior to pushing a piece of lumber over the jointer. Each pass over the cutterhead should produce noticeable progress. However, you don’t want to go too deep with each pass since it can overburden the motor and potentially damage the board, machine, or possibly even both. It’s recommended that each the depth of the cutter head should be adjusted at 1/32-inch increments to produce flatness.
Before squaring up the edges, you need to ensure that at least one of the faces is perfectly flat. Run the board, face-side down, over the cutter head after setting the depth. Do it again a second time to make sure that the face panel is completely flat.
After one of the board’s faces is perfectly flat, you can begin squaring up one or all of the edges. This requires pushing the flat-side of the board against the fence. Apply forward pressure to push the board flush against the fence and downward pressure to make contact with the cutter head. Do this at least twice to produce flawless edges.
The steps explained above show how to use a benchtop jointer. However, there are some additional things that we need to address so you can be sure you’re jointing correctly and safely.
1. Determining the direction of the grain
The direction in which the grain runs through a stock can end up affecting the final product after running it over a jointer. Results vary from nothing at all to complete disaster depending on a wide range of variables, including wood species, the sharpness of the cutterhead’s knives, and the feed rate.
It may not matter, but if you’re hearing some chattering noises coming from the cutterhead or experiencing tearout as the board runs over the cutter head, you’ll need to adjust the orientation of the board. In general, you want to feed the board in the same direction in which the grains run – from left to right.
2. Holding with the left hand, pushing with the right
Your left hand should be used to keep the board steady and pressed up against the fence as it passes over the cutterhead. As the board passes from the infeed table over the jointer and onto the outfeed table, there shouldn’t be a noticeable bump when transitioning. Your left hand should remain stable while the board passes from different tables.
The right hand should push/feed the board over the cutterhead. Don’t make any stutters when feeding the board since it could potentially lead to bogging the cutterhead or the removal of too much material in a single pass. You can use a push block if you’re not completely comfortable using your bare hand.
3. Eliminating a crook
A crook is an arc-like defect in the shape of the board. Imagine one side of the board is flat while the other side is arced like the legs of a bridge. Unfortunately, a jointer won’t be able to flatten the arced side.
Instead, you can employ the use of other tools, such as a band saw, a circular saw or even a miter saw if the board can fit. Draw a straight line slightly above the arc from one side of the board to the other. Remove the defect using your tool of choice. Try and make the newly cut-side as parallel to the other side as possible since a jointer won’t help in fixing any parallelism problems.