Believe it or not, sometimes sanding works better than planing wood. Straight, clear grain is easy to plane. You can take a deep cut at a high feed rate and produce a fairly smooth surface. Figured wood, however, doesn't have a consistent grain direction--it presents both end grain and long grain on its surface. Because of this, it is difficult to plane. The planer knives tend to lift the end grain and tear it out, leaving the surface chipped and gouged. When this is the case, plane the stock until it is slightly thicker than needed and then sand to its final thickness!
Sanding to thickness takes longer than planing, but it's gentler on the wood. The abrasive does not lift the grain like planer knives and consequently there is no chipping or tear out. This allows you to surface thin and highly figured wood as well as rough, resawed and glued-up stock. Use only a coarse abrasive for thicknessing--no finer than a 50 grit and a stationary sander that allows you to adjust the height of either the table or head in small increments. A wide belt sander or drum sander such as the Performax are the most popular choices to use as a thickness sander.
Don't try to remove too much stock at once; the machine will bog down and the abrasive will clog. Remove a maximum of 1/32 inch at a time from softwood and narrow hardwood boards--1/64 inch from wide hardwood boards. When surfacing rough or uneven stock, carefully adjust the machine to remove the high spots first.
Always use a cloth backed abrasive with a resin bond. In recent years, the tough, blue zirconia abrasive material (that was originally engineered for metal grinding) has become popular for abrasive planing. Otherwise, the tried-and-true material is always Aluminum Oxide. In addition, a cloth backing that contains polyester will help provide strength in this more aggresive application and the resin bonding system in the abrasive can withstand the higher heat levels that will develop with this operation.
For smoothing, you can use finer grades--step up your grits slowly until you reach 100 grit! For more information, visit our website at www.abrasiveresource.com