Without a doubt, the best tool for surfacing thin stock and planing thin strips is a drum sander. But given the fact that even the smallest and most basic units cost over $700, it’s not a tool everyone can justify having in their shops. Thankfully, there’s a great alternative: the planer. But don’t run out to the shop and start planing veneer just yet. Most planers aren’t very happy running stock that’s less than 1/4″ in thickness. Once the wood gets that thin, it becomes very light and flexible and there’s a good chance it’ll be sucked up into the planer blades which will quickly turn your fancy planer into a wood chipper.
Thankfully, with a little additional support, we can safely run thin stock through the planer for veneer, bent lamination, or anything else requiring surfaced material under 1/4″. All it takes is a shop-made sled consisting of a piece of 3/4″ plywood (or any sheetgood), and a couple thin pieces of solid stock that act as a stop. Using CA Glue, I attach the small strips to one end creating an L-shaped stop. The grain should run front to back for best results. Once the stops are attached, consider coating the surface of the sled with finish to seal the surface. The rough-sawn strip can then be dropped onto the sled with one end nested in the L-shaped stop. The other end gets a small dab of CA Glue in order to prevent lifting at the front. After planing, use a putty knife to pop the strip off the sled. If you sealed the surface, the glue shouldn’t do much damage.
So how far can you take this process? I did a test run with my sled and I was able to achieve a thickness that’s pretty close to commercial veneer! But I did cheat a little since my shellac sealer was still just a bit tacky. That gave the strip full support across the entire length which definitely skewed my results. For practical purposes, I wouldn’t go too much thinner than 1/8″ with this technique but you’ll have to test for yourself to find the lower limit.
Are you interested in learning how to cut thin strips using your table saw? Check out this video!