From Rough Lumber to Polished Wood: The Complete Preparation Guide

Welcome to “From Rough Lumber to Polished Wood: The Complete Preparation Guide.” In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the process of transforming rough lumber into beautifully polished wood for your woodworking projects. Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or a novice, this guide will provide you with valuable insights and woodworking tips to ensure your success. From selecting the right lumber to mastering the art of wood sanding, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways:

  • Buying rough lumber and surfacing it yourself gives you control over the sizing and saves money.
  • Select straight and flat rough boards and purchase high-quality graded lumber to minimize waste.
  • Use specific tools like a power miter saw, jointer, table saw, and planer for the preparation process.
  • Follow a step-by-step process to size the wood to the desired dimensions.
  • Hand milling is the best method for flattening and dimensioning rough lumber.

The Steps to Size Wood

When it comes to working with rough lumber, properly sizing the wood is crucial for a successful woodworking project. By following a few key steps, you can transform rough cut boards into perfectly dimensioned pieces for your project. The first step is to rough cut the length and width of the boards. This can be done using a power miter saw or a radial arm saw with a crosscut blade. By cutting the boards to the approximate size needed, you’ll have a manageable starting point for the sizing process. Next, it’s time to flatten one face of the board using a jointer. This tool will ensure that the face is flat and smooth, providing a stable foundation for the rest of the sizing process. Once one face is flattened, you can move on to planing the board to the desired thickness using a planer. After planing, it’s time to cut the finished width of the board. This can be done using a table saw with a rip blade, ensuring that the board is cut to the exact width required for your project. Finally, cut the board to the finished length, completing the sizing process.
Step Description
1 Rough cut the length and width of the boards using a miter saw or radial arm saw
2 Flatten one face of the board using a jointer
3 Plane the board to the desired thickness using a planer
4 Cut the finished width of the board using a table saw with a rip blade
5 Cut the board to the finished length

The Steps to Size Wood

To summarize, the process of sizing rough lumber involves rough cutting the length and width, flattening one face with a jointer, planing to the desired thickness, cutting the width with a table saw, and finally cutting to the finished length. Following these steps will result in perfectly sized boards ready for your woodworking project.

Tips Before You Start

Prior to beginning the wood preparation process, there are several important tips to keep in mind. These tips will help ensure that you have a smooth and successful experience with your rough lumber.

Choose Straight and Flat Boards

When selecting rough boards, it is crucial to choose ones that are straight and flat. Avoid boards that are bowed, warped, or twisted, as these will be difficult to work with and may indicate instability in the wood. Straight and flat boards are easier to prepare and will result in better quality finished products.

Opt for Stable Wood

Stability is another important factor to consider when buying rough lumber. Look for wood that is kiln-dried and has been properly stored to minimize moisture content. Stable wood is less likely to warp or distort during the preparation process, ensuring that your final project remains intact and structurally sound.

Calculate Waste

Before purchasing rough lumber, it is advisable to calculate the amount of waste that will be generated during the preparation process. As a general rule, adding 50% to the total finished square footage is a good estimation. This will account for any imperfections or defects that may need to be removed during the preparation process, ensuring that you have enough material to complete your project.

Avoid Distortion

Finally, it is important not to size rough lumber until you are ready to use it. Sized wood tends to distort over time, especially if exposed to changes in humidity or temperature. By waiting until you are ready to begin your woodworking project, you can minimize the risk of distortion and ensure that your boards remain in the best possible condition. By following these tips, you will be well-prepared to begin the wood preparation process. Choosing the right boards, calculating waste, and avoiding distortion will set you up for success and help you achieve the best results with your rough lumber.

Tools You Need

To prepare rough lumber for woodworking projects, you will need a set of essential tools. These tools will enable you to transform rough lumber into perfectly sized and dimensioned boards. Here are the key tools you need:

Power Miter Saw or Radial Arm Saw

A power miter saw or radial arm saw with a crosscut blade is essential for cutting lengths of rough lumber. These saws provide accurate and precise cuts, ensuring that your boards are cut to the desired lengths.


A jointer is a must-have tool for flattening the faces of rough lumber. It ensures that the boards have a flat and smooth surface, making them easier to work with during the woodworking process.

Table Saw

A table saw equipped with a rip blade is used to cut the widths of the boards. This tool allows you to achieve the desired widths for your woodworking project, giving you complete control over the dimensions.


A planer is used to thickness the boards to the desired thickness. It ensures that all the boards are uniform and consistent in thickness, creating a finished product that is visually appealing and structurally sound. Having these tools will allow you to effectively and efficiently prepare rough lumber for your woodworking projects. Ensure that your tools are well-tuned and regularly maintained to achieve accurate and precise results throughout the machining process.

How to Flatten Wood

Flattening and dimensioning rough lumber is a crucial step in woodworking, especially when working with kiln-dried rough lumber. Kiln-dried wood often has various forms of distortion, such as twist, cup, bow, and warp. These distortions can make it challenging to achieve flat, smooth-faced lumber without cutting it too short. In order to flatten the wood effectively, hand milling is recommended. Hand milling involves a series of steps to rough mill the boards, flatten both faces, and then let the rough-milled stock rest before final flattening. This process is particularly suitable for softwoods without knots and irregular grain. By using marking gauges, jointers, and planers, you can flatten and dimension the wood, preparing it for your woodworking projects.

Steps for Flattening Wood:

  1. Rough mill the boards by cutting them to rough length and width.
  2. Flatten both faces of the board using hand planes, such as a scrub plane, jointer plane, and smoother plane. The sequence of cuts with the hand planes follows a pattern from across the grain to along the grain.
  3. Let the rough-milled stock rest before final flattening to allow the wood to acclimate and stabilize.
  4. Repeat the flattening process on the second side of the board.
By following these steps and using hand milling techniques, you can achieve flat, smooth-faced lumber that is ready to be used in your woodworking projects.
Distortion Description
Twist Occurs when the board has a spiral twist along its length.
Cup Refers to the concave shape of the board across its width.
Bow Describes the convex shape of the board along its length.
Warp Includes any combination of twist, cup, and bow.

The Process of Rough Milling

When preparing rough lumber for woodworking projects, rough milling is a crucial step that involves shaping the boards to their initial dimensions. This process lays the foundation for achieving flat, straight, and properly sized pieces of wood. Rough milling is typically carried out in two stages: rough and finish. Let’s dive into the details of each stage and the tools involved.

Stage 1: Rough Milling

During the rough milling stage, the board is cut to rough length and width. One side of the board, known as the concave side, is shaved to ensure that it lies flat when flipped. Hand planes like the scrub plane, jointer plane, and smoother plane are then used to rough-flatten the convex side of the board. These hand planes are essential for efficiently and precisely removing material from the wood. The sequence of cuts with the hand planes follows a pattern that goes across the grain and then along the grain, gradually flattening the surface.

Stage 2: Finish Milling

After rough-flattening one face of the board, a marking gauge is used to scribe a line indicating the final thickness. The same process is repeated on the second side of the board. The rough-milled board is then left to rest before final flattening. This resting period allows the wood to stabilize and settle, reducing the risk of distortion during the final milling stage. With the guidance of hand planes, the rough-milled board is flattened to its final dimensions, ensuring it is flat, smooth, and ready for further woodworking operations. In the process of rough milling, the use of hand planes is essential for achieving the desired results. These planes, such as the scrub plane for initial material removal, the jointer plane for flattening and straightening, and the smoother plane for a final, smooth finish, allow for precise control and adjustment during the milling process. By following these rough milling steps, woodworkers can effectively shape their lumber and prepare it for the next stages of their woodworking projects.  

Final Flattening and Dimensioning

Once the rough milling process is complete, it’s time for the final flattening and dimensioning of the wood. This step ensures that the boards are precisely sized and ready for your woodworking project. The final flattening and dimensioning process involves using tools like a marking gauge, hand planes, a jointer, and a smoother to achieve the desired thickness and smoothness. First, the board is scribed with a marking gauge to mark the final thickness. This helps guide the subsequent planing process. Then, hand planes like the jointer and smoother are used to flatten and smooth the board. The jointer is essential for producing a flat face opposite the crown, while the smoother creates a smooth final surface. The board is carefully held against the jointer’s flat surface and fed over the cutter to straighten one edge. This ensures that the board is perfectly aligned for further sizing. Once the board is flat and smooth, the next step is to use a table saw to rip the board to the final width. The straightened edge of the board is held against the rip fence, allowing for an accurate and consistent cut. Finally, the board is cut to the desired length, completing the final dimensioning process. With careful attention to detail and the use of hand planes, a jointer, a smoother, and a table saw, your rough lumber can be transformed into precisely sized and finished wood for your woodworking projects.
Tools Process
Marking Gauge Scribe the board to the final thickness
Hand Planes (Jointer and Smoother) Flatten and smooth the board
Table Saw Rip the board to the final width
Cut the board to the desired length

What are the Best Wood Fillers to Use in the Preparation Process?

When it comes to selecting and using wood fillers in the preparation process, choosing the right product can make a significant difference in achieving a flawless finish. Opt for high-quality wood fillers that are specifically designed for your intended project, such as interior or exterior repairs. Consider factors like ease of application, drying time, color compatibility, and durability to achieve optimal results.

Benefits of Hand Milling

Hand milling offers several advantages for woodworkers and their projects. One of the key benefits is the ability to develop essential skills in flattening and dimensioning boards. Through the process of hand milling, woodworkers gain a deep understanding of the wood’s grain and how to work with it effectively. This skill enhances their ability to achieve a true and smooth surface, resulting in high-quality finished products. Another advantage of hand milling is the development of controlled strength. By working with hand planes and other manual tools, woodworkers learn to apply just the right amount of pressure and control to shape and smooth the wood. This level of control contributes to the overall quality and precision of the final woodworking projects. Hand milling also overcomes the size limitations often encountered with jointers and planers. These power tools may have limitations in terms of the size of boards they can accommodate. However, with hand milling techniques, woodworkers can work on larger boards and tackle more ambitious projects. This flexibility allows for greater creativity and opens up possibilities for larger and more impressive woodworking pieces. In summary, hand milling is a valuable technique for woodworking enthusiasts. It not only enhances their skills in grain reading and controlled strength but also enables them to work with larger boards, expanding the scope of their projects. By mastering the art of hand milling, woodworkers can create exceptional woodworking pieces without being limited by the size of their machinery.
Scroll to Top