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

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Forum topic by Furnitude posted 12-04-2013 09:50 PM 1741 views 1 time favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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380 posts in 3530 days

12-04-2013 09:50 PM

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, Also blog at

17 replies so far

View LakeLover's profile


283 posts in 1963 days

#1 posted 12-04-2013 10:08 PM

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

View shopdog's profile


577 posts in 3509 days

#2 posted 12-04-2013 10:10 PM

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

-- Steve--

View jmartel's profile


7953 posts in 2173 days

#3 posted 12-04-2013 10:14 PM

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.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5702 posts in 2837 days

#4 posted 12-04-2013 10:14 PM

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 2062 days

#5 posted 12-04-2013 10:32 PM

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


3281 posts in 2012 days

#6 posted 12-04-2013 11:00 PM

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


4758 posts in 2375 days

#7 posted 12-04-2013 11:41 PM

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 1637 days

#8 posted 12-30-2013 08:32 AM

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

485 posts in 3387 days

#9 posted 12-30-2013 02:08 PM

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 Bobsboxes's profile


1367 posts in 2687 days

#10 posted 12-30-2013 02:50 PM

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 in Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View ChefHDAN's profile


1067 posts in 2873 days

#11 posted 12-30-2013 03:35 PM

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.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


8207 posts in 2600 days

#12 posted 12-30-2013 04:10 PM

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


175 posts in 1729 days

#13 posted 12-30-2013 04:13 PM

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


3320 posts in 2800 days

#14 posted 12-30-2013 04:17 PM

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


7953 posts in 2173 days

#15 posted 12-30-2013 04:20 PM

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

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

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