A Guide to Choosing Straight Lumber - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 04-19-2016, 04:52 PM Thread Starter
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A Guide to Choosing Straight Lumber


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When you’re buying lumber for a project, it’s easy to assume that it’s going to be straight and relatively easy to work with. After all, that’s the point of buying milled lumber instead of using rough-cut lumber or pieces you’ve cut yourself. Unfortunately, even milled lumber can have flaws that will cause you headaches once you start working with it. All anyone can do is select wood is straight to begin with. There are internal stresses which can cause the board to bow and twist when it is cut. No two trees are alike, so no two boards will be alike either. It's just something to allow for by buying more lumber than the project needs so if a board turns out to be a bad one you can replace it.
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post #2 of 9 Old 04-19-2016, 05:36 PM
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Choosing Materials

Even though we try to choose straight, un-warped, untwisted, unchecked blemish free lumber, sometimes the lumber isn’t milled correctly or can come from different setups and can be different dimensions or have un-noticed defects. Some lumber may be milled too thick, but seldom too thin, some may be straight ripped one edge.

At a lumber supplier you may see the materials referred to as S1S, S2S, S3S or S4S. S1S means the materials have been surfaced 1 side which usually means one edge has been straight ripped.

S2S usually means the materials have been surfaced both sides but not straight ripped either edge.

S3S means the materials have been straight ripped one edge and both sides surfaced.

S4S means all surfaces have been milled.

Sometimes while milling, an unadjusted/untuned machine can cause irregularities which must be addressed in order to have blemish free materials. Looking along both the width and the length of boards, flipping them over to inspect both sides is necessary to observe defects; even the most trained eye can overlook some defects.

Most big box stores will have lumber dressed to finish thickness, whereas a lumber supplier will usually leave the lumber at least 1/6 inch or so thicker, so any scars from transporting/handling can be removed while thickness planing.

It is advisable to leave the materials at the full thickness until ready to use as materials can move during storage. It is also advisable to store your materials in a way so while they acclimate to the humidity and temperature, that they don’t warp, twist, bow or check. One word of caution, remove all or as much dust as possible from materials to be planed, as dust can and will dull your blades quickly.

There is no such thing as perfect materials. That is the reason we have machines to mill our materials as close to perfect as possible.

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post #3 of 9 Old 04-19-2016, 09:57 PM
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Originally Posted by BigJim View Post
There is no such thing as perfect materials. That is the reason we have machines to mill our materials as close to perfect as possible.
For real...
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post #4 of 9 Old 04-19-2016, 11:04 PM
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Lumber that is not perfectly straight and knotted is bad for making doors, windows, regular tables and cabinets. But it is often desirable for making what are called "rustic" and "antique" items. In such furniture, the more knotted, scratched and crooked a piece is, the better it looks (and often sells at a higher price). I have seen people deliberately select lumber for a "natural" look (knots, kinks, waves, etc) when making rustic pieces.

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post #5 of 9 Old 04-20-2016, 01:15 AM
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You all aren't forgetting about "Live Edged" wild and twisty grain are ya'll?
Or wood with wild interior staining like Ambrosia Maple or pieces with burled grains?

These are the kinds of things I use, and rarely use anything with straight knot free grains unless the pieces are unseen for backside support.
It's not that I can't and don't appreciate products made out of finer grained woods, but to me personally they just don't have personality. In design of our furniture and cabinetry I understand the structural need. I also understand that the design might dictate certain "clean" cuts. I appreciate all of this and yet I just can't bring myself to work with said woods. Fine joinery and straight grains are just not my style and it's not even possible to "fine join" the woods I use. The unpredictability of "live edged, wild grains just fights fine joinery.

In my house, I've used live edged wood for even the door and window trims. My whole house is live edged black walnut.
I wouldn't have it any other way,,, but I'm strange that way.
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post #6 of 9 Old 04-20-2016, 03:54 PM
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Don't forget to take a look at the end grain pattern.

The diagonal placement of the growth ring pattern is a means of evening out the shrinkage movement in both the radial and tangential directions.
This wood will be about as stable as you might expect.

If the ring pattern is parallel to the board face(s), the risk of cupping and twisting will be greater.
I buy flat-sawn 6/4 birch x 5-8" wide that is normally cupped 1/4" or more. For wood carving, I can ignore that.

If you intend to work with soft/conifer woods, pay attention to the ring count per inch.
12 or fewer rings/inch was very fast growing. Short fiber and little compression strength when hit with any saw blade or other edge tool.
Even a new saw blade will shred the soft early wood fiber in each ring.
For carving in cedar, I've found otherwise perfect wood but 8 rings/inch = I keep walking.
20-40 is stable and can be worked with ease. 50+ is kind of boney but no problem.

Big loose knots in wood such as pine can be stabilized such that they can be sawn in half (for the near edges of a matching pair of glass cabinet door frames.)
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post #7 of 9 Old 04-21-2016, 11:26 AM
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I hve been fortunate in that I never lived more than an hour and half's drive from a quality hardwood and exotic wood lumber yard.
After a few times buying in the yard, I shift to then delivering, These kind of places usually cull their own lumber and sell the 'shorts'.Usually there isn't much supply. With these particular lumber yards, I have never had the problems that others have. I usually have the lumber planed and straight like ripped one side (S3S). Only one time did I ever reject a load. Anyway, these boards seem to stay flat and straight when I cross-Cut and rip. I had a 5HP FoleyBelsaw planer that worked great, but it was always more cost effective to have the yard do it instead. If I needed to re-size, I could.

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post #8 of 9 Old 04-21-2016, 11:56 AM
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Not much to add, some very good information in the original post and in some of the additional replies. All I can add is that a few extra dollars spent on quality material will make the project much more pleasant to build and reward you with a better end result.
As they say, "Garbage in, garbage out".

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
― Marcus Aurelius
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post #9 of 9 Old 04-21-2016, 07:06 PM
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It's easy to pick out straight and flat boards.....

When at the lumber yard, box store or other retail source that's when you sight the boards and take home the good ones, leaving the curved and cupped ones for the scarp pile. Whether or not they will remain straight and flat when you get them home and change the humidity and temperature environment is a whole 'nother issue. Kiln dried of course will be the most stable and that's generally what you find "retail".

When choosing rough sawn lumber at a mill it doesn't matter all that much ... to a point. The more vertical end grain will always cup less and be more stable. So you can have the mill joint and plane it as many sides as you wish OR having your own jointer and thickness planer will allow you even more precise results. This is why more experienced woodworkers eventually get those 2 very important wood preparation machines.

Experience tells you that removing equal amounts from each side will be the best approach when thicknessing a board. Wood has internal stresses and it's best not to fight them using poor surfacing techniques. Also ripping a board or resawing it will reveal any internal stresses and you'll find out very quickly when that's the case. It may spring open or close on the blade jamming the saw IF no splitter is used. A bandsaw in more forgiving and a small wedge can be inserted as you make the pass. DAMHIKT.

It's best to use the lumber as soon as possible after milling if the assembly will help in eliminating any warping. I stand almost all my ready to use lumber on end and allow air to circulate around it if possible, rather than stacking it horizontally with no air movement. :smile3:

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)

Last edited by woodnthings; 04-21-2016 at 08:09 PM.
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