The Slippery Truth

When you are working in your shop it is important to have control of your work. Work surfaces, especially tables, should support your lumber and provide as little resistance as possible. This makes your job safer, more accurate, causes less fatigue, and just makes it more enjoyable. It is not instinctual to make your work area slick. But, in the right place, slick is exactly what you need.

For making surfaces slick there are two excellent options–one temporary and one permanent. The temporary solution is to apply something to the surface, like wax. There are also sprays available made with different compounds, but I recommend good old Johnson’s Paste Wax.

You can use wax for all of your tools with metal or wood parts. I use it on all of my fixtures and jigs where I want less friction, especially my crosscut sled. You should wax every stationary power tool table in your shop. The obvious ones are the table saw, jointer, router table and planer. I also use it on my hand power tools, including the jig saw and router. If you want the wood to glide along nicely, wax it.

No need for wax here. The planer board has taller sides and an UHMW surface to keep the boards going through smoothly and without end snipe.

The planer board has a piece of plywood mounted to the bottom to hook the bed of the planer. This is all that holds the board in place and makes for easy removal when you need the extra width.

The outfeed side of the planer board can be longer than the factory table for more support. This board is 48" long, but could be longer if you have the space.

The permanent solution is to use UHMW (Ultra-high molecular weight) plastic. I have found this most useful on the planer. As a matter of fact, setting up a table board with a sheet of UHMW was one of the first things I did once I got my new planer up and running. I used a sheet of 3/8″ thick UHMW plastic on top of a box made from 3/4″ plywood that is easily removed from my planer. The only adjustment to the planer was to move the bed rollers all of the way down and out of the picture. I was happy to do this because I think bed rollers are a terrible solution to the problem of boards getting stuck in the planer.  No matter how they are adjusted they make the ends of the boards snipe every time. In contrast, boards never, never, never get stuck on the UHMW and having a flat bed with no bed rollers eliminates the snipe. Lumber just goes in one end and out the other with no dip on the ends.

The UHMW is available in sheets and adhesive-backed strips. The strips can be applied to fences and jigs where friction can be a problem. The strips and smaller pieces are available at Woodcraft or Rockler and the larger pieces I purchase from Regal plastics here in St. Louis. They aren’t cheap (a 36″ x 48″ pieces cost about $50), but well worth it.

Before you start your next project, wax your work surface or add a piece of UHMW plastic. You will wonder why you hadn’t done it sooner.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

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