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I remember when I made the jump from pre-cut Home Depot Oak to rough-cut stock… half your time for the project is spent squaring the rough-cut stock down to the final sizes!  But the pre-cut Home Depot stuff is so limiting, boring and uniform.  I found that the effort spent starting from a rough-cut board and working from ground up was well worth the extra time because I could venture into a myriad of other woods and grain patterns besides “Oak.”

In Italy, I used a full-up industrial woodshop where I would buy my stock and dimension it.  Planers, table saws and belt sanders, oh my…  And it still took a full day’s work (if not two) to get everything cleaned off, squared, dimensioned, and ready for joinery.  Joinery will always be my favorite aspect of woodworking, but honing the rough stock has its own fun.  In fact, it’s almost like unwrapping a Christmas present: you never truly know the beauty of the grain underneath until you start unwrapping it by planing the layers away.

Here in Britain, I have only me and my hand planes.  That’s it.  When it comes to dimensioning the stock, it’s daunting.

Using the power machines in the Italy shop gave me peace of mind: I knew after I ran it through the machines that everything was square, exacting, and perfect.  By hand, I have to make compromises (in part, because I’m somewhat impatient).  It’d take me an entire day to gnat’s ass just one board to square and exacting.  I personally want to build and join, not fiddle around with a straightedge and micrometer for days on end.  Instead, I find myself asking “what truly needs to be flat?” and “what truly needs to be square?”  If it needs to be flat and square, then I’ll take the extra time to make it exacting.  Otherwise, there’s a point when “good enough” is truly good enough (though it still lacks that peace-of-mind perfection I like to have).

So here’s the 4-hour montage of readying just one board for joinery (the upper rails & stretchers).  They will ultimately be tenoned on both ends into the legs of the grill table.

Raw TimberScrub1Scrub2



The outdoor grill table I’m taking on is my case in point.  The rails and stretchers need to be relatively straight boards, but they absolutely need to be straight and square where they will butt up against the tabletop as well as tenon into the legs.  The other surfaces?  Well, who cares really.  They won’t affect the structural soundness at all, and I don’t think they will affect how it looks either.

That took about 5 hours today.  I’m sure things will speed up as I go.  Regardless of by power or by hand, dimensioning and squaring still remain time sucking processes.  I couldn’t help but think that if only I had the use of that industrial power shop in Italy, I’d have all the boards dimensioned and squared today.  Alas, I do not… but I will have the pride that this project will be made purely without electricity.

The next day or three: dimensioning the Elm legs that are caked in bird shit…

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  • Brian Eve

    It looks good. Don’t worry about how long it takes, you’ll get faster at it as you go.

    One thing I like to do is break the rough stock down to sizes close to final dimension first. It is a lot easier to get twist out of a two foot board than an eight foot one.

    I look forward to seeing this project move forward!

    • Thanks Brian… I guess I wanted to scrub off the dirt to examine the grain pattern first (just in case I saw something that would change my plan for the better). Alas, it’s oak, so I saw nothing spectacular…

  • Mike Winslow

    I didn’t know you had the patience for such tedious work.

    • I don’t… but I have no other options either!

  • RenaissanceWoodworker

    I second Brian’s comments. The saw is mightier than the plane when it comes to flattening a board. If you want to get a look at the grain then hit the surface quickly with a scrub or Fore plane to remove the junk then rip/crosscut to within an inch of final size. Planing will go SO much faster after than.

    • Shannon, wow; thanks for the reply! I have one more board to buy and dimension for the shelf underneath – I will be trying this method that you/Brian have found useful…

      Not looking forward to the table top I just glued up though from 8/4 stock: 5′ x 2.5′. I did cut it to size first, but I feel to flatten and finish it I will just have to lower my head and charge the castle walls until I beat my way through.

  • You beat me to the punch – I was actually gonna craft a post about it… I have both the LN#7 and a dedicated scrub plane (thinner blade with camber). I found that with the elm legs (which were already mostly straight as rough cut), it took me longer to scrub and then flatten, rather than if I went straight to the No7 to flatten. Due to this, I kinda came to the conclusion that I want to use the scrub plane to take out warp or make thinner stock, and use the joiner to flatten (even if that means shaving off the weathered surface – which I know kills the blade, but that’s what sharpening stones are for right?).

    Am I off the mark in this conclusion? I guess save the response, because I’ll have a post about it within a week…

    But for what it’s worth, I managed to do the elm legs (all four of them) in about the same amount of time it took me to do the one board above. So I guess I sped up a little bit? Truthfully, this project marks my first time dimensioning stock by hand.