Yet another noob unable to cut wood straight to save his soul.

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Forum topic by LJackson posted 03-07-2014 at 07:47 PM 1755 views 1 time favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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152 posts in 231 days

03-07-2014 at 07:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: straight cuts noobie technique power tools

I don’t have a single straight, flat board in the workshop. Not a one. Not a piece of hardwood, softwood, plywood, or MDF. I’m trying to rectify that situation so that I can use some of this wood, and failing miserably.

I am using the technique illustrated in this video, The 4-Square Method by Ron Brown and Paul Therrien tl;dr: They use a straight edge as a guide for non-straight wood. So, I tried that, by using my four-foot level. Well, it didn’t come out all that well. The edge is pretty rough with saw blade spirals, and where I had to pause to pick up the push block.

But, I figured it was kinda straight. So, then I proceeded to rip a one-inch piece and that piece tapered at the end. I think it was because the push block was pushing the wood into the blade as there wasn’t enough room on the other side of the blade to push the wood without encountering the blade guard. I never see anyone using a table saw with a blade guard, but I wouldn’t dare not to.

Okay, so I tried the original technique again, since I had screwed up the straight edge on the second cut, and this time I carefully straightened the edge, and then flipped it and straightened the other edge. I managed to get the wood parallel to within a few hundreths of a millimeter. Not too bad, but still rough edges, and the beginning and end are a bit wobbly.

But, then I went to cut another one inch piece, and when it came out of the table saw, it was really warped! I think that might have been because it was run right through a knot. Does that happen typically? This is 1×4 pine from the box store.

So, now I have two approximately one inch wide pieces of pine which, when butted together, barely touch in two places, let alone have long straight edges! At the worst, they’re more than 1/8” apart.

My questions:

  • Does wood warp after you cut it?
  • Is this only when cutting through a knot?
  • Is this only with pine?
  • Is there a better wood that wouldn’t do this (and isn’t zebra-bubinga-purple-heart-attack-expensive)?

I don’t know where to go with this. There’s a million thoughts running through my head right now. I’m going to go to a real lumber yard tomorrow to see if perhaps their wood at least looks straighter and flatter than the wood at the box store. I may buy a sheet of 3/4 birch plywood, but as none of my existing plywood is flat, I am skeptical that this will stay flat as well, if I am lucky enough to get a sheet that starts out flat.

I’m also thinking of picking up a straightedge of some type (like a framing square, perhaps), and using it as a guide for the flush trim bit in my router. I’ve read that people do not consider these things to be straight, but I do not know where else to start. This article How to Build a Simple Circular Saw Guide for Straighter Cuts simply says “You’ll need a straight 8-ft.-long 1×4.” Wait, have you SEEN the boards at the box store? Does a “straight 8-ft.-long 1×4” exist? If it is not perfectly straight, how do I get it that way?

I have also read on here that one person suggests that you must flatten a board before you try to rip a straight edge. I have no idea how I’m going to do that. I do not have a jointer, and even if I had, it would likely not be wide enough for most of the material that I want to flatten, and even then, the YouTube video first linked to says that jointing wood is a very difficult process. They say build a sled for your planer. Okay, well then I’m back to the flat plywood from some lumber yard.

Another question

  • How long before plywood starts to warp and is no longer useful as a flat reference?

I have also thought about using a 1/2” thick sheet of glass as a flat base, and sandwhich it between two sheets of plywood. This seems like the best way to start off with something definitively flat. If the plywood warps, I can then just replace it.

I have also read a lot about straightening/flattening wood with hand planes. I’ve watched plenty of videos, but no one ever explains how this works. I know when I use a sander, that I’m likely to end up with some low spots, because I can never sand perfectly the same amount of time and pressure evenly across the surface. So, what’s to say that I could do that with a hand plane? If I take three shavings off here, how do I ensure that I take three shavings off everywhere? If you have ever seen me cut a tomato for my sandwiches, you’d never let me have a hand tool either. My hope was that power tools were made to create accurate cuts, but I seem to be unable to get that.

—frustrated sawdust maker.

45 replies so far

View Grandpa's profile


3107 posts in 1312 days

#1 posted 03-07-2014 at 08:01 PM

Wood can and will warp after it is cut. Sometimes worse than other times. To square a board you cut it in this order: face, edge, end, end, edge face. With plywood you wouldn’t plane the face or you would go through the veneer. So it would be: edge, end, end edge. Start by using a plane or jointer to make a straight edge. Then everything works off that edge. A jig can be used with a table saw if you don’t have a plane or jointer. Then you rip the last edge parallel to the first edge. Is your table saw accurate. Is the blade parallel to the miter groove? Is the fence parallel to the miter groove. There are some excellent home built tools available on this site for these operations. That is a must before you make the first cut.

View Paul's profile


513 posts in 202 days

#2 posted 03-07-2014 at 08:10 PM

“I have also read a lot about straightening/flattening wood with hand planes. I’ve watched plenty of videos, but no one ever explains how this works. I know when I use a sander, that I’m likely to end up with some low spots, because I can never sand perfectly the same amount of time and pressure evenly across the surface. So, what’s to say that I could do that with a hand plane? If I take three shavings off here, how do I ensure that I take three shavings off everywhere? If you have ever seen me cut a tomato for my sandwiches, you’d never let me have a hand tool either. My hope was that power tools were made to create accurate cuts, but I seem to be unable to get that”

You can watch 100 video’s. Squaring lumber with hand planes takes first hand experiance with your plane and lumber. Every individual has slight idiosyncrasies in their own hand planing methods. The only way to get good with hand planes is to spend hours and hours and hours with them.

Your significant other will like it!


View Greg In Maryland's profile

Greg In Maryland

391 posts in 1635 days

#3 posted 03-07-2014 at 08:33 PM

Hey LJ,

Can you fill us in on the tools you have? Table saw, jointer, planer, circular saw, etc, etc. That will really help us help you. Also, where are you located? It would be helpful to fill out your profile.

I’m not a plywood expert, but what I have read and experienced (limited, though it is), is that big box plywood is by and large inexpensive product prone to warping. It may be flat when you buy it, but by the time you bring it home, cut it down to size and take the dog for a walk, it warps.

Also, be aware that dimensional lumber (2×4, 2×6, etc) is sold with a high moisture content and will excessively warp, twist, bow as it dries in your shop. That is the nature of the beast. There is a reason why walls in new construction are not straight and plumb—the framing is just a mess.

Depending on your location, you might skip the big box dealer and head to a hardwood dealer. Not everything is “zebra-bubinga-purple-heart-attack-expensive.” Quite frequently hardwood dealers will have stock that is already flattened and squared, or they will have the machinery to do it. Of course you will pay extra for this approach.

Regarding skills and knowledge to use power tools and hand tools, you should investigate woodworking classes, clubs or guilds in your area. The internet is great. YouTube is great. LumberJocks is great. However, there is often no substitute for live in-person instruction.

Good luck!


View LJackson's profile


152 posts in 231 days

#4 posted 03-07-2014 at 08:59 PM

Grandpa, if I can’t plane the face of plywood, what do I do with all of my warped plywood? Just chuck it out? Also, why would I want my table saw fence to be parallel to my miter slot? Wouldn’t I want it parallel to my saw blade? I’ve checked that with my digital caliper, and it seems very, very close.

PLK, your message is highly discouraging. If it is true, then why don’t more people mention this? I haven’t heard it from the Wood Whisperer, Jord, or Paul Sellers. If hand planing is only for absolute experts, I would think that someone would mention this in their video. With all of the woodworkers on here and elsewhere, it seems to me that there must be some way to get between complete noob and master craftsman besides slogging through hundreds of hours of poorly done projects. Or is THAT why I see so many cutting boards? Must I first make 469 cutting boards for every Paul, Dick, and Harry in my contacts list before I get good enough to tackle a toothpick? If that’s the case, I’ll just pack up and sell all of my tools now. I don’t have that kind of time.

Oh, and I don’t have a significant other. Maybe I do have that kind of time.

Greg, my location and my tools are all listed in my workshop, but I’ll copy it here:

  1. table saw
  2. 12” double bevel sliding crosscut miter saw
  3. radial arm saw
  4. band saw
  5. 12” planer
  6. floor standing drill press
  7. bench standing drill press
  8. combination belt/disc sander
  9. router
  10. grinder

The table saw is the Craftsman equivalent of the BT3100. The SCMS is a Makita LS1212. The planer is from Ryobi (snipes like an SoB). Most other tools are classic Craftsmans. The router is a modern Makita.

I’m in Lowell, MA.

Thanks guys.

View Paul's profile


513 posts in 202 days

#5 posted 03-07-2014 at 09:07 PM

Hand planing is not for absolute experts, It just takes time getting to know your girl/plane. I have less than 2 years of real woodworking experiance and just hand planed/surfaced a 8’x30 oak top for a roubo bench I’m working on.

It took me approximately 20+ hours of planing to completely thickness and surface both sides by hand. I was using bad hand planes and learning as I went.

I can say from that experience I understand my plane/girl much better and I can tell when she’s cranky and needs slight adjustment.

If 20 hours of work seems to put you off you might want a different hobby. My initial impression from you is you want to buy equipment and have the equipment work for you. That will never be the case.


View Paul Miller's profile

Paul Miller

29 posts in 2090 days

#6 posted 03-07-2014 at 11:26 PM

Nice tool list. I would add a jointer and most of your non-plywood troubles will go away.


View Dallas's profile


2882 posts in 1124 days

#7 posted 03-07-2014 at 11:57 PM

Join the BT3100 forum, some great fellows over there, and some real arsels.

Your BT3100 needs some special touches to set it up correctly and there is a whole lot of info available on how to do it.

Oh, and don’t mention my name or you’ll probably get banned before you start.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

3900 posts in 1017 days

#8 posted 03-08-2014 at 01:18 AM

On wood movement, wet wood can and will do all sorts of things when you saw it but I can’t remember ever having problems with dry wood. By wet and dry I’m referring to moisture content. Construction lumber is not completely kiln dried, it is considered wet, and will often move around during and after the cut. This is a frequent cause of kickback, tensions release in the wood while it’s cutting and move it around causing contact with the back of the saw blade. Before using construction lumber, sticker and let it dry in your shop for as long as possible before doing anything with it; a few weeks minimum, a few months is better. Once dry, cut to rough size then flatten/straighten, etc.

The video is an hour long so I didn’t watch it before answering. Also it’s late and I may not have read your post carefully but it sounds like your fence may be flexing which is a common problem with benchtop and cheaper table saws.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

View Purrmaster's profile


777 posts in 730 days

#9 posted 03-08-2014 at 01:19 AM


Go easier on yourself. I have yet to produce even one four square board in several years.

View mtenterprises's profile


822 posts in 1330 days

#10 posted 03-08-2014 at 05:12 AM

If all else fails and you cannot cut straight lines go buy a scroll saw and forget about cutting straight lines.
MIKE :-)

-- See pictures on Flickr - And visit my Facebook page -

View Monte Pittman's profile (online now)

Monte Pittman

13871 posts in 975 days

#11 posted 03-08-2014 at 05:31 AM

Wood does what wood wants to do. In all directions. Some of it is very stable, but some of it starts to warp when you approach the tree with the saw. Pine (especially the lower grades) twists and warps. If you buy the premium grade pine (as expensive as good hardwood) it’s much more stable. Good luck with your projects.

-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it. - It's not ability that we often lack, but the patience to use our ability

View LJackson's profile


152 posts in 231 days

#12 posted 03-08-2014 at 05:32 AM

PLK: There are thousands of hours worth of videos on YouTube, and countless web sites and forums where people describe how to do woodworking, and they just go on and say “do this.” I am not seeing the “do this for half your life” part of it, with the exception of the video I posted, which says that a jointer is a difficult machine to master, or even get kinda good at.

I’m not looking for perfection, just something a bit better than “twisted beyond belief.” It seems, the way many videos approach woodworking, that it CAN be a hobby, that you DO NOT have to be a professional. I just seem to be hitting a lot of mistakes that they do not go into detail about avoiding in the videos I watch.

Dallas, I am on the BT3100 forum. I am unsure where to start. Their “this is the place to start to set up your table saw.” article doesn’t seem to be obviously posted anywhere, and I’ve resorted to cobbling together bits and pieces from around the web. Do you happen to have any particular suggestions? Again, my fence is parallel to my blade, within a few hundreths of a millimeter.

Rick M. I do not believe it is a fence flexion issue. Though this table saw is “cheap” ($450 isn’t cheap to me), I had carefully reviewed table saws before buying, and this one is raved about, not the least of which for its fence. It grabs at both the front and the back of the table.

Also, I do not believe this wood is construction lumber. It was from the same area of the box store as you can find other boards like oak and popular, in a variety of sizes. I think it’s the next aisle over which has the 2×4s and other “wet” woods.

Anyway, I’ll keep guessing and hacking away at it until I get something reasonable. Perhaps avoiding box store wood is the first step.

View LJackson's profile


152 posts in 231 days

#13 posted 03-08-2014 at 05:35 AM

Monte, thanks for your suggestion. I will be going to a lumber yard today for the first time probably ten years. I’ll keep it in mind while looking at what they’ve got. The last time I went, I bought a bunch of maple. Of course, it’s warped, if it ever was flat.

View 12strings's profile


402 posts in 1021 days

#14 posted 03-08-2014 at 07:06 AM

Lots of good responses so far, but here’s one more to consider: If your board is warped or twisted such that it will not lay flat, that will affect the quality of cut you get form the table saw. Also, if the board’s edges are not straight, then you don’t have anything to register against the table saw fence, which is why some will make some kind of jointing jig to use their table saw as a jointer if they don’t have one.

I also have a table saw, but no jointer, and while I hardly ever try to produce a 4-square board using handplanes (too much work)... I have found with a bit of practice that I can use a jack plane to true up the EDGES ONLY of a board, checking it with a straight-edge. This will make the table-saw cuts go much better. If the table saw will still not cut a parallel cut, then you must have some other issue.

Regarding plywood, Most builders expect plywood to warp a little bit, but generally build projects in such a way that once a cabinet is assembled, the structure holds it in place.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Dallas's profile


2882 posts in 1124 days

#15 posted 03-08-2014 at 07:25 AM

LJ, I haven’t gone over there in years. The site Owner is Wallnut…. He can answer any of your questions.

Also look for a fellow named LCHIEN. He is one of the best there, IIRC

He also has a FAQ he will send you on this saw.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

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