How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools

//How to Square, Flatten, and Dimension Rough Boards with Hand Tools


Now that your reference face and both edges are flat and square to each other, use a marking gauge to scribe your final board thickness. Set the marking gauge against your reference face and scribe the thickness onto both edges and ends:

I like to follow the marks with a pencil to make them more visible for when I use the handplanes in the next step:

Now you have a line drawn around the parameter of the board.

Use a scrub plane (or jack plane), a jointer plane, and a smoothing plane to flatten & smooth the last face, according to the instructions in steps 2 through 5. But this time you will have the added advantage of guidelines to let you know when you are getting close. But I still use the straight edge and winding sticks to measure my progress:


You should now have two perfect faces and two perfect edges. All that remains is two ends that are square to the faces and edges.

First set a larger try square against your reference edge and scribe your first end’s cut line on your reference face with a fine pencil. Just make sure your try square is actually square. Usually try squares have at least one edge that is true. Refer to my “marking & measuring” buying guide (here) to see how to test a try square for “squareness”.

I have found that my miter box and miter box saw are the best solution to creating perfect ends. Make sure that your board’s reference edge is pressed up against the miter box fence, adjust the miter box to cut a 90 degree cut (use your pencil line to ensure the miter box is set correctly), and saw away!

This may take awhile, depending on how wide and thick your board is. If I have several fatty boards to cut, then I wear a glove on my sawing hand to prevent a blister.

If your board is too wide to fit in a miter box, then use a cross cut panel saw to saw close to your line and use a very sharp low-angle block plane to get right down to the line:

Just make sure that you plane from both directions toward the middle to avoid planing over the edge. If you don’t heed my advice, the end grain will splinter off the edge of the board.

Use a large try square (or framing square) to look for any high or low spots, and continue to use the block plane to make the end become square to the edge and face:

Now use a folding rule or a tape measure to determine your final length. Follow the above process for measuring and cutting the second and final end. Now you should have 6 square & flat surfaces, and a very useful board for gluing-up and building beautiful traditional furniture.

This process may seem overwhelming, but it really speeds up after you’ve dimensioned a few boards. Sometimes it’s even faster than setting up & tuning the big power tools!



About the Author:

Joshua loves mixing his passion for traditional hand tool woodworking with his ability to teach in a simple manner. He lives on a small farm in Earlysville, Virginia with his wife and four children, and builds furniture in his workshop / woodworking school.

Leave a Reply

6 Comment threads
7 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
VinceJoshua FarnsworthDana FriedelChris AJ Nutt Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

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 »


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


This site is excellent. I had no idea that it existed. I’m going to pour through all of these forums as I am sure that I will be able to glean much! Great idea, Joshua – having a giveaway to bring woodworkers to this site. Kudos!

J Nutt
J Nutt

I have a 2x8x12 plank of wood that is splintered and looks like it’s been through the ringer a few times. Lots of water damage, but it looks beautiful. I want to make a planter box out of it, but it needs to be planed. What is your recommendation?

Chris A
Chris A

If you need 1/2 or 1/4 inch thick boards for a project, where do you get them from? I find a lot of evidence that people are resawing with a bandsaw, a few who resaw by hand, some people buy wood cut to thickness. In this article you had wood that could be planed to thickness – what if it had needed to be half this thickness. How do you dimension thickness??

Dana Friedel
Dana Friedel

Hi Joshua,
I found your post about hand planing enormously helpful as research for a story I am writing about a 17th century French boy who’s truing up warped boards for a primitive fort. I wonder if you would be so kind as to share with me any sort of accidents or injuries that might occur to someone undertaking this task. Thank you for your consideration.



Really, 17th century, building a fort. Tough it up.
You build a house today, and you hit your finger with a hammer, are you going to lay down and die?
Seriously, suck it up.

Wood and Shop in your inbox?

Subscribe to get Joshua's free traditional woodworking videos, articles & news:

You have Successfully Subscribed!