You can use a sharp smoothing plane but my preferred tool is a try plane Record no 07 which has 21-1/2" long sole so that you get a true straight line of cut, you can get one for a reasonable price from a car boot sale or a second hand tool dealer.
Get the blade really sharp before you start and set it for a shallow cut. Plane at a diagonal across the top first in one direction and then the other.
To test for flatness turn the plane on its side across the width at different points along the length of the top and put your eye down level with it to spot any hollows or raised spots.

Once you have evened out any proud boards you can finish sanding the table by hand or with an power sander in the direction of the grain.


Pic 1 of belt sandingPic 2 of belt sanding.Pic 3 of belt sanding.

If you have a belt sander, this is a much easier way of flattening a coffee table top. For an oak table I would start with 80 grit belts for the following procedures but for a pine top, as it is an open grained timber that will clog the grit of a finer belt, I would start with a 40 or even a twenty grit if the tops of the boards were badly aligned.

First pin a couple of small battens (thinner than the thickness of your top) at right angles onto your level surface the length and width of the coffee table top to stop the belt driving the top towards you when you are sanding. Put the top against the battens with the underside facing up, as in the diagrams - battens are shown for right handed worker, the right hand batten should be pinned to the left of the top for a left handed worker.

If you are wondering why bother to sand the underside the answer is that the underside doesn't have to be smooth but it will need to be reasonably flat.

1. If the boards are not very well aligned along their edges which is most likely if you haven't used a biscuit jointer, proceed as in the first diagram on the right) sanding from side to side across the grain and gradually moving the sander towards you, once you get to the edge nearest you repeat the action but this time moving the sander gradually further away from you until you get back to the furthest edge. You may have to repeat this action many times if the alignment is bad. Eventually you will get to a situation where, if you run your hands over the top, there will be no ridges or hollows where the boards join. At this point, turn the top over and repeat the whole procedure on the topside of the coffee table top. Don't worry about all the scratches across the grain that this has created, you will be sanding them all out with the second part of the procedure. Next follow point 2.b.

2.a. If the boards are almost perfectly aligned on the top of the top, follow point 1 for the underside of the table top and once it is flat turn the table top over then follow '2.b.'

2.b. Now sand from side to side with the sander pointing in the direction of the grain gradualy moving it from the left end to the right end as shown in the second diagram until the joints are flat and you have removed all the scratches across the grain.

2.c. Change the sander belt over to 80 grit and give the coffee table top a final sand in the direction of the grain until it is smooth, test by running your hand over it to detect any ridges.

3. Now that the top is flat you need to sand the edges. Make sure the top is firmly held in a bench vice or workmate before starting. Sand the edges with the 80 grit belt, being careful not to tilt the sander to one side or another as you do so.

This isn't the end of the sanding but the next stage comes under finishing.

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