breaking down lumber for project parts -- how do you start?

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Forum topic by Furnitude posted 235 days ago 875 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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328 posts in 2108 days

235 days ago

One thing that wastes a lot of my time and causes a bit too much anxiety is how to start breaking down lumber to make parts for a project. For example, I have several wide pieces of 8/4 maple that i’m going to use for cutting boards. I start worrying that if I rough cut them the wrong way, I might not have the right pieces in the right sizes. It’s probably textbook ADD. So here’s my question, faced with a stack of lumber and a project that involves several parts that are different in size, how do you begin? Do you write a list and check them off as you go? (I do that sometimes.) Do you start with the larger pieces and work down to the smaller ones to make sure you’ve got stock big enough? I worry about this too much, but it seriously causes me to waste a lot of time sitting there looking at it.

-- Mitch,

17 replies so far

View LakeLover's profile


274 posts in 541 days

#1 posted 235 days ago

Chalk out your cuts. Cut the longest first. Buy more than you need.

View shopdog's profile


552 posts in 2087 days

#2 posted 235 days ago

make a list…check it twice.
measure twice, cut once.

-- Steve--

View jmartel's profile


1612 posts in 751 days

#3 posted 235 days ago

If I’m cutting a whole bunch of parts at once rather than on a case-by-case basis, I make a list of parts and label them with letters. Each part gets a letter on both sides and the list gets a tally mark.

I’m still pretty bad about estimating the amount of stock I need though when counting waste.

View pintodeluxe's profile


3271 posts in 1414 days

#4 posted 235 days ago

You are not suffering from ADD. You have Lumber Deficiency Syndrome. Tell your relatives, tell your friends. You need more lumber now! If you don’t act quickly, it will only get worse.
This may help you feel better…

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 639 days

#5 posted 235 days ago

Pinto that was mean. Weren’t you ever taught not to go waving your wood in someone else’s face?

I too go for the biggest most important piece first, rough cut it and then go find a board for the next biggest or important piece and work my way down the list.

-- This Ad Space For Sale! Your Ad Here! Reach a targeted audience! Affordable Rates, easy financing! Contact an ad represenative today at JustJoe's Advertising Consortium.

View Redoak49's profile


268 posts in 590 days

#6 posted 235 days ago

A lot of what I use is red oak with from a saw mill which is various widths and lengths.

I make a list of the parts needed and then sort it based on thickness and width. I give each part a letter label.

I then layout the boards that I think that I will need and then mark them off with chalk as to which part they are. Most of the time, I will need more boards as I look at the boards and the grain to get a good look on the parts which will be on the front.

I mill to thickness all at one time so that all the boards are the same thickness.

I also cut extra pieces to serve as back ups as some of the boards will warp or cup as I cut them and mill them. I also need some extra pieces as I typically will make a mistake or two.

View bondogaposis's profile


2446 posts in 952 days

#7 posted 235 days ago

Start with the rip cuts on longest pieces first that way you won’t accidentally crosscut a board to make a short piece and ruin it for later making that long part you forgot to save a long board for.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View avra's profile


13 posts in 214 days

#8 posted 210 days ago

Depending upon your project, it is worth considering pattern and grain matching. It is wonderful to have a line of drawer fronts cut from a single board. Or bookmatched cabinet doors. Or a jewelry box that displays unbroken grain around its sides.

Obviously, for paint grade work all that becomes irrelevant. Make your cut lists even before you purchase your wood. If you must deal with random widths and lengths, at least you will know the parameters to require from your supplier for your widest and longest boards.

Make lists. Check them twice. Fiddle around with graph paper and see how you can most efficiently, and cost effectively, get the best yield out of what you have. For larger projects, there are lumber optimization programs available for your computer. I’m pretty comfortable with a pencil (with eraser) and a tab of graph paper.

Best of luck…

-- “The creation continues incessantly through the media of man.” Antoni Gaudi

View Vincent Nocito's profile

Vincent Nocito

409 posts in 1965 days

#9 posted 210 days ago

I take a list of the widths and rough board feet of lumber that is needed when I go to the mill. I add about 10% extra as insurance. Once I get the boards back to the shop, I lay them out and mark them with white blackboard chalk so I know which parts will come from which board before I make any cuts. This gives me a final chance to check for defects, grain and color matching before I break down the lumber.

View bugz's profile


773 posts in 1265 days

#10 posted 210 days ago

I also use white chalk to lay out my boards, I have also of wood on hand so I can usually make very good use of my wood, any extra is just saved for next project. I know I save on wood by laying out all my pieces on wood before I make a cut.

-- Bob, Lewistown, Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View ChefHDAN's profile


271 posts in 1450 days

#11 posted 210 days ago

I’ve gotten to the point where I build most items first in sketch-up and then build from there, I’m not great at SU but there have been several times during the design “idea” phase where I believe I’ve saved time and lumber from using SU.

View waho6o9's profile


4749 posts in 1178 days

#12 posted 209 days ago

So here’s my question, faced with a stack of lumber and a project that involves several parts that are different in size, how do you begin?

Plan your work and then work your plan, usually involves a sketch with a cut list. Some plans have joinery details as well. This is good to visualize the product and the steps involved to get there.
Yes, and make extra as stated above.

Do you write a list and check them off as you go?

Do you start with the larger pieces and work down to the smaller ones to make sure you’ve got stock big enough?
Yes. As you get more proficient with your planning and visualization this will be second nature, widest and longest first as stated above.

You make nice projects Mitch. I’m sure you used a plan and a cut list with the one pictured below.

View John_H's profile


18 posts in 307 days

#13 posted 209 days ago

I use a free program → MaxCut 2

Enter the sizes of your lumber and the sizes of the parts, and let it do the work. It will even print out labels if you need them

View dbray45's profile


2482 posts in 1378 days

#14 posted 209 days ago

When it comes to end grain cutting boards, the really nice thing is that they don’t have to be all the same sizes, just the same width. But even then, not every row has to be the same as the last. Make it different – that is where my scraps go.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View jmartel's profile


1612 posts in 751 days

#15 posted 209 days ago

John, does that program also use Imperial measurements or just Metric?

showing 1 through 15 of 17 replies

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