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I've ordered some custom pine shelves to fit into an alcove. Due to poor communication, they are 1-2 mm too long to fit.

What is the best way to cut them down to size? They're 5cm(~2") thick and 22cm(~9") wide (90cm (~35") long).

I live in a flat (apartment), so I have limited space to cut wood inside and get dust everywhere. I have a multitool and was considering either using that to sand it down to size a few mm outdoors, or buying a wood plane and using that to reduce the thickness (though i don't currently have a bench to clamp it to), not sure what is the easiest approach.

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    Are the shelves built to the spec you provided (or was measured by the company), or did the custom company build them larger than spec? If they built them incorrectly, the best bet would be to have them make the adjustment - they'll have all the necessary tooling to do a proper job of it. If they're built to spec but the spec is wrong, please clarify if these are simple shelves (planks) or an entire shelf unit with vertical sides as that will make a huge difference in how you go about modifying it.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 7, 2023 at 15:56
  • These are just planks that come with brackets. I do have the option of returning them, but if I can adjust them myself it would be something that I would like to learn for future reference. Feb 7, 2023 at 16:10
  • 2" thick is pretty darned thick for a shelf that's only 35" long. I have 1x12 pine shelves 48" long, overloaded with books, that have held up for decades supported only at the ends with no more than minor bowing. Or is this a 1" thick shelf with 2" thick edging to make it look more substantial? (This is what confused me in one of the answers; I saw 2" and thought "that can't be thickness.")
    – keshlam
    Feb 8, 2023 at 19:26
  • 5cm indeed. they look like this bensimpsonfurniture.com/collections/bracket-shelves/products/… part Feb 8, 2023 at 19:42
  • Where are you in the world? Is there any tool library or a "makerspace" nearby?
    – mustaccio
    Feb 9, 2023 at 1:08

8 Answers 8

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A couple of swipes with a block plane, which is an extremely apartment-friendly tool - low cost, quiet, makes shavings, not dust.

For not-very-extensive work such as this (or even more extensive work) plenty of apartment-dwellers get by with an appropriately protected coffee-table, desk, or kitchen-counter as a working surface. For just planing off the edge of a board, all you really need is a stop to hold the board in a way that you can plane all the way to the end. That "stop" could be the other boards set against a wall or across a doorway opening.

Edit, now that you have clarified the issue to be length rather than width:

A block plane is still good, but a low-angle block plane is better for end-grain, you'll need to cross the "sharpness - no, really, sharper than that!" part of your education sooner rather than later. Sharp planes work very well. Dull planes don't work at all.

Study up on "scary sharp" and buy some sandpaper and either a stone threshold or a scrap of plate glass; Unless a stone countertop or similar hard flat surface is already available...

The side you are planing towards should be supported very close to the end you are trimming off (so it does not splinter as you exit the wood.)

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  • Agreed. See this.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 7, 2023 at 16:15
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    Or not exit the wood and work from both sides inward.
    – Arsenal
    Feb 8, 2023 at 13:05
  • I've found rasp planes to work well on end grain. You just need to be sure to work inward on the corners to avoid tear-out. They are really inexpensive.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 8, 2023 at 17:07
  • It will take more than a couple of swipes on end-grain Feb 8, 2023 at 18:12
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Between the two tools you mentioned (a multitool and a plane) the plane would give the best results.

You don't necessarily need a bench to clamp the workpiece to, a kitchen countertop with an overhang may work just fine, but I would be cautious about tightening a clamp against a granite or other stone countertop, as too tight may crack it. A kitchen towel between the wood and countertop would help cushion and hold the piece.

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    A plane is definitely the way to go. Before the OP purchases one, though, some research is required - setting up a plane to do a good job on end-grain takes some effort. It's not just "pop it out of the box and go to town".
    – FreeMan
    Feb 7, 2023 at 16:15
  • They are desribed as too wide, not too long, so they can cross the end-grain learning curve another day. But studying up on "scary sharp" and buying some sandpaper and either a stone threshold or a scrap of plate glass is advisable. Unless a stone countertop is already available...
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 7, 2023 at 16:19
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    Sorry I realise now i've mixed up length and width. They are too long not too wide as i originally described. They are going into an alcove so the ends will be hidden, but I will need to plane the end grain. Feb 7, 2023 at 16:34
  • Then a block plane is still good, but a low-angle block plane is better, you need to cross the "sharpness - no, really, sharper than that!" part of your education, and the side you are planing towards should be supported very close to the end you are trimming off (so it does not splinter as you exit the wood)
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 7, 2023 at 16:52
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Just as an alternative: See if there is someone with a tablesaw available somewhere. The more professional shops can probably do this in one pass, or max 2.

It'll be extremely quick, straight and apartment friendly.

You could just call around and offer a small compensation (some companies might want a financial compensation, some might do it for some good cookies in their coffee break).

If you dont know anyone, you could use Makerbook.io*, which is a site that is intended for cases like this (albeit a bit more significant jobs); you can rent a little shoptime to make use of their machines.

* I am in no way affiliated, nor do I have personal experience with their service.

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  • I'm giving an up vote just for that link. Very useful!!
    – FreeMan
    Feb 8, 2023 at 12:30
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5cm thick is about 2”. That’s a lot of material on end grain. If you can do it outside, a grinder or belt sander would speed things up.

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    @Keshlam The OP wants to remove 2mm from a plank that is 50 x 220. Two inches is the thickness of the plank - not the amount to be removed. Feb 8, 2023 at 14:19
  • I never said to remove 2”
    – Mlew
    Feb 19, 2023 at 23:59
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You mention a multitool and plane, but you don't have the plane yet -- you'd have to buy it. If you're willing to go out and buy a new tool, a pull saw seems perfect for the job. Maybe even a bit cheaper than a plane. For one-time stuff like this the amount of "dust" created is not that much. This involves some propping to steady the board, as others have mentioned, then a couple minutes of steady hand-eye coordinated strokes.

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  • To saw off 1-2 mm? Feb 8, 2023 at 6:57
  • @RohitGupta I've used a pullsaw to remove about 2mm off the bottom of a door (before I purchased a power-plane)
    – SiHa
    Feb 8, 2023 at 10:50
  • @RohitGupta The kerf on pull saws is very narrow. It's possible but I think difficult to pull off. There's also a big chance of cutting too deep in error.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 8, 2023 at 20:21
  • Not sure what you mean by "too deep"; my impression is that an entire slice of end grain needs to get cut off. So, cutting all the way through. If it's only 2 mm it is tricky, but I would personally be vary wary of using a plane on end grain as the alternative. With my skill there would definitely be huge chipout, especially because it's pine!
    – jimmy
    Feb 23, 2023 at 21:31
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If I understand correctly, you need to shave down the end-grain on the hidden edges of the shelf. You can do it with a really sharp block plane but if you've never used one before, you are probably going to struggle and possibly damage the wood.

Instead of a block plane, I would recommend a rasp plane like this one:

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/zboAAOSwCdVczc0Q/s-l500.jpg

These are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. It's like a cheese grater. It doesn't take much effort, even on end-grain. I've used these to shave off the top of doors that are rubbing the frame. They are a little messier than a block plane and leave a rougher finish but if the shaved edges are hidden, that seems not to be a concern.

Start at the corners and work inward. Once the front and back edges are the right length, you can work the middle in any direction. Working at a slight angle to the piece can help speed things up.

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  • Thanks i'll look into this option Feb 8, 2023 at 19:43
  • @user3084100 Another term I see for this is 'rasp-cut file'. The one pictured above looks exactly like what I have. You can also replace the cutting surface so you might want to consider the ability to find parts if you think you'll use it again. Just want to reiterate that you should go inward on the corners. If it's not clear what I mean, I can update the answer. You'll definitely get tear-out going the other way.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 8, 2023 at 20:18
  • I think Jeremy Boden's answer refers to the same item. I saw "surform" on a lot of the links that came up when I searched for 'rasp plane' so that's another term that might help you find this.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 8, 2023 at 20:23
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    Surform® is Stanley's trademark for the device. Microplane is a different brand, with some newer tech, though I believe they do offer replacement blades in their system that fit old Surforms. Microplanes are popular with kitchen geeks, to bring the cheese grater full circle.
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 8, 2023 at 22:51
  • @Ecnerwal Yeah, I have a microplane in my kitchen. I'm not sure it would the best choice here, though.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 9, 2023 at 15:39
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Jigsaw?

If the ends of the shelves are hidden against the alcove wall, I'd use my jigsaw. You can shave off 1-2mm, by using the oscillating blade as a powered rasp rather than a saw. The "cut" won't be as pretty as using a plane, but there again, with cross-grain planing there's danger of breaking a splinter off the long edge. You can clamp a piece of wood across the shelf you are working on as a guide to cut/rasp a better straight line than following a pencil line. But there again, how straight are the alcove walls?

Dust? Work outdoors, or connect the jigsaw to a vacuum cleaner. I don't use the vacuum attachment much, because dust always sticks to the transparent blade shroud and makes it impossible to really see what the blade is doing. Maybe it's just my particular model of jigsaw.

This suggestion definitely only for cross-grain or a board material. For slightly reducing width along wood grain, most definitely use a plane. Better finish, and no dust.

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Using a block plane on end-grain is difficult and has a tendency to cause splitting. Try a surform grater device.

If possible practice on some old wood - end-grain only.

Consider cutting into the alcove to avoid wood cutting, if this is possible.

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