Dimensioning rough lumber is beneficial to your wooden box making endeavors, but if you’re just a beginning box maker, you will most likely be making your wooden boxes out of boards that are already dimensioned. These are bought at the lumber yard at the width and thickness that you need for your project and are planed on both sides and edges. These are known as 4S lumber. If the wooden box making bug bites you as it did me, you will soon learn that dimensioning your boards from rough lumber has many advantages.
I generally buy 4/4 to 8/4 lumber and re-saw and size it to boards of the proper thickness, width, and length for the project I’m working on. When purchasing the lumber, I look for not only the thickness but I make sure that each piece of lumber has one, well planed side. You will find that the planed side is very important when dimensioning rough lumber. I also look for the usual things like straightness, warps, cups and the grain patterns I’m looking for (These vary by whether I’m looking to make sides or lid panels). Once my purchase is made, I bring it back to the wood shop and let it acclimate to the temperature and humidity conditions there for at least two weeks.
Re-Sawing… The First Step to Dimensioning Lumber
As with all woodworking operations, re-sawing requires the proper tool(s) plus appropriate jigs and/or fixtures to make the operation accurate, easily performed, safe, and with the desired results. The band saw is the basic tool. It is with the band saw that you will take your thick (4/4 – 8/4) rough lumber and saw off boards of close to the right thickness (slightly wider), for your wooden box project. The saw should be able to handle boards that are wide enough for any of your uses. I use a RIKON band saw that can handle a 13 inch wide board (though I’ve never re-sawed one that large). I need one with that capacity as I often have made boxes with lid panels that are 10-12 inches wide.
To re-saw this size board, you will also need an auxiliary fence to support a board that wide as it’s being sawed. You can see from the above photo that my fence is homemade, yet it supports the 11 inch board I’m about to re-saw through most of its length. Other handy helpers I’ve found are push sticks, a feather board to keep even pressure on the bottom of the board and keep it firmly to the fence, and rollers to support the board upon entering the band saw and on the output end if its longer than just the band saw table will support.
Before beginning to re-saw your rough lumber, you need to make sure you have squared the edge of the board with the planed face (side). This is the reason you want to look for a piece of rough lumber with at least one good planed side. There are two ways to accomplish this. If you don’t have a jointer, you can trim a square edge off with your table saw. Make sure you do this with the good, planed side down on the table. If you own a jointer, or a jointer/planer combo as I do (seen in the above photo), you can square the edge on that. This is a very important step to insure an accurate re-saw cut. You can use your table saw to resaw your board but I don’t like to do it this way as your limited in the width of board to around 5 inches and you must be accurate with your width settings.
Now that you have your rough lumber ready, It’s time to start re-sawing. Re-sawing is a fairly straight forward procedure. Your cut should be slightly wider than the thickness you need. Since one side is well planed, I generally allow 1/16 an inch extra to my desired thickness. If neither side is planed, I add more as both sides will have to be planed after re-sawing. Before making your cut, make sure you have your fence set correctly to give you the width you desire and check to see that your cut will be the same with throughout. This can be done by making a test cut into the end of the board. A 32d to 1/16th inch cut will suffice. Once the test cut is done, you can then easily see if your cut will be uniform. If not, you will have to adjust and square up your blade to the band saw table.
Start your cut and guide the board through the blade with even pressure and travel speed (not as easy as it sounds), and be safe, use push tools and sticks to keep your hands away from the blade. This will ensure a cleaner and more uniform saw cut. Once you’ve cut the length of the board, it’s re-sawn. You can then inspect your work for uniformity and you’re ready to go on to planing.
Flattening and Thickness Planing Your Re-Sawn Boards
The planing operation on your re-sawn boards is actually a two step process. The first step is to flatten your sawn side of your board on your jointer (as seen above). I generally set my jointer for taking off the least amount of surface at a time. This means more passes over the jointer but more control and accuracy of the operation. Any saw marks, divots, warping, etc. are removed and you should be left with a perfectly flat board. This operation may also be accomplished by hand with a good smooth plane. Just takes longer. When I began dimensioning my own rough lumber, I used a combination of hand planing and using my belt sander to do this step.
The second Step is thickness planing. Once you have your side flattened and smooth, you can plane your board to the proper thickness you need for your wooden box project. Generally, this involves running your board through a thickness planer. What this tool does is plane the board’s surfaces parallel and to the desired, uniform thickness for cutting up for your box pieces. Once again, this can be done by hand with a smooth plane but may not be as uniform and accurate.
On my jointer/planer combo, this means changing the saw dust collection to the top and using the underside of the combo for the thickness planing procedure as seen above. For smaller boards that I often have, I’ve modified the intake with an extension that keeps the boards from sniping so bad. Once the thickness planing is done, the board is ready to use for your project. All that’s left is to cut your pieces to the right width and lengths. You now have your own dimensioned boards for your woodworking projects…