How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools {10 Steps}

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By Joshua Farnsworth

In the above video, and in the below 10 steps, I teach one of the most basic and essential skills in traditional woodworking: how to square, flatten, & dimension your own rough lumber into finished boards.

To build quality traditional furniture, you need to start with perfectly flat and square lumber. Some people achieve this with power jointers, planers, and table saws. While the electrical power route is more economical for a commercial woodworking workshop, I prefer the safety, exercise, quiet, and historical feeling that comes from dimensioning my boards by hand. Plus, it just makes you feel cool.

Sure it takes a little longer, but why did you get into woodworking in the first place? To hurry and build a bunch of stuff, or to enjoy yourself? It’s therapeutic to take some things slowly. And with practice, squaring lumber by hand won’t take all that long…ask your ancestors.

STEP 1: CUT THE BOARD TO ROUGH DIMENSIONS

Use a longer try square (12″ +) to mark your rough board’s approximate length.

Then use a Cross Cut panel saw to cut your rough board to rough length (across the grain). Keep in mind that this isn’t your final length. You’re just removing any messy wood, and getting to a manageable length; somewhat close to what you’ll eventually arrive at.

You can also use a Rip Panel saw to rip the board lengthwise (along the grain) to get a manageable width, if needed. Here’s an old chart that shows the difference between Cross-cut saw teeth and Rip saw teeth:

cross-cut-saw-tooth-profile

rip-saw-tooth-profile

STEP 2: FLATTEN A REFERENCE FACE WITH HANDPLANES

Place the board between the bench dogs with the arced side facing up, to avoid rocking. You may need to use shims if your board is in really bad shape. Use a scrub plane or a jack plane with a cambered iron (8 degree camber/arc). This plane is going to be doing rough work, so don’t worry about tuning it extensively.

If you have an extreme arc in the board, plane down the length of the board, removing the high center:

Before planning across the grain, bevel the edge that is farthest away from you, to prevent major tear out:

Then plane across the grain, from one end to the other.

Adjust your plane so that your shavings are as big as possible, while still being able to move the plane.

You can also take some diagonal passes both ways, to aid with flattening:

Tilt your jack plane on its edge and drag it along the board to get a rough idea of your progress toward flatness:

 This board dimensioning blog post continues on the next page….

2017-04-25T22:25:40+00:00

About the Author:

"I'm wildly passionate about traditional woodworking with hand tools, and want to rekindle this lost art. At WoodAndShop I teach you the skills that I learn, and also share anything fascinating that I discover about traditional woodworking. That includes tours of traditional workshops, beautiful furniture, and my favorite tools and books. I hope you enjoy my videos, photos, and articles. Please feel free to leave constructive comments!"

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2 Comments on "How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools {10 Steps}"

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PlanePaul
Member
The main reason I’m posting is because I’d like to enter the Damstom D300 giveaway. The clamps look fantastic. That said, I’ve been reading the articles on this blog for quite a while and I always find them very interesting. This article is especially helpful. While I work with both hand and power tools, knowing the basics helps with overall woodworking technique. As far as the prizes for the giveaway, I’m looking forward to winning the clamps. If I’m not so lucky, I would take the Shaker Candle Stand DVD or the t-shirt. Thank you for taking the time and… Read more »
BobKman
Member

This site is amazing. There is so much terrific information! This is one of my favorite and “go to” videos. I love to reference it before I grab my hand planes.

Those clamps in the give away look great and I would be rheilled to get them. If I do not win those, I would like the Shaker Candle Stand video. The shirts all look great but i really like the red or brown hand plane shirts. My size is XL.

Thanks and keep up the great work.

Bob from New York

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