Having the ability to read grain on wood is one of the many most fundamental critical tasks a woodworker should have competency in. Some timbers are easy to read while others are not. Let’s look at this African Tulip I’m working with to have a better understanding on the subject.
If we look at the board, you’ll see the grain is a cathedral or one could even describe it as a ripple in a pond. It appears to our eyes the grain is pointing from left to right, so if planed from left to right, you’d be planing with the grain or would you. If we inspect closely, you’ll notice the grain is layered from right to left so, our planing direction is right to left.
I know it looks deceptive. Another way of reading the grain if it’s difficult to read on the surface is by feel.
Running your finger along the edge of a board in both directions will most of the time give you a clear sign of where the grain is running. Press lightly when you do it and be careful of splinters.
Most grains can be read, but some just can’t and when you run into the one that can’t, set your plane to take a light shaving. If you feel it snag then stop, even with a plane set to take a little more than a 32nd you can still feel your planing with or against the grain. If it’s tearing on both sides of the board, then hone a higher bevel angle.
The more you work with various species the more you’ll learn what to look out for.
Take care and enjoy your craft