There are eight steps to preparing lumber at the beginning of the construction phase of a project. Regardless of whether you purchase rough or surfaced lumber from the mill, the lumber yard, a home center, or a specialty wood store, you need to prepare the lumber for use. Lumber can either be "rough cut" from the mill or "surfaced" lumber, which has been smoothed on two, three, or four sides. It's crucial to take into account the design size of the pieces required for the project, consider any grain patterns from the plank you are cutting up, and address any warping in the wood. Rough lumber offers greater thickness to work with in order to eliminate warp, typically being 1/8th inch (3 mm) to 1/4 inch (6 mm) thicker than surfaced lumber.
1. Cut the Board to Rough Length
Begin by making the first cut to the board, slicing approximately a 1-inch (25 mm) piece from the end. Check for small cracks, called checks, which may not be visible but could jeopardize the piece's integrity. If you see a crack or the piece breaks when you bend it, cut another piece. Continue this process until no more cracks are found, sometimes requiring you to cut eight inches (200 mm) or more from the end. Once done, cut the needed pieces from the board.
2. Allow Extra Length in Pieces
When marking the board for cuts, make sure to allow at least one extra inch (25 mm) of length for each piece. Use a radial arm saw, table saw, or miter saw to make these oversize cuts.
3. Flatten the Best Face of the Board
Choose the best face of the board and run it across the jointer, making several passes to account for the inherent lack of flatness in wood. Mark this jointed face with an "X" or an "@" in pencil to designate it as the reference face for later layout work. Avoid using a planer for this initial flattening, as it mirrors the opposite side and will retain any warp present.
4. Flatten One Edge of the Board
Select the best edge of the board and run it across the jointer, ensuring the reference face is flat against the jointer fence. You may need to make multiple passes. Ensure the jointer fence is set at a 90-degree angle to the jointer outfeed bed. Mark the jointed edge with a "V" to indicate the reference edge.
5. Flatten the Opposite Face
Feed the board through the planer with the reference face down against the bed, making necessary passes to achieve the desired thickness. Leave about 1/32 inch (1 mm) of extra thickness for subsequent removal of machine marks.
6. Cut the Opposite Edge to Width
Run the board through the table saw with the reference edge against the fence, leaving about 1/16 inch extra for jointing and smoothing.
7. Joint the Sawed Edge
Pass the sawed edge across the jointer to remove saw marks, typically requiring just one pass (or two if the edge is rough). Set the jointer for a very thin cut, around 1/64th inch, and leave about 1/32nd inch (1 mm) extra width for final removal of machine marks.
8. Cut the Best End Square and Opposite to Length
Begin by cutting the best end square, aiming to remove no more than 1/4th inch (6 mm). Use a table saw or miter saw for this step. Measure and cut the opposite end to the final length on the same equipment, again leaving about 1/32nd inch for removal of machine marks and smoothing.
Following these steps, you'll have a perfectly prepared board ready for your project.
Allow boards to acclimate in your shop for one to two weeks before use to account for differences in humidity. Avoid using green wood, as it has a high moisture content and can warp unpredictably. Examine the board carefully before starting, considering grain patterns and features. Plan to buy at least twenty percent more lumber than your project requires.