Best power tool for cutting slabs?

San Diego, CA
Hello all, I've been lathing for a few years now but am getting into a broader range of woodworking this year. My question is - what is the best power tool to cut a piece of wood at least 1ft all around (1ft x 1ft x 1ft... just an approx, these will be uneven log or heartwood pieces).... into 1in thick slabs? Without wasting a bunch of it?

See, I usually work with exotic hardwoods, so that chunk of wood could cost me over $200 to purchase. So I really need to minimize wood loss when cutting.... therefore anything that wastes 1/3rd of the wood is out. My goal is to produce things like serving paddles and small stands. But, having little experience with tools other than a lathe and etc, I don't know what could do that. The only thing I could think of was a mill, but they are huge and wayyy out of my price range. So any tips would be amazing!

The tools I have are:
  • Lathe
  • Drill Press
  • Table Saw
  • Scroll Saw (new this week, but obviously way too narrow for the job)
  • Planer (which will come in handy AFTER the cuts!)
  • Misc smaller tools, i.e. drill, belt sander, router, dremel, wood burner, etc.
I could budget up to $250 for another major tool. I'd raaaather keep it under $100, but I'm realistic enough to know that's probably not gonna happen! But I just don't know enough about anything other than lathing to figure out what I need to get this done. So, any advice is very appreciated. Thanks!!
Sahara my first thought for the cross cut is a chop saw. But then cutting it lengthwise would be extremely dangerous. It isn't within your budget unless you build a sled for the table saw and cut them to length. Then a bandsaw will have a very thin kerf and do well in cutting it down to size.

I edited my answer to include what Roger says, "welcome to the forum":wave:
Use your lathe.

Glue a nice thick block on one end of the block of wood, then mount the piece on a large faceplate with a lot of screws, bring up the tailstock to capture the block.

Next round off the block so that you now have a 1' wide by 1' long cylinder.

Make a dovetail groove in the face of the tailstock end to fit your chuck, and part the whole thing off with a parting tool.

I have a nice 1/16" parting tool that works well.

I know you might lose closer to 1/8", but the surface would be flat, if you use a bandsaw or something, you will not have a perfectly flat piece of wood, it will wobble, and the will cost you more wood than the kerf of the parting tool, IMHO.

Does that make sense?
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Welcome to the family, Sahara. Glad you found us and hoping you will post some pictures of your work. If the slabs/chunks are all less than 16" my first choice would be a bandsaw, something like the Laguna 18 HD. Knowing that option is out of your budget range, I would look for someone in the local area with a big band saw or with a band mill ( ). It's not quite clear to me whether these are cubes or long beams. You could actually slab a cube with a hand saw, but you would work up a sweat in a hurry. A beam would need a band mill. Any other options would use a chain saw and that would waste a lot of wood.
Bandsaw without a doubt but for slabbing that size your budget is unfortunately off by about 10x unless you get a really really really good deal on a used one (around here even used ones that reliably slab 12" go for close to $1000, you'd want something bigger/stiffer than the usual 14" jobbies). If you're feeling really handy you might check out Mathius Wendel's homemade rig there are other homemade bandmills out there as well, beware that without adequate guards they're a really good way to loose a limb.

About the only thing I know of course to your budget would be a kerfing plane (basically a short saw blade with a guide) and a frame saw (Blackburn tools sells blades and other parts your could also get a flat piece of r52 hardened 1095 flat plate from someplace like McMaster but you'll kill $30-50 worth of files with the initial shaping). You'd be in great shape when you were done with all the cutting anyway :D

The lathe idea could work but parting in that far would be... exciting. I'm not sure I'd want to tackle it hand held, maybe some sort of captive rig. Hand held seems like a good way to throw a tool across the room.

Practically speaking your best bet is probably to find a friendly sawyer who can cut it on thier band mill.

Also welcome to the forum.
To cut lengthwise with a power tool will require a large bandsaw or a band mill. Or simply using a hand saw and lot of elbow grease will work. A chain saw might do it but most chains do not do well cutting with the grain and you will have a large kerf. I used to use one man cross cut saws. When sharpened properly they cut very fast and do the job well. Actually, I would ask around your area for someone with a band mill. That would make your cuts in minutes with a minimum of fuss.
Sahara, I misunderstood, thought you were cutting slabs into 1'X1' square. So I would change my answer. 1' diameter logs, 1' long, I would suggest splitting with a steel wedge. Then use a froe to split into the sizes you can use.
Thank you everyone!

Yeah, that's what I thought. I had hoped there was some tool or way of rigging that I had overlooked. The big band saw is definitely out of my price range. Unfortunately I had already looked around in my area for people who'd be willing to cut it for me, and came up blank. I'll try again. Honestly though, transportation is an issue, since I can't drive (no depth perception) and I live in the boonies. I get most things delivered.

I'd rather not lathe it round, since most serving platters are square-ish, that would waste a lot of wood. (That and I'd be pretty nervous trying to part something that thick on the lathe.) A handsaw would kill me, I work with the hardest woods (ebony, lignum vitae, etc) and I don't think I have the muscles to get through a block like that by hand! And on a lot of these pieces, the grain isn't strait (I have a nice piece of olivewood burl sitting and waiting, for example).

And thank you, everyone, for the welcome!
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From what I'm reading you are looking for a unicorn, I know we all do it from time to time, and certainly there is no harm in asking, I certainly understand that I don't have all the answers and input from others can really help.

OK, you have large cubes of expensive wood that you would like to make into flat squares of wood.

There are several ways to do this in the home shop, a largish bandsaw or a chainsaw.

Largish Bandsaw

  1. Initial cost is high.
  2. Saves money on wasted wood.

  1. Initial Cost is low
  2. Kerf is wide, using up too much of your expensive wood.

Subcontracting out the cutting process
  1. Trouble finding someone to do the work at a reasonable price
  2. Transporting the wood to and from the subcontractor

Really the only thing I think that works with your budget restraints is a chainsaw.

Yes I understand the whole "Wasted Wood" thing, but if you get a good electric chainsaw, a good one, they do have thin kerf chains, the one I have, Makita UC4051A Electric Chain Saw, 16" has a 3/8" kerf.

A good bandsaw is going to take a 1/8" kerf, yes I know you can argue that it will take less, and that could be true, but most bandsaws also cut a bit wavy. Let's just use the 3/8" vs 1/8" for this discussiong.

OK you have a cube of wood that is 12" x 12" x 12"

You want 1" slabs

If you cut with the bandsaw getting 1/8" kerfs, then you will have ten 1" thick slabs and one 7/8" slab
so that is ten 1" thick slabs and one 7/8" thick slab, in a perfect world :)

If you used a 3/8" kerf chainsaw you would get nine 1" slabs


Bandsaw you get ten 1" thick slabs plus one 7/8" slab
Chainsaw you get nine 1" slabs

From what I see here the answer must be the chainsaw, yes you lose one 1" slab and one 7/8" slab, but if the wood is really that expensive, then why is your budget so low?

You could get the chainsaw and use it to make these slabs and then save up for the larger bandsaw, looking for a good deal on a new one or a good used unit, or the chainsaw could be your answer until you find someone local that would be willing to cut the slabs for you.

Now don't get me wrong the chainsaw is not all fun and games it would be a lot more work than a bandsaw, but is it within your budget.

Then to make the chainsaw cutting straight and easier on you physically you could make a variation of this...

I hope this helps!