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Thread: Squaring lumber

  1. #1

    Squaring lumber

    What is the correct (or best) method of squaring lumber? I'm looking for somebody to say start with the table saw, then the jointer and then the thickness planer, or whatever the correct steps are. I've searched Google and there are many replies, all of them going off on esoteric tangents. How about something simple that people like myself can understand and follow? This can't be rocket science, they build beautiful furniture 200 years ago.

    Thanks, DKT

  2. #2
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    Start with your eyes. View the piece and look for grain direction and such. The idea is to figure out which way you need to feed the stock and if you need to chop the piece into shorter lengths or not. It's how you assess just how much stock you'll lose in the milling process.

    First ... cut the pieces to rough length and width using your bandsaw or handheld circular saw or chop saw. Probably unwise to rip with anything but the bandsaw at this point in case you've got twist or something that could cause the board to kick back on other saws (table, circular, etc). Get to within an inch or two of your final length, unless your jointer or planer give you snipe - then accomodate that (if you wish). If you skip this step, you will potentially waste a lot more wood trying to remove larger flaws. A bowed board cut into smaller pieces will yield MUCH thicker final pieces compared to leaving it all one board and dimensioning it whole. You don't have to rough cut each and every piece. The limits of your tools may dictate some of this (jointer width, for example). I like to get as many same-length pieces together so I only have to mill one board to yield 3-4 pieces if possible (like rails and stiles). The biggest thing here is likely length - most boards aren't VERY far off in width, but can be incredibly out on length - both surface and edge - cup is really the only thing that happens to width and this is rarely HUGE. If it is, I pick a different board, usually. So the idea is to group together same-length pieces into a single board if you can. You can rip out final widths after it's milled pretty easily.

    Second - the jointer. Joint one face straight. Don't bother caring about squareness yet, you can't be square to an irregular plane anyway. We're making the first reference face here, and it's the most important. Everything else you do will trace back to the quality of this face. Get it good and straight.

    Next - I like to go to my planer and make the opposing face parallel here. This gives me two straight faces that are coplanar. This will double my feed direction options. Remember, you always want to feed the stock so you're cutting WITH the grain instead of against it. The best way I can describe this is to say you pet a cat from head to tail, not from tail to head. If you do go from tail to head, they end up with all sorts of irregular fur and the going is nowhere near as smooth. Head to tail. And think about the blades, not the direction you're moving. The direction of the blades are the important thing, there.

    Now I go back to the jointer and square up one edge. If I don't have a very good edge to start with - say something that's wayyyy bowed like more than 1/4" or so, I'll take it to my bandsaw and rip a reasonably good starting edge. Otherwise it takes a bazillion passes at the jointer. Which edge do you square up??? Well that depends on the grain direction, mostly. Since you went to the planer first, you can choose either edge and have no limitations because you have two straight reference surfaces. This allows you more flexibility in more than just squaring up the edge. You can also use this to pick and choose the best grain features of the board you want to keep - say that left edge is just bland as all heck and the right edge is stunning. Joint that right edge, so your waste can be trimmed off the bland side.

    Now that you have it S3S (surfaced 3 sides), you can go rip out the width of your workpieces. I like to do this on my bandsaw, too. And then i clean up the surface one last time at the jointer. Three reasons: It wastes a fraction of an inch less than the table saw does, it's safer to rip on the bandsaw anyway, and - all 4 corners are as square a as ONE tool's setup. Instead of having one edge squared up on the jointer and the other on the table saw, I only have to worry that my jointer's setup well for the milling operation. That certainly isn't required, it's just MY preference. You can absolutely rip on the table saw. Many people do. I prefer my bandsaw for the job.

    Now you can cut to final length and begin joinery.



    Edit: It's NOT rocket science. But it's not a simple menu of steps, either. Wood isn't uniform or 100% predictable. The people who built beautiful furniture 200 years ago did so by intimately knowing their wood, too. Grain direction is the biggest variable. They had to accomodate it back then, too.
    Last edited by Jason Beam; 12-11-2007 at 06:22 PM.
    Jason Beam
    Sacramento, CA

  3. #3
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    That was the good answer, here's the short one:

    1. Cut to rough length
    2. Joint a face
    3. Plane the opposite face
    4. Joint an edge
    5. Rip to width


    This is probably more what you're looking for. Trouble is, the fine furniture you see out there rarely follows such a basic flow. It's more complicated than that.
    Jason Beam
    Sacramento, CA

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Beam View Post
    That was the good answer, here's the short one:

    1. Cut to rough length
    2. Joint a face
    3. Plane the opposite face
    4. Joint an edge
    5. Rip to width

    Basically I agree with this and no doubt it will work! I do use a slightly different order and this can vary depending on various things.

    1. Cut to rough length
    2. Rip to rough width (most times)
    3. Joint a face
    4. Joint an edge (Since I am at the jointer anyway)
    5. Plane the opposite face
    6. cut to final width on the table saw


    As I said, sometimes that can vary a little. If I have a straight board I may run it across the jointer now that I have the Great Pumpkin (12" jointer). Then decide how I want to cut it up. If it warped or twisted I tend to trim it down to smaller pieces to save lumber.
    God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway,
    the good fortune to run into the ones I do,
    and the eyesight to tell the difference.


    Kudzu Craft Lightweight Skin on frame Kayaks.
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  5. #5

    Squaring Lumber

    Thank you for all the replies.

    DKT

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dietrich Trenner View Post
    Thank you for all the replies.

    DKT
    Hi Dietrich, Jason and Jeff ,,,
    We have the long Jason and the short Jason, either way I think you have your answer.
    Jason, Thank you for taking the time to explain this process and the reasons for your method so very well. It is appreciated and will be a good reference point for folks with this question in the future. I wonder if we could start an "info Bank" where thorough and explicit information like this could be stored and then recalled simply by the members? I realize all posted material has it's worth, some just seems to have more worth than others.
    Shaz.
    I am a registered voter and you can be too. We ( registered voters ) select the moderators for this forum by voting every six months for the people we want to watch over this family forum.
    Please join me. Register now.
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  7. #7
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    Thanks for the kind words, Shaz!

    For these kinds of threads, i keep 'em bookmarked and regurgitate their url's when I come across a similar question. The idea of an "info bank" has come up on another board I frequent and they always come around to wanting to foster discussion and freshness of info - but sometimes there are things like milling lumber 4-square just isn't at the forefront of bleeding edge change and having it handy is always desired. I dunno the solution ... if there is one ... i kinda like spouting off once in awhile. If i keep saving 'em all, i'll run outta stuff to say! :P
    Jason Beam
    Sacramento, CA

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Beam View Post
    That was the good answer, here's the short one:

    1. Cut to rough length
    2. Joint a face
    3. Plane the opposite face
    4. Joint an edge
    5. Rip to width plus 1/16"
    6. Joint sawn edge to final width


    Jason,

    I added another step to your method 'cause I always get saw marks after ripping.
    Cody


  9. #9
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    "I wonder if we could start an "info Bank" where thorough and explicit information like this could be stored and then recalled simply by the members?"

    There's lots of free wiki software out there. I think on the other site people got hung up in a lot of "what if"s, and spent energy discussing rather than energy building. To my knowledge, no group has yet done a good woodworking wiki. It would be an extremely useful project. I don't see any reason why we couldn't just set one up, and see where it goes. We could just define it as a non-mission critical app... if it flies, fine, if it doesn't go anywhere, that's fine too. It's one of those 'this *will* happen' things... and if not now, when? If not us, who?

    Thanks,

    Bill

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Lantry View Post
    "I wonder if we could start an "info Bank" where thorough and explicit information like this could be stored and then recalled simply by the members?"

    There's lots of free wiki software out there.
    Never done one but I was thinking the same thing. Problem (usually) is it takes someone willing to set it up and maintain it. Usually to many chiefs and not enough willing braves.
    God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway,
    the good fortune to run into the ones I do,
    and the eyesight to tell the difference.


    Kudzu Craft Lightweight Skin on frame Kayaks.
    Custom built boats and Kits

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