8 Steps for Preparing Lumber for Woodworking Projects

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There are eight steps to preparing lumber at the beginning of the construction phase of a project. Whether you buy rough or surfaced lumber from the mill, the lumber yard, a home center, or a specialty wood store you have to prepare the lumber for use.

The lumber can be “rough cut” from the mill, or “surfaced” lumber that has been smoothed on two, three, or four sides. Regardless of whether or not you buy lumber rough or surfaced, the wood has to be prepared for use. You have to take into account the design size of the pieces required for the project, any grain pattern considerations for the project from the plank we are cutting up, and any warping in the wood.

Rough lumber gives you more thickness to work with when preparing the lumber to eliminate a warp. Rough lumber is usually 1/8th inch (3 mm) to 1/4 inch (6 mm), or more, thicker than surfaced lumber.

1. Cut the board to rough length

The first cut to make to a board is to slice approximately a 1 inch (25 mm) piece from the end of the board. Look for small cracks, called checks, which may not be visible but could ruin a piece. If not eliminated, checks could continue to propagate in your project piece and eventually split the entire length.

Try to bend the end-cut piece, if you see a crack or it breaks when you bend it, cut another piece. Continue to cut and check pieces until no more cracks are found. you may sometimes have to cut eight inches (200 mm) or more from the end of a board to eliminate the checks. Once that is done cut the pieces you need from the board.

Allow at least one extra inch (25 mm) of length in each of the pieces you are cutting from the plank. Mark the board for the cuts. Use a radial arm saw, table saw, or miter saw to make these oversize cuts.

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