Straight Lumber?

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Forum topic by WoodShaped posted 01-10-2015 01:46 AM 2472 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 1718 days

01-10-2015 01:46 AM

I am new to this forum but I plan to ask lots of questions. Here is my first one. How in the world do you get straight lumber for projects? Or is it even possible? I know there are tools you can use to make pieces straight but is that the only option? I will also try searching the forum for similar questions.

21 replies so far

View AlaskaGuy's profile


4760 posts in 2506 days

#1 posted 01-10-2015 01:57 AM

You have pretty much answered you own question. My 40 years of experience says there is no consistent way to have straight square flat lumber other than having a jointer and planer. Even if there was, you’re going to want lumber for project of different thickness than you can buy off the shelf.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View AandCstyle's profile


3177 posts in 2454 days

#2 posted 01-10-2015 01:58 AM

The only lumber that is square is the lumber you make square. Some people are able to make square stock with hand saws, planes and winding sticks. I use a SCMS, jointer, thickness planer and TS.

-- Art

View Aj2's profile


1867 posts in 1995 days

#3 posted 01-10-2015 01:59 AM

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. I like to dimensign my own lumber, it’s a important first step for finewoodworking.
Now if it’s a picnic table it’s better to be a little rough,Looks better right?

-- Aj

View TheFridge's profile


10696 posts in 1683 days

#4 posted 01-10-2015 02:04 AM

You may be able to pick through a bunch of s4s stock to get the straightest but not all suppliers will let you do that.

Jointer and planer is the way to go pretty much.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2831 posts in 3635 days

#5 posted 01-10-2015 02:07 AM

You can do your best to try to pick out the straightest ones. Not much luck there when I try. The other ways are to manually or with machines straighten them. The usual method is to joint one edge on a jointer. Then with one straight edge, use it to cut the other edge on a table saw. Now you have two parallel edges. The flat surfaces are done by jointing one side till it’s flat. The side that is jointed is the one that is cupped. i.e. the middle is bowed up and the ends touch the jointer bed. After you get a flat bottom side then cut the hump off in a planer. So…
1. joint edge
2. Used jointed edge to cut other edge in table saw.
3. Joint cupped side till flat.
4. plane top side till parallel with jointed side.

Now, if you have no power tools you can do it by hand with planes and hand saws and such but even for the purists it’s enough to make you not want to continue with the thing you’re building.

Another point that can save a lot of this, is that if you can find fairly straight pieces and have a project that uses short narrower pieces of wood, like a raised panel door say… then the can be cut into small pieces that usually have less of a bow or at least don’t show them much.

Hope that helps. There are youtube videos that help demonstrate the process that you can see. Here's one.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View emart's profile


445 posts in 2825 days

#6 posted 01-10-2015 02:40 AM

It is essentially impossible to get truly flat materials from the store. Even expensive plywood has some warping to it. Best thing if you do not have a jointer or planer is to work your design around this problem until you can buy those machines. It isnt impossible I built my first bed with cheap construction grade studs using just a chopsaw, belt sander, orbital sander, and cordless drill. One bit of advice I will give is to put a lot of wiggle room in your projects so that these issues can be hidden.

-- tools are only as good as the hands that hold them

View Lumberpunk's profile


334 posts in 2534 days

#7 posted 01-10-2015 04:24 PM

Even if you get them straight with your choice of tools unless the grain is dead straight the wood will be moving, bowing, cupping and twisting with the seasons. Great furniture makers account for this in their designs… I am still learning. Enjoy!

And yeah you want a jointer and a thickness planer and a table saw. (unless you go the handtool route). Get the biggest and best you can afford.

-- If someone tells you you have enough tools and don't need any more, stop talking to them, you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.

View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1533 days

#8 posted 01-10-2015 04:48 PM

Big box sanded 4 sides wood is an iffy proposition because wood moves even after it is dimensioned by S4S. Depending on the size of the project you can reduce cupping and bowing in a board when you cut it to size. NEVER buy lumber that is warped or twisted. Sight down the board or bring a straight edge and major flaws will be revealed.

Jointer flattens one face and a 90 degree edge on a board. You can trick a planer to joint a flat face with a sled and some shims so I bought my planer first and saved for my jointer.
Planer let’s you thickness the stock and gives you a flat face parallel to the jointed face.
Table saw squares up the ends of the boards and you rip the non-jointed edge parallel to the jointed edge with the fence.
Band saw let’s you cut curves/contours and resaw thick boards by splitting them.

You can do all of this with hand tools like planes and handsaws and handheld power tools but it is time consuming. For example, You can joint an edge with a straight edge and either a circular saw or a router with a bearing bit called a flush cutter. Also you can crosscut a board to length using a straight edge and a circular saw or even a jig saw.

Have fun. Be safe. Tom

Learning the tricks of woodworking is a lot of fun. Get some reference books like Tage Frid’s book

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2831 posts in 3635 days

#9 posted 01-10-2015 04:54 PM

Get some reference books like Tage Frid s book

- ElChe

Good idea, or you can save a lot of $$ by researching on the net. Same info there and often videos of how it’s done.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View MattyMattAg's profile


41 posts in 1681 days

#10 posted 01-10-2015 05:20 PM

I live in Houston and use a hardwood specialty store down in town. Everyone around recommends this place as having the best selection of wood.

When I built my daughters crib, I didn’t own a jointer so was forced to buy S4S Oak… Sawn on 4 Sides. This is supposed to be ready to use straight from the store. Though it was good, it was not perfect. It makes it especially difficult to use when you are planning on doing long-edge glue ups, because those edges are rarely parallel.

Do the best you can. I started with a table saw and did a project. Bought a jointer and did another couple of projects. Bought a mitre saw and did a couple of more. Then upgraded and got a new table saw. Right now I can mill 3 sides of rough lumber. Once I can afford a planer, I’ll be set.

Long-winded way to say… you can get straight lumber if you have the tools and do it yourself.

-- If Jesus was a carpenter, what better profession could there be?

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3268 days

#11 posted 01-10-2015 05:48 PM

As everyone else has said, it’s tough to buy dimensional lumber and expect it to work without any flattening. But here are a few things you can do to improve your luck and minimize your work:
  1. Look at the end grain and learn how to tell the difference between flatsawn, riftsawn, and quartersawn. Quartersawn is most stable. Of course, if you’re looking for a certain grain pattern, you may have to specifically look for flatsawn or riftsawn.
  2. If you can basically “see the whole tree” when you look at the end grain, consider buying a wider board and cutting it down to size.
  3. Buy wider boards and cut out the pith to get two pieces of quartersawn lumber.
  4. Buy from a reputable hardwood dealer or lumber mill rather than a big-box home improvement store or generic construction-grade lumber dealer.
  5. Sometimes you can also find good lumber on craigslist.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View bonesbr549's profile


1576 posts in 3264 days

#12 posted 01-10-2015 05:51 PM

Some are straiter than others, but you will have to work with it. If you can’t afford power jointers and planers off the bat, go with a scrub plane, and jointing plane and some elbow grease. Get Rob Cosmans. Rough to ready dvd and it will all be clear. Did that for a long time and it works just as good, and you don’t need hearing protection.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my 12” jointer, and 20” planer now, but on a budget, works like a charm.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View bondogaposis's profile


5086 posts in 2548 days

#13 posted 01-10-2015 07:30 PM

I know there are tools you can use to make pieces straight but is that the only option?

Yes, pretty much that is the only option.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3268 days

#14 posted 01-10-2015 07:40 PM

One other thing worth mentioning is that you may be able to find a neighbor, someone in your local woodworking club, a community shop (check with nearby community colleges/universities), or someone on craigslist who will let you use their tools to flatten and straighten your lumber.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View WoodShaped's profile


5 posts in 1718 days

#15 posted 04-27-2015 07:14 PM

I appreciate all the replies. This is very helpful! Thank you so much!

showing 1 through 15 of 21 replies

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