Trimming Plugs

Cutting and sanding wood plugs can be tedious and laborious. Here, pros discuss efficient ways to make a clean job of it. September 3, 2005

What is the most efficient way of cutting plugs? I use 3/8" plugs and trim and sand approximately 2000 a day. We are currently using cheaply made Stanley wood rasps. I have tried everything from Japanese cut saws to expensive planes and still have not come up with a solution. A belt sander will not work. I am looking for a way that is not physically draining to my employees. I feel like I own a sweatshop when I have three workers running either wood rasps or sand blocks with coarse sandpaper. This is really cutting into our production and is quit a monotonous job to perform. I need a solution.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor H:
I had about 15,000 ipe plugs to cut on a deck in the Bahamas some time ago. We replaced the plastic router base with a 1/4" ply base. To the ply base we attached two hardwood pieces 1/2" X 1/2" X 5". These pieces were parallel and about 2" apart. Now it's just a matter of lowering the mortise bit down to the level of the bottom of the hardwood pieces. The hardwood rides on the deck boards while the bit cuts the plug flush.

From contributor J:
Sharp chisel turned upside down (bevel angle going away from the work). Chop off like butter with the grain, leave proud 1/16", random orbit sander. Pretty quick to knock them off this way, actually, and they seldom if ever cut off below the surface when you're holding the chisel in this manner.

From contributor F:
Contributor H has a great idea. He was working on a deck, though, and on finer work, you may run into trouble if the surrounding areas aren't perfectly flat, i.e. router bit mill marks where you don't want them.

If you know how to sharpen, contributor J's idea is great, as well. That's how I do them, except I use a sharp block plane and scrapers to do the final leveling. But again, knowing how to sharpen and tune hand tools comes into play.

A lot of machine-only cabinetmakers would experience a whole different and exciting world by learning how to use and sharpen hand tools. It is hard for the uninitiated to understand the pure joy of quickly knocking the top of your face frame or little bit of stile flush with a finished end or stringer with a plane instead of a belt sander, or quickly using the various types of scrapers to remove cross grain sanding left by the wide belt instead of lots of random orbital sanding.

You mentioned expensive planes, and I can only assume you gave up on them in frustration at not getting them to perform correctly. I can only tell you that they will work if you put the time into understanding them and tuning and sharpening them, and they will solve your current problem. The block plane I would use is an inexpensive tool.

From contributor L:
Use a flush cutoff saw (reversible for those lefties) and drill or punch a hole the size of the plug in a piece of aluminum flashing. Place the flashing over the plug and use the cutoff saw to cut it down. This will leave the plug proud about 1/64", with no surface mars. Use an orbital sander to finish it off. Should take about 20 seconds per operation.

From contributor R:
Contributor H's idea always worked for me - a router on sleds. Just set the bit down to a playing card and go. It leaves just .010", which sands off in a heartbeat. To do production, you don't have time to mess around with planes, chisels, etc. - you need something that plugs in. This is the same method we use to shave down the squeeze, when joining solid surface material.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
I've had success with using plugs which were 1/16" shy of the hole depth. I use liquid nails, which is thick enough to hold the plug flush (use a metal bar or blade to push it in and don't over do it) and it sets in 10 minutes. As long as the precut plug is level, little or no sanding is required. I swear by liquid nails as an adhesive. Just make sure that you don't use too much because it will ooze out unless you’re doing paint grade.