Jointers are wonderful machines to have in your woodworking shop. They are excellent for straightening and flattening the edges of a board, and the faces, to a certain degree. That said, using a jointer properly and safely takes some skill and knowledge.
That’s exactly what we’ll talk about below.
How to Use a Jointer
Let’s go through an in-depth step-by-step process on how to use a jointer.
Step 1: Read the Manual
You do want to be intimately familiar with your machine before you start using it, which means that reading the user’s manual is highly recommended. No, you don’t have to become a world-leading expert on jointers, but knowing what all of the parts and their functions are, as well as the safety rules is very important.
Something else you will want to find out here is what size of stock your jointer can accept, because using stock larger than the accepted range won’t work, and trying to mill very small pieces can be dangerous.
Step 2: Tune the Jointer
To ensure that you can actually achieve the results that you want, you will need to tune the jointer, which can be done on most jointers by using the included tune-up function. If you cannot use the tune-up function for your purposes, or you do not have one, you will need to tune it on your own.
First, you need to ensure that the infeed and outfeed tables are aligned, which is done by raising both tables to the same height and then using a bubble level to ensure that both are perfectly level with the main table. To lower the tables at their outer ends, loosen the gib screws.
You will also need to ensure that the fence is completely square with the main table. Use a triangle to measure the angle between the fence and the table. If the angle is not 90 degrees, now is the time to make the adjustment.
At this point, you also want to ensure that the jointer’s blades or cutting heads are in good condition. If they are not in good condition, sharpening or replacing them may be called for. Now is also the time where you want to adjust the depth of the cutterheads, so you can face-joint your stock.
Step 3: Do Some Face-Jointing
One of the most important steps here is to ensure that one of the faces of your board is completely flat and straight. At least one face needs to be flat and straight so you can rest it against the fence as you joint the edge of the board.
If one face-side of the board is not perfectly flat and straight, when you go to joint either of the edge-sides of the board, you will run into problems. When you edge-joint the crooked board, your edge-jointing results will be equally as crooked. Remember, when all has been said and done, you want the faces and edges of your board to all meet at precise 90-degree angles.
Therefore, set the depth of the cut accordingly, measure and mark a perfectly straight line across one face of the board, and then run it through the jointer. You should now have one edge of the board (the skinny side along the length), that is perfectly flat and straight, perfect for resting against the fence as you joint the edges. To ensure perfection, you can use a bubble level.
Step 4: Measure, Set the Fence, & Set the Cutterheads
Now it is time to finish things off. Now that the faces of your board are jointed and flat, you can move onto jointing the edges of the board. First and foremost, you now need to set the jointer to the appropriate cutting depth.
For instance, if you need to joint 1/4-inch off the edge of your board to achieve straightness and flatness, you will want to set your jointer’s cutting heads to be even more precise than that, such as 1/16-inch, or even more precise. Yes, this means that you will need to make a couple of passes on the same edge, but it also ensures that you don’t cut away too much at once, which would of course not be good.
You need to examine your board and do some measuring to see exactly where and how much of the wood you need to remove to achieve a flat and straight edge. Use a pencil or something similar to mark your board so you can see what your progress is like, so you don’t joint off too much or too little.
You now also need to set the fence so that it is in the right position to edge-joint the board. You really just need to make sure that the fence is set to a perfect 90 degrees, which you can technically do with a digital angle scale, designed exactly for this purpose. With the cutter heads and the fence of the jointer set properly, and the board marked and ready to go, you can move onto the next step.
Step 5: Edge-Joint the Board
The only thing left to do now is to feed the edge of the board through the jointer. Remember that the edge being jointed needs to be facing down into the cutterheads of the jointer.
To properly do this, first, turn the jointer on, and then place the edge being jointed down on the table surface, and make sure to rest the board against the fence.
Place your left hand on top of the board near the front edge (applying just enough downward pressure to make sure that the wood doesn’t bounce over the cutterheads), and then use your right hand to push the board through the cutterheads. Keep repeating this process until you have achieved the desired result.
The Basics of Jointer Safety
Jointers are some pretty dangerous tools. After all, they have very sharp and fast moving cutterheads that can cause serious damage. Let’s go over some basic jointer safety rules to keep your fingers and the rest of you in one piece.
First, when using a jointer, always wear the appropriate protective gear, mainly some high-quality safety goggles to protect your eyes, and if you feel that it is necessary, you may also wear ear protection. Also, never have loose and long hair, never wear jewellery that hands down (such as long necklaces), and never wear loose-sleeved clothing. Anything that can potentially get caught in the jointer is a no-go.
Always turn the jointer on and have it running at full speed before attempting to pass a board through it. If you do this the other way, if you put the board on the cutterheads while they are stationary, and then turn the jointer on, it will cause the board to bounce and move around, potentially causing injury, and at the very least, damaging the workpiece.
Before using the jointer, always make sure that anything that can be loosened or adjusted is tight and secure. Make sure that the infeed and outfeed tables are secure, that the fence does not wobble, and that the cutterheads are securely locked into place.
One of the biggest mistakes that you could make with a jointer in terms of safety is trying to make adjustments when the machine is running. Never make adjustments or get your fingers near those cutting heads when they are still in motion.
When working on stock, always keep both hands on it, on top of it, in order to keep it in the proper position and to prevent any injuries or damage from occurring. If necessary, if the piece is too short or narrow, use push blocks to push it through the jointer, in order to keep your fingers safe.
Finally, always have the board resting against the fence. Trying to freehand a piece of wood without the fence is very dangerous and can result in serious injury.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
To finish things off, let’s go over some other tips and tricks to help make life easier, and to produce the best possible results when using a jointer:
- You generally want to flatten or joint the faces of the board first, as this is the only way that you can achieve a solid 90-degree angle when jointing the edges.
- Although it is not always necessary, it is generally best to joint wood with the grain to prevent tear-out, not against the grain.
- Do not try to remove more than 1/16-inch at once. Attempting to make cuts that are too deep can damage the board, cause tear-out, and may even damage the cutter heads. In many cases this means having to make more than one pass to achieve the desired end result.
- Whatever wood you are working on, it is good to limit it to no more than twice the length of the infeed table.
There you have it folks, everything that you need to know about using a jointer safely and efficiently.
They really aren’t overly hard to use, as long as you follow the proper usage and safety directions. Remember, these are dangerous tools and your safety always comes first.