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Preparing lumber from rough cut to project ready
By: Robert Smith

The cheapest way to buy lumber is green and rough cut from a sawmill in your area. But by buying it this way, you cannot use the lumber for your projects for quite a while. Your alternatives are to buy dried and dimensioned lumber from distributors or places like Home Depot. These paths are great if your wallet is thick, and you need the boards immediately. I prefer to go with rough cut and prepare it myself.

Once you decide what projects you are going to attempt, and what species you plan to use, you can begin the process. The first thing you need to do is procure the materials. This is a matter of locating a local sawmill and asking if they have any lumber of the species and quality you need. Chances are that they will have a pile lying around somewhere that you can sort through and take your pick of the boards. But remember this, "green lumber will shrink while drying!" So make sure you pick stock that is a little over sized. You should find that the price you pay here will be very good, so don't try to haggle the price down. If they like you and you become a repeat customer they will probably give you even better deals later on.

After you get your lumber home, you'll need to decide on how you will dry it. One step is to pile your boards outside; undercover from rain and direct sun light; flat; with small (1"x1"x how ever wide your pile is) stickers spaced 12"-24" apart, between every layer of lumber (this allows air to circulate around the boards); this is called "Air-Drying." Then you allow it to air-dry for roughly one year for every 1" of thickness. This means that 1" thick boards will air-dry for one year, 2" thick boards will dry for two years, and so on. After they air-dry the moisture content will be around 12%-18%, this is still to wet to work with, so now you can bring the lumber inside your shop to finish drying. If your shop has low humidity you can let your lumber finish drying for a few weeks in there. I suggest that you buy a thermometer/hygrometer from Radio Shack. It is only about $40 and you can buy remote sensors for it to monitor other areas. The humidity in your shop should be under 50%RH to allow your lumber to finish drying down to 8% moisture content.

The other method of drying is to build a solar kiln. Plans for solar kilns can be found on the internet. These kilns can be built for only a couple hundred dollars. When you bring your lumber home you can immediately put your lumber in the solar kiln and begin drying. The time it takes to dry will vary due to your location, time of year, and other things. But generally about 30-60 days in the solar kiln will dry your lumber down to 6%-8% moisture content. So it will be ready to use right out of the kiln.

After your lumber is dried you can begin processing it. The first thing you need to do is joint one face of the board. You can do this by hand with a hand plane or the easy way with a jointer. It makes things a lot easier if you cut the board down to a length close to your final needed length. After you have one face flat you then run the board through a thickness planner. This will make the board parallel to the flat face. After you plane the board down to your final thickness, you then joint one edge either by hand or with a jointer. With the board flat, planed to the final thickness you are ready to rip the board to your final width. You can do this with a table saw, band saw, or even a skill saw with an edge guide. Just set your fence or edge guide to the desired width and use the jointed edge of the board as a reference. You now have a board almost ready for your project, just cut the final length needed and build your project. You're done, and you saved tons of money by processing the rough boards yourself.

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