Cutting End Grain

Cutting end grain is very different from planing with the grain; it calls for a lot of pressure and control. In fact, cutting end grain requires nearly three times the force that it takes to cut parallel to the grain. You can do four things to make end-grain cutting easier.

First, you can keep the edge of the blade as keen as possible. Second, you can take lighter cuts. Third, you can keep the bevel angle of the blade as low as possible, consistent with edge retention; however, this is a matter of trial and error. You start with a low bevel angle (20 for softwood and 25 for hardwood) and increase it only if you get edge failure. The failure is quickly evident by scratches showing up on the end grain. Fourth, you can skew the plane. Instead of cutting directly across the grain, hold the plane askew to the path of travel. This has exactly the same effect as lowering the bevel angle, because it lowers the cutting angle. If you have a 27 cutting angle, by rotating the plane 45 and taking a skew cut, you will get the same cutting action that you would if you had lowered the bevel angle to 20. If you skewed the plane even more, say to 60, you would get a cutting angle of 14. The edge does not fail because exactly the same amount of distortional force is being applied over greater blade width. This leads directly to one of the little-known facts about tool technique - a blade used at a skew can be sharpened at a lower angle than a blade used to cut squarely across the wood, and the skewed blade will still retain its edge.

Fig. 1: Preventing splitting.
Fig. 2: Planing end grain using a shooting board.

Planing end grain involves a lot of force. It is therefore important to have the workpiece firmly clamped in position. If possible, clamp the workpiece upright in a vise, keeping it low so that it will be secure and comfortable to work.

Be aware that at the edge of the piece the end grain will easily split. You can prevent splitting by clamping a small scrap block to the edge.

Another way to plane end grain is to make use of a shooting board. It guides the plane to cut a perfectly square edge (or a bevelled edge if you want), and holds the workpiece in such a way as to prevent splintering of the end-grain fibers. Shooting boards are usually for shooting 90 (as illustrated) or 45 for miter cuts.