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.
TOOLS THAT YOU’LL NEED
Even though I have a nice tool buying guide (here), I’m still often asked for links to the tools that I use in my videos, so here they are (note that you don’t need all these tools):
- Lie-Nielsen Low Angle Rabbet Block Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 5 Jack Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 4 Smoothing Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 7 Jointer Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 6 Fore Plane
- Vintage Stanley No. 8 Jointer Plane
- Vintage Wooden Jointer Plane
- Vintage Disston No. 16 Cross Cut Panel Saw
- Vintage Disston No. D-8 Rip Panel Saw
- Vintage Millers Falls Miter box and miter saw
MARKING & MEASURING:
- Starrett 6-inch combination square
- Vintage metal try square
- Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge
- Lie-Nielsen panel gauge
- Wooden Straight Edge (see my tutorial)
- Staedtler Mars 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil
- Winding sticks (don’t buy…make your own)
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:
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: