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    Cutting Parts to Size

    By Stuart Lipp

    At my first job in a furniture shop, I spent most of my time cutting lumber to size. I  learned quickly that to make beautiful furniture, you must mill carefully. Cut a board too narrow, for example, and you no longer have bookmatched panels wide enough for your doors. Mill a piece out of square, and you could throw a whole project off kilter.

    The way to avoid mistakes, I discovered, was to follow a logical sequence, and stack my boards in an orderly fashion so that there was no question about how they should be fed into the waiting machines. to make things easier as I moved from one machine to another, I started using two carts, one for the infeed side and one for the outfeed side. If you don’t have two carts, you can always use a counter or benchtop.

    1. Flatten both faces first

    Milling a board square starts at the jointer, where you flatten one face. Then you move to the planer and plane the second face parallel to the first.

    Lipp begins by flattening one face on the jointer.

    Get your boards organized before you start. Stack them so that they can be taken off the cart and fed directly into the jointer, which means the grain runs from top to bottom as it goes from the front end of the board to the back. If any boards are cupped or bowed, stack them so that the cup or bow makes a frown. The two low ends will provide a more stable base than the peak of the cup or bow. I also throw a scrap board on the stack so that I can test my machine setups as I work through the milling process.

    When planing, you can reduce snipe—the tendency of the planer to cut deeper at the front and back ends of the board—by feeding the boards through so that the leading end of one touches the trailing end of the one in front of it. Before the final pass, send the scrap piece through to check that the planer is set to the correct thickness.

    With one face flattened on the jointer, Lipp turns to his planer to flatten the opposite face.

    2. Rip wide parts to width before narrow ones

    After the boards have been planed to thickness, joint one edge straight and then rip them to width. But don’t joint any edges until you’ve checked to make sure the jointer’s fence is 90° to its tables. When jointing the first edge, just like when jointing the first face, any crook in the board should face down.

    Before you can begin ripping boards to width at the tablesaw, you'll need to joint one edge flat and square to the faces.

    At the tablesaw, use the scrap piece in the stack to check that the blade is square to the saw’s table. Rip the widest parts first and work down to the narrowest—it’s always better to accidently cut a part too wide than too narrow. The jointed edge should run against the rip fence.

    With the jointed edge riding along your tablesaw's rip fence, go ahead and rip to width.

    3. Finally, cut parts to length

    Now it’s time to cut the boards to final length. You can use either a miter gauge with an auxiliary fence attached, or a crosscut sled. In either case, use the piece of scrap first to check that the gauge or sled is cutting square. Make sure to locate the test cut an inch or two from the end.

    If both sides of the blade are not buried in the wood, the blade could deflect and lead you to think it’s not cutting square when it is. Cut one end square on all of the boards. Then cut them to length, working from the longest parts to the shortest (it’s easy to cut a piece shorter, but impossible to go back and cut it longer).

    First, make an initial crosscut to square up one end of each board . . . . Then, align the squared end to a stop block and cut all your parts to size.

    Photos by Matt Kenney; Drawings by Jim Richey

    This article originally appeared in Fine Woodworking #213.