Best way to get perfectly flat edges on wood joins without power tools?

Ok being a rank amateur at joinery, what is the best way to get the sides of the wood you are going to join perfectly flat so that they fit snugly?  I'm trying to resist the urge to buy power tools so any advice appreciated, even if it means I have to invest some money in a decent jigsaw or something.  I do prefer hand tools though :)

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Cut a sanding belt and glue it to a flat surface. 120 grit at 36 inches long will flatten stock pretty quick. Make hash marks all along the sanded surface with a pencil so you know when it is flat.

A length of granite back splash makes a good backing piece for the sanding belt; smooth, straight, heavy and the glue releases well from the surface when it's time to change belts.

An alternative is to use an appropriate hand plane but it takes more skill in use and a good plane is harder to find along with being more expensive.

Either way you choose using a shooting board makes getting a good surface simpler.

Good tip on the granite.

Looks like I'm going to have to buy a belt sander then.  Thanks for the replies.

No. Just buy the belt for the sander. Cut the look to make a long, continuous strip.

Ah gotcha, told you I was an amateur!  Thanks.

I use the sanding trick and the shooting board too but if you use the sanding method make something perfectly square to the granite to use as a guide and I tend to do both sides at once. I like the shooting board best but will sometimes touch it up on the sanding board. Youtube has lots of stuff on shooting boards.

You can get rolls of bulk sandpaper from Harbor Freight.

I don't care too much for sandpaper.

It rounds the edges over and leaves grit behind.

if you were to match up your pieces the way you wish, then flip one over, end for end, stack them on top of each other, you could then run your plane down the edge and have a perfect match for a glue-up.

well, you'll need to clamp them together... :-)


For flat surfaces, especially when you are glueing them together, there's not much to beat a traditional well-set-up hand hand plane. You need a sturdy bench and a vice to hold the work, a good steel straight edge and try square to check your work, and that's it. I hate to say this, but sometimes its a good thing to learn how to do things the traditional way and not hope that a machine will do it for you. I've got a fair amount of power workshop tools, but before I had any of them I had 3 old secondhand Record planes, a decent handsaw and 2 spokeshaves to cut and shape my timber. In the long run it's way better to learn how to use hand tools, you learn a new skill, it's satisfying and gives a great result. Yes it takes time, but what's the hurry, unless you are making 10 or 20 guitars a week? When you go on to use serious power tools, you have a better understanding of how to achieve and check the accuracy of your work.

A belt sander is a handy tool, and I wouldn't be without mine, but my Record plane will flatten a piece of maple or mahogany far more accurately. Most belt sanders don't have a truly flat bed, only being constructed of pressed steel rather than the cast iron of a plane, the joint in the belt gives a little "kick", and unless you buy a really big one, you won't get a long joint smoothed in one continuous pass without running past the rollers on each end. Power tools are great, but there's no substitute for a sharp blade, a keen eye and a bit of muscle.

...where can I get that keen eye and bit of muscle....???  I was sure that I used to have some......maybe over there in the .... No??  Darn, what was I looking for???


I use a 2 1/2 inch wide, 18 inch long aluminum sanding block I got at a local hobby shop for $10. Also, a good square, I like a smaller 6 inch. About $8 at home depot. Its easy to sand or plane a surface flat but square is another thing. I like to start with 80 grit to remove bulk, then work my way to 150 grit. With a good sanding block  you can get a good flat, level, smooth surface with clean sharp edges. I like sharp edges for more accurate layout work. I always round them over before finishing though. 

Thanks for the replies, been a bit busy to respond.  I was making a wide headstock for the first time and needed to add "ears" to it, and I just rolled out a long bit of sandpaper on my workbench and did it, seemed to work fine.  I am going to go down the plane route though, I'd like to use hand tools where I can and learn this rather than machine it.


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