Flattening a Glued-Up Dresser Top without a Belt Sander

Hand-planing techniques described. January 27, 2007

I am pretty new to woodworking, but have made a nice end table at a professional shop. I want to make a dresser, and have a question about sanding the top of the dresser. I am going to have several 1x6 boards that I will glue and clamp together so I can get the appropriate width for my dresser. However, when I made my table, I made the top flat by putting it through a wide belt sander, and I surely don't have a wide belt sander in my own shop. What are some techniques to getting a nice true, flat surface? Can I use a belt sander?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A:
The age old question, once again. There are many ways to achieve the flat top that you are looking for, and the wide belt is just one, as you will discover. It's not really the best one, just maybe the fastest. I believe in a home shop setting, I would just take my favorite jointing plane and sharpen the blade real good. And I mean razor sharp, so you can shave the hair off the back of your arm. Should not take more than 5 minutes.

I hope that after the glue up, the boards are close to being flat. They should be if they were prepared properly to start with. Just put a little of your favorite music on, get your best dog to lie by the door, and start planing at a 45 degree angle to the grain. You will only nip off the high spots to start with, but as you alternate between planing from the right and left sides, you will begin to take bigger and bigger bites. I should say longer curls, not bigger as in deeper bites. In no time flat (no pun intended), you will have that top flat as a pancake. Then plane with the grain to rid the top of the cross grain plane marks. After it looks better, you should switch to a scraper to finish off the top properly. Then go out and play some Frisbee with your pup. That might be one of the best ways ever to spend a Saturday morning.

From contributor P:
Yes, you can do it with a belt sander. The jointer plane is an excellent method, and much more elegant. It takes time to master, too. When I started woodworking at the ripe young age of 15, I was armed with a table saw, router and belt sander. It is a wonder what you can do with the belt sander. If your sander is in top shape with new platen (the metal and cork like thing between the wheels), you can do it. Like anything, it takes practice. I would also use a large sanding block to help level the board when I was done belt sanding. When using a large sanding block, use adhesive type sandpaper. It will stay on the block. You can get it at an auto-body supply store. Remember, if you really screw a piece up, you can always take it to a shop and have it widebelt sanded. Don't be afraid to keep trying.

From contributor L:
The fastest way to flatten your panel is to ensure that you glue it up flat. (Ask or search for how-to's if you're not sure how.) From there, cleaning it up with a hand plane will be a doable task. If you laid it up with 1/8 inch errors, unless you have the right set of planes and know how to use them, a hand plane will bring you down as quickly as it does the panel.

From contributor J:
There's a lot of good advice here, so I will add just one more thing. If you have a planer, you can glue up multiple pieces to the biggest size that will fit through your planer. Let's say you have the typical small shop twelve inch planer. You can have three 12" glue ups made flat through the planer, then you only have three pieces to glue up to make a 36" top. Now you have an easier final glue up and you can use the methods described above and finish it off.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all your great comments.

From contributor B:
Why don't you just take it to the nearest shop with a wide belt and pay them to run it? Sometimes doing it yourself just isn't worth the time it takes.