How to Build With Rough Lumber


As woodworkers become more confident and skillful with their tools, they may want to branch out from using pre-manufactured, finished lumber. Working with rough-cut lumber is a cheaper alternative to using finished lumber and allows greater control over the finished product. Preparing rough lumber for use adds extra steps to any woodworking project, but for the experienced woodworker, the savings can be worth the effort. Before you can build with rough lumber, you'll need to dry and finish it yourself.

Things You'll Need

  • Rough lumber stock
  • Spacers
  • Electronic moisture meter (optional)
  • Scale
  • Measuring tape
  • Framing square
  • Circular saw
  • Table saw
  • Jointer
  • Thickness planer
  • Dry the rough lumber. The simplest method is to stack the lumber outside in a place that's sheltered from rain and direct sunlight. Insert spacers every one to two feet between each layer of lumber to give the air room to circulate. Let dry at least 45 to 60 days in a warm, dry climate for every inch of thickness, until the moisture content of the wood is around 8 percent. Wood can take up to twice as long to dry in a colder or more humid climate. Drying inside in a humidity-controlled shed should speed the process.

  • Check the moisture level of the wood with an electronic meter, or by the following test. Cut a piece of lumber about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long from a wide board. Do not use wood from the very end of the board. Weigh the wood to the closest ounce and measure the width to the closest 1/64 inch. Place the board near a radiator, hot-air register, or stove for several days and weigh again. If the weight of the wood decreases by less than 3 percent and the width changes by less than 1/2 percent, the wood is dry enough to use.

  • Rough cut the stock once the lumber is dry. Square off one end of the board with a framing square and use a circular saw to cut the stock to a consistent thickness suitable for your purpose.

  • Cut the boards to a consistent width with a table saw. Set the rip fence on the table saw to 4 3/4 inches from the blade. Set the blade height so that the teeth of the blade are at the same height as the stock.

  • True one side of the stock with a jointer so the surface is even and flat. Even the stock with multiple passes of the jointer, shaving off no more than 1/16 inch of wood with each pass. Run the boards through until you achieve a smooth surface unmarred by hollows or voids.

  • True the opposite side of the wood with a thickness planer. It's possible to use a jointer for this step as well, but it is difficult to make the second side parallel to the first side that way. Use the thickness planer to guide the boards and ensure the second side of the wood will be parallel to the first. Plane the board until both sides are even, parallel and at the desired finished thickness.

  • Square one edge of the wood with the jointer. Set the jointer fence at a 90-degree angle to the table and set the cutting depth to 1/16 inch. Place the wood on its face against the jointer and pass it through the cutter.

  • Rip the board to the desired finished width with the table saw. Set the fence to the desired width plus a 1/16-inch allowance, and rip the board with the squared edge against the table saw fence. Return to the jointer for another pass to mill the freshly sawn edge.

  • Square the ends of the board and cut to the desired finished length with a table saw. Your rough lumber is now finished and ready for building with.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you plan to build with rough lumber often, consider investing in a solar kiln to dry wood more quickly. Drying the wood in a solar kiln typically takes between 1 to 2 months.
  • Always work in the direction of the wood grain to ensure your cuts are smooth and clean.

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  • Photo Credit bark image by Igors Leonovs from
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