Eight Tips for Milling Rough Lumber

With these simple tips for successfully milling rough lumber, you can turn inexpensive wood into the raw material you need to build beautiful wood projects.

| October 4, 2010

Wood Buying Bucks

Get the best yield from the least-expensive wood.


The following is an excerpt from Getting the Most from your Wood-Buying Bucks from American Woodworker (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2010). Along with detailing the most economical way to buy and process lumber, Getting the Most from your Wood-Buying Bucks provides a variety of tips, techniques and general wood know-how. This excerpt is from Chapter 2, "Sawing & Milling Great Wood." 

 Transforming a long, gnarly plank of rough lumber into a set of perfectly milled boards is immensely satisfying. Not only do you save money, but you become intimate with the character of every precious piece of wood. The biggest benefit, however, is being absolutely certain that your boards are truly flat, straight and square. That’s the solid foundation you need to make accurate cuts, lay out precise joints and glue boards together without gaps. Here are some helpful pointers to build that foundation.

Cut Off the Ends First

Cracks in a board’s ends are a common flaw. Cut them off before you do any other crosscutting, so you know the true, usable length of your board. These cracks are also called end checks. Large checks are easy to see and remove, but you may also find hairline cracks that aren’t easily visible on the board’s surface or end.

I cut off the end of a board a little bit at a time, like slicing a loaf of bread. The slices are about 1/4 inch thick. As each slice falls off, I inspect it for checks. If the slice breaks very easily across the grain, it probably contains a hairline check.

Let Boards Rest

To make pieces dead flat, I usually let boards rest before taking them down to final thickness. I plane boards 1/8 inch thicker than needed and stack them with stickers or stand them on edge so air can circulate around every side.

After the boards rest for a day or so, I check each board for flatness by laying it on my tablesaw or jointer. It’s not unusual to find that some previously flat boards have cupped or twisted a bit. I rejoint one side of these boards, then plane every board to final thickness.

3/9/2012 10:35:56 PM

I think the heading of this article should be changed. When I see 'milling rough lumber', what I would expect is an article on how to mill logs into rough lumber. However, this article is about starting with rough sawn lumber to create finished sizes for woodworking projects.

3/9/2012 10:30:01 PM

Jointing here means truing an edge or a face.

frank woolf
3/8/2012 12:31:57 AM

Can somebody explain what jointing means in this article? I am English so jointing to me means joining two pieces of wood together or making a joint to joint them. This does not seem to be the case with this article.

kat plummer
10/6/2010 9:33:23 PM

When we bought our TimberKing sawmill we learned a lot of things. One if you are sawing boards and begin to see black streaks in the boards, stop. There is some sort of metal, nails, spikes, etc...you will totally ruin your blades. Two try to avoid using trees from a hilltop or other very windy areas. These tend to twist, warp, and split much more than normal area trees. Hope this helps.

john _4
10/6/2010 12:37:08 PM

This article is very helpful and has some excellent suggestions on saving some hardwood boards. I wish II had a full-fledged jointer, but get along quite well using my router table with extensions to the table for support of longer boards. I have used some of these ides to use some pretty bad looking larger boards purchased dirt cheap to make toys for grandchildren. These boards were a very small amount of trouble for me but a cabinet maker would have used them for winter heat.

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