Tearout: My Battle with Mahogany

mahogany tear out

The grain in my African mahogany boards runs in ribbons with grain changing directions all over the place. Using a No.4 smoother and a scraper is my usual plan of attack with other types of lumber, but I got a LOT of nasty tearout in this mahogany. So I looked into two methods I have been avoiding:

  1. Back bevels. I keep my sharpening system simple. All my plane blades have the same sharpening angle and this is fine for most of my work. But this mahogany has be beat so I thought I would put a back bevel on a No.3 I don’t use much as an experiment. The back bevel presents the blade to the work at a higher angle so the plane action is pushed towards the scraping end of the spectrum. It is harder to push the plane, but by the time I am using it the boards are flat and just need a little more work. I also tightened the mouth of the plane by moving the frog forward, and made an effort to sharpen the blade very frequently.
  2. Sanding. I don’t woodwork so I can sand. I don’t have dust caking everything in the garage and I want to keep it that way. I remember the day I discovered even a poorly sharpened plane did more in 5 minutes than a coarse sanding could do in an hour to prep a rough surface. But the back beveled plane still leaves a little tear out (still much better than it was before) and so the palm sander was allowed to spend some time outside of its box. I sand on my WorkMate out on the driveway to keep my garage clean – it is noisy and my neighbours are going to hate me. One advantage to sanding is that the very fine grits create a good starting surface for French polishing.
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6 thoughts on “Tearout: My Battle with Mahogany

  1. Oh how sad you had to resort to the tailed sander!

    I too am working with some of that unruly mahogany, and I too find a lot of tear out. Yet,so far (knock wood) I’ve whipped it without resorting to sanding. I keep stroping my #5’s iron to perfection and taking the least possible cut — lots of them. Then, I tuned up a whole battalion of card scrapers. Lots of work, but still no sanding. Like you, I would rather sharpen in the traditional way, without the ruler trick or any other tricks. Sharp always wins out.

    The next problem though is all the open pores and a finish that doesn’t suffer pores easily (more about that in a few days on my own blog.).

  2. The chipbreaker / cap iron suggestions are spot on. In addition to the 2 videos suggested, there are a series of 3 by “The English Woodworker” with thorough explanation. I just re-tuned a plane and attacked more of that angry mahogany. It worked perfectly.

    Watch them in order:


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