Thursday, April 11, 2013

Slowly But Surely - Milling Lumber By Hand

Last night I was able to spend a couple hours in the shop to work on my Shaker side table project.  It was time to cut out some of the pieces I had laid out the day before.  Milling wood can be the least fun part of working only with hand tools because it seems like a LOT of unglamorous work.  On the plus side, it is (can be) more accurate, quiter, and a good source of cardiovascular exercise.

I like to cross cut first, when possible, in order to break down the pieces into more easily manageable bits.  Also, more crosscutting means less ripping.

I used my ryoba saw for the crosscutting.  My western crosscut saw isn't sharp yet (I'll have to get on that one of these days), and I have found that exclusively using this saw the last month or two has given me a lot of practice with it.  I think I am feeling very comfortable with it.

After cutting the first table top piece to length, I ripped one edge using my 5 point rip saw.

Now, instead of ripping the other line, we should plane the edge we just ripped and mark the other cut with a panel gauge to ensure accuracy.

I didn't have a panel gauge, so I quickly made one out of a repurposed gizmo in my scrap bin.  You can read about that in my last post.

This bit of wood is a bit cupped.  This makes things challenging when jointing an edge.  Normally I would plane one side flat to use as a reference face, but I was lazy and decided to just get it pretty close.  I checked for square by placing an auxiliary fence across the face of the cupped side, and jointing to that.  It worked OK.  I made this piece a tiny bit oversize, so I can joint it after planing a reference face on it anyway.

I have to say, this American cherry planes very nice.

Once one edge was jointed, I used my panel gauge to mark the far side of the board.  I then sawed and planed to that line.

At some point I will shoot the endgrain, but I didn't feel it necessary yet.  I might even wait until I glue up this panel.

The second one went much faster than the first, because I didn't have to stop and photograph every single thing or pause to make a panel gauge.

This will make a nice table top, I think.
I marked the direction the grain goes on the face to facilitate getting the grain all to go the same way for ease of planing.

That is all I could get done before dinner.  I learned a few important things:
  • I need to get my arm muscles more accustomed to rip sawing.  I think a couple of days ought to make things a lot more comfortable.
  • I found out that I had been gripping the handle on my rip saw way too tight.  One doesn't need to hold this saw much different than a dovetail saw.  My sawline became much straighter and less jagged when I eased up on the handle.
  • I am NOT an expert with a rip saw yet.
  • It is hard to tell the width of a board at the lumber yard.  I was worried that this stuff wouldn't be thick enough to get legs from, but it is.  I also thought it probably wouldn't be a big deal planing this down to 3/4" or so.  I was wrong.  It looks like I might have to remove around 1/2" of thickness from the rough lumber to get near 3/4".  After they are flat, I'll have to look to see if it will be feasible to reduce this by hand, and how much will be necessary to get it to look right.  I'll probably just make the legs 1/4" shorter and use a steeper bevel on the underside.  The other option is to resaw these with the bandsaw at the workshop at Dictum.
I think that it will be good for me to do this project entirely by hand.  I have no machine tools, so I better get used to it.


  1. Brian,
    Planing a 1/2" off with handplanes is a massive cardio workout. It might might be easier if you use scrub plane if you have one. If not, a plane with a heavily cambered blade. On the plus side - cherry planes nicely.

  2. A wooden scrub plane or a fore plane is a good way to quickly remove 1/2" of wood, just saying ;) The fore plane may be easier to control on wide surfaces (thicknessing) and the scrub would be ideal for narrow surfaces (ripping)

  3. I have a wooden Krenov style scrub plane that I made that seems to work pretty good. I also have a toothed blade that works well for removing heavy shavings. I'll probably use both of these to see what works best.

    I also have experimented with a technique using my bevel up jointer with it's stock blade to remove heavy shavings that works pretty good.

    Perhaps the comparison would make another good blog post!

  4. I use an el cheapo Stanley to cross-cut wide longer/wider boards. If it is a shorter/wide board I'll be the first to admit that I will use the crosscut sled and the table saw. I've never used a Japanese saw of any kind so I have no frame of reference for them. I'll probably stick to western saws just because all of mine are in really good shape and should be for a long time so I don't have any need to pick up a new saw at the moment.

    1. Sounds like you don't need one. I enjoy this saw because it can do just about anything. It is not quite as good as my western saws, but it makes nice cuts. What amazes me about it is that all of the fundamentals of sawing are the same, whether Japanese, or western, push or pull.