Mark ( on August 6th, 2008

Previously, I wrote about the merits of using rough stock in your woodworking. In that post I discussed the benefits offered to every woodworker through milling your own boards from rough to ready. What I did not cover is how to go about preparing rough stock for use on a project.

The basic steps from Rough to Ready

Lot’s of articles have been written about taking a board from rough to 4-square. The basic steps that I follow are:

  1. Crosscut to rough length
  2. Rip to rough width
  3. Joint one face of the board
  4. Joint an adjacent edge square to the previously jointed face
  5. Rip to final width
  6. Crosscut to final length and/or add joinery details such as tenons, etc.

In this post, I’d like to focus on the first two steps of the process and to discuss how I typically approach them, and why.

As a point of clarification, the process and order of operations that I follow is deliberate. Some might argue with the first step of crosscutting to rough length so early in the process. My rationale is as follows: I try to get each piece as close to finished dimension as possible before any surfacing with the jointer or planer. Smaller pieces are easier to handle and the inevitable task of removing imperfections in a board (cup, twist, bow, etc.) are easier remove and with less wasted stock when the pieces are smaller. In some cases, a piece of stock that is basically unusable due to a condition such as bowing while in its long state can be successfully managed when cut down to smaller lengths because the condition is less pronounced in the shorter pieces.

Crosscutting to Rough Length

As I mentioned, the first thing that I do is to crosscut pieces to rough length. The only time that I deviate from this is when the finished parts may end up too short to rip, joint and/or plane in future steps of the milling process. My rule of thumb is a minimum of about 16″ in length. Shorter than that and I will usually try to layout and group like pieces within the same piece of stock. Then I will safely mill the longer board until the final step where I can crosscut to final lengths and add the joniery.

My tool of choice for this cross cutting step may surprise you. I typically use the hand held jigsaw for this operation. I do this because the jigsaw is portable and easy to maneuver in my small shop. I can also choose to crosscut in a larger area if necessary if the piece is to long to easily get into my shop. Those are the practical reasons however, the more important reason is safety.

Rough stock by nature is uneven and uncooperative when trying to hold it against a tool’s table or fence. It tends to wobble and shift in those situations. Of course, those conditions are a problem for tools such as the table saw, radial arm saw and/or miter saw. The way that those tools work with their relatively thick rotating blades tends to allow for conditions that support kickback to occur. Because the jigsaw is portable, I can set the rough stock across my workbench and with the aid of a roller stand for support, crosscut pieces as necessary without any worries. The jigsaw also has a very narrow blade that reciprocates rather than rotates. Thus, kickback is rarely a concern.

Ripping to Rough Width

Once the pieces have been crosscut to rough length, I can rip them to rough width. I can hear you out there saying that if I do this now before the stock is smooth I will either have to use a jig or risk kickback on the table saw. Well, the reason that I can do this now without the need of any special sleds or other jigs is because of the tool that I use.

My tool of choice for the rough ripping operation is the band saw. Because of the same dangerous condiitons that I described which can promote kickback during crosscutting rough stock, using the table saw for this operation (without the use of a rough ripping sled or some other device to make it safe) is not advisable.

I use the band saw to rough rip for much the same reasons that I use the jigsaw for rough crosscutting. The blade is thin and moves in a single direction toward the table. Even with the tendency for rough stock to close in on the cut while it is ripped (caused from relieving stresses in the board which develop during the growing and/or drying process) there is virtually no danger of kickback. The worst thing that may typically happen in severe cases is that the blade can bind requiring the kerf to be propped open with a wedge in order to complete the cut.

Other merits of using the band saw to rough rip are numerous. Some examples are: the ability to follow certain grain patterns in a rough board rather than ripping parallel to the edge in order to have the best looking piece result; to easily work around defects in stock; to get maximal use of a board due to the very narrow kerf of the band saw; and finally to more easily work with and rip thick stock avoiding potentially risky operations at the table saw.

Again, with the band saw I will sometimes group parts when I lay them out on the rough stock so that the ripping operation is safe both at this tool as well as later during final ripping on the table saw. I do not like to rip anything on the table saw that is shorter than 16″ in length and/or with a finished width narrower than about 2-3″. Generally, I do these dangerous ripping tasks safely at the band saw with a longer piece of stock and then joint or plane to finished width before the final cross cut.

If you don’t have a band saw, you could also accomplish these rough ripping tasks with a hand held jigsaw. Alternately, if you do not have a jig saw, you should build a rough ripping sled for your table saw in order to rip rough stock safely.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on the process that I use and why I do it this way. My main goal is to stay safe and to make the process as easy as possible within the constraints of my shop. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please leave a comment with the comments field at the end of the post or send me an e-mail.

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