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Previous owner of my house installed a staircase by creating an opening in the ceiling/floor. One side of this opening is a major support beam of the house --- 12" high, probably 4" wide. Single solid piece of wood. This beam is bowed outward. I would like flatten it out so I can put some drywall over it. This would require removing somewhere around 1/4" to 3/8" over a span of about two feet, and a lesser amount outside of that.

I'm familiar with using sanders, and I know it would do the job --- eventually. But that seems like an awful lot of wood to try to remove that way. I'm not familiar with using other tools that might be useful here --- chisels? planes?

What would be the right tool for this job? And BTW, is there a name for this kind of wood working operation? (Can't google it if you don't know what to call it...)

  • Just a thought; always be careful whenever you consider cutting, trimming or defacing in any way a major support beam. The house itself is dependent upon that beam. Now days you cannot even drill a 1/4" hole through a glue lamb beam. We cannot alter in any way an engineered building product which includes all support beams. – Paul Logan Nov 20 '17 at 6:47
  • It would be safer (and probably easier) to take the extra thickness out of the drywall, instead of out of the framing of your house. Having you thought about using 1/4" drywall, set a slight distance away from the beam? – Jasper Nov 22 '17 at 2:04
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The most popular tool for the job is a power planer, which you're unlikely to own unless you hang tons of doors. The equivalent hand tool would be a bench or jack plane. Overall hand planes are more useful, but high quality ones have eye popping prices.

The most common term would be planing (i.e. to plane). Though just to make things confusing the machine for one side of a board flat is a jointer, while the planer makes the other side parallel to the first. So in wood working (as opposed to carpentry) the operations are called jointing and planing. Most people call portable planers "lunchbox planers" because of their appearance, and stick to power planer or electric planer for the handheld versions. That's not universal though, so expect some crossover results from search engines.

Also if you should ever be in a situation where you need to lift a lunchbox planer use both hands and lift with your knees, not your back. That name is extremely misleading; they weigh a ton.

  • Thanks for a very helpful answer! It looks like HomeDepot will rent power planers, so I will give it a try. – Denise Draper Nov 20 '17 at 6:27
  • Carefully inspect the lumber to be planed for nails or other metal fasteners. – Jim Stewart Nov 20 '17 at 19:04
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I thought I'd chime back in with what I eventually did. I ended up trying some of everything: I rented a power planar, I used a chisel, and I used a Dremel SawMax which has a little 1" wide blade that you can push directly into a surface.

The chisel was nice for removing larger pieces of wood, but had the downside that sometimes it would follow the grain and dig too deep. I'm sure if I knew how to use it better I would have been able to control it more. In my case the deep gouges don't matter because I'm going to put material over it, but if I cared about the surface, that would have ruined it.

The power planer was great for making a rough surface smooth, but difficult to get it to bite into the wood when it was already smooth, which made it not very effective at removing material.

The Dremel SawMax, with a plunge saw blade, was the surprise. I found it very easy to handle in a "shaving" motion, cutting in a kerf-width or a little more at a time. And, it went exactly where I wanted it to.

In the end I found the combination of the SawMax (to quickly and coarsely remove wood mass) and the power planer (to smooth out the result) worked best.

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