Prepping Wood Part I Intro

In business as a full-time woodworking furniture maker, I relied heavily on machinery to take care of the donkey work and also those masses of repeat cuts on products I mass made on a more commercial level. My product line was developed to make money and though I was careful with every piece I ever made and put myself into the quality, such work eventually became dulled and uninteresting to the point of being extremely boring. Not only that, I became soft. Every cut I made relied on a machine mostly and my hand tools came out to trim what couldn’t be trimmed readily by the machine I was on. More than that, I neglected sharpening because, well, the hand tools weren’t so much a part of my day anymore. The orders were coming in steadily and I was maxed out. This was a time when success was measured in money and how much of it you took in to turn a profit. You can make a million out of anything wooden. Make a million cutting boards and charge one pound more than your overall cost and you will end up with a million in your bank account when done. My becoming soft meant a softness in many ways and not the least of which was in strengths I had unwittingly allowed to go to waste. Think muscle waste, for instance. Think brain power too. If everything I did was coming off an automatic rotary cut, I had nothing to think about. I set up the machine and checked for a safe pass before pressing the on button. Everything was guaranteed! When a stack of boards becomes a thousand walking canes over a few days, or perhaps 400 cutting boards, and no handtool was used, a tedium sets in and you feel every day is the same. That was not forme.

Over a period, sanity reigned, and a shift in my attitude towards earning came from reflecting on what in life meant to me the most. I concluded that mass making for money could never give me the satisfaction that skilled hand woodworking had always given to me, but much more than that, it was the relationship to my material in its unpredictable character as well as its predictability too. With hand tools, the wood requires my constant engagement, my sensitivity and my willingness to change direction, offer an alternative effort, tool, method or technique. These were the differences and these were what I found the most interesting and sustaining. I didn’t want the guaranteed outcome a machine always gave in chips sucked out through a vacuum system, I wanted my energy challenged and my effort translated into something that cost me everything. The inner me as a maker was a soul with skill. I wanted the self-discipline hand tools demanded, to own systems I’d set for myself in patterns of working, patterns that required me to keep a standard. The last thing I wanted was a machine to substitute for my complete, immersive involvement. Who can truly explain the engagement I am speaking of? It defies explanation because if woodworking is evolved to a level that it takes out almost all human effort, surely then this is the better outcome. Well, in my woodworking, no! This is not the case.

Today, the only machine I really use is my bandsaw. I also have a drill press that I have thought of taking out to free up valuable garage space for my moving around and not to install another machine, I use it so minimally. It’s handy for drilling perpendicular holes, making a hundred wooden plugs and such, but is the handiness worth the loss of space it takes? I don’t think so. On the other hand, the bandsaw makes perfect sense to me. More than any other machine. These last few years, since setting up the garage workspace and preparing for the series of pieces, I have relied mostly on my bandsaw only. I have gained weight, but not in the way you might feel negative about. My weight gain has been in added muscle mainly. My chest, legs and upper body have become more muscular because I am lifting beams and heavy boards to crosscut and prepare for the bandsaw and then used the bandsaw for roughing down large stock to workable sizes. Some sections with wane on have been 24″ wide, 2-3″ thick and 10 feet long. All of my work in this area is on my own. I think that this is especially important for those following and engaging with the sellershome pieces. I think I need to show what it really takes to convert the wood in safe ways. So no one supports the wood for me or lifts it with me. I use leverage and a moving table to place the wood near to alignment and then I remove any excesses first. Excesses means rotten sections, splits, wane and so on. If it is crosscutting, I use a handsaw only. This is very simple and effective, always fast and always a safe, no-nonsense way with sawdust that drops to the floor and doesn’t puther into my atmosphere.

My next post very soon,maybe even tomorrow, will walk you through a very specific system I rely on to get all of my rough-sawn stock to a hand-planed finish with four standard planes and my bandsaw. I understand that some woodworkers are set up with machines for this work, but I still want to encourage everyone to do as much as they feel that they can using their bodies. The exercise is really excellent for one thing, but it so combines with developing the physical experience of moving wood, balancing, transferring, transforming and of course building all of the strengths I speak of. Of course,for some it is a question of time and for others physical limitations body wise and then noise too. Just do the best that you can and especially if you are new to hand tool woodworking and want to become skillful. The most important thing is to feel satisfaction and enjoyment.

26 thoughts on “Prepping Wood Part I Intro”

  1. Hi Paul, I have a question I couldn’t fin an answer to online: I became aware of the fact that wood have internal stress, which I found out cutting some Eucalyptus board to make rafters and beams for a pergola. The boards were already cupped, i tried to straighten them with weight and water to no effort, mind they are 2″ thick 11 feet long. I left them outside do dry for 2 weeks but it did nothing, so i planed faces and sides to cut along, and it twisted so bad. I got no clue what to do about it, at this point i’m going to go ahead and bouild it and hope that the joints and tension with time might stabilize itself. On the positive, my view of wood has a new dimension I didn’ know for years. Thank you for your blog.

    1. Hi Paul:

      While I have never spent a cent with you I have always enjoyed your work and the results I have seen. Also, I am one of those using almost entirely power tools in my work, and contrary to yourself have never been bored. Having worked in a large aircraft factory when I was you it would be my experience it is not the difference between the methods of woodworking but the projects.
      Doing the same thing over and over creates boredom. While I have no idea of what you have been making it could never be boring to take something God has given us, whether it be a skill or a piece of wood a created piece of something beautiful could never be a bore. There is something special to take a rough board into a extra smooth gift this stands alone.

      Perhaps the results rest in the projects.

      In Christ,
      Tom Satterlee

    2. My bandsaw gets lots of use, whereas my table saw languishes taking up valuable space. But when a table saw is needed… Maybe if I had a more robust bandsaw….

  2. That will be a very interesting post. I’ve always wonder how you can prep a rough 12″ wide board 6 feet long with a bandsaw to gain some time. I prep my stock with my hand planes and then put a mark all around to thickness when needed. Usely i don’t care about thicknessing or surface quality when it is hidden from view or never touch because of the added work. What do you think about gaining efficiency that way when hand prepping?

  3. Thanks Paul for this post. Often but not always, what I will do is buy the wood already S4S’d just to reduce the amount of stock prep. At times when I can’t get what I need or afford S4S, I do the stock prep by hand. I am currently saving up for a bandsaw and dust collection for the reasons you mentioned.

  4. Vanderlei P. Carvalho

    Each post is like a Christmas gift. Each line that the eyes travel are like ribbons that come out of the packaging and take shape and we identify the gift that is given to us. It is always a great pleasure to receive and enjoy this enriching reading.

  5. I don’t have a bandsaw. I feel like I waste quite a bit of wood trying to resaw with a handsaw. If I start out with 4/4 i am lucky to get a 1/2” piece but the cutoff is too mangled to get a 1/4” piece.

    1. Bandsaw will still not get you two 1/2 thick sections, but will be more like 5/16. I can almost get 5/16 off the hand saw when I careful. Minimum set, well sharpened and tuned saw is required, along with a fair bit of practice. I started needing 1/4 of waste space now down to about to between 3/16 and 1/8 on average now. On a good day I can loose only 3/32 to waste.

  6. Very happy to see you addressing this topic Paul! I am keen to buy in some rough sawn hardwoods for economy, and also because its hard to source DAR timber over 3/4” (19mm) thick. But the stock prep puts me off – could easily take me longer than the projects. Your experience at finding efficient and economical ways through will be invaluable!!

    Off-topic: I got my 17” wooden jack plane by Mathieson fettled today, according to your YOuTube video. It’s amazing how good it feels to use and how effective the hammer tapping is to set it. What a legacy these videos are, priceless knowledge that would otherwise be lost to future generations!

  7. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    I find that I use the panel saw and a bench hook for all my cross cuts. I own a Dewalt miter saw with stand, but it takes up so much space I cannot justify the footprint. My shop is about 30 m2 (320 square feet), but with the band saw and the donkeywork machine (planer/thicknesser) I don’t have the space for it. Or, I do not allow one single tool to take up that much space if I can avoid it. I’ve seen the “miter saw stations” people build. For a _hobbyist_ shop. I cannot understand what a weekend warrior would need a dedicated setup like that for. If I’m going to do a production run and need to do hundreds of repeatable cuts, I _can_ do that with the miter saw on its stand. And afterwards put the saw and stand away, freeing up the space again. But to build a huge structure just for cutting planks down to size? It’ll be some expensive bird houses…

    “Take the tool to the work, not the work to the tool”. Saves space.

  8. Ever since I went to school, I have had a dream of a woodcraft workshop. I have always imagined a room full of powertools of all kinds. So, maybe two years ago, I stumbled upon Paul Sellers, which says I do not need a single machine, but can manage with only a few hand tools. Which is what I did during the time I dreamed of getting a “real” workshop, as I thought. I have been woodworking since I was 6 years of age, when my grandfather taught me. For 41 years I have relied on a dozen hand tools, most of them inherited from my grandfather. It has been groundbreaking to discover that I have been able to delete one machine after another from my wish list, in recent years. and now I have come to the conclusion that I am actually quite happy as it is, Relying on only one plane (which I belive is a # 5) and hand saws to prepare my wood.
    Now I aim to build a workbench that will replace my temporary one …

  9. I don’t have any machines. I wish I had/could have a table saw but I cant. I order most of my wood as rough stock, mostly true 8×2. I only go PAR if I’m ordering close to actual size I need and unable to work around defects. I’ve got 3, 4 & 5tpi saws for the task. There’s actually not a lot to take off a rough board to get a flat face and edge. Wastage usually comes from rushing or forcing the cut – saw plate is flat n straight, teeth are sharp and evenly set so the less I get involved in the cut the straighter it is. Depending on the saw I tend to work around a 2-3mm kerf margin – key in ripping for a resaw is angle down one side, angle down the other and remove middle hump. Discipline in cutting what you can see. It sometimes feels like madness but I can’t have the noise so I find more and more I concentrate on a reference face and edge and the rest is done when needed.
    The biggest problem I have as a hobbyist apprentice is the time it takes to move from dimensioned piece to assembly – that’s where problems occur most for me. But that’s life 😉

  10. Thank you Paul. Often the most rewarding part of a project for me is when I have spent the hours hand cutting and planing stock to size and squared nicely and it’s stacked ready to go. This preparation is when I feel I really get to know the character of the wood – it can talk to me because the hand work is sensitive. When I start the joinery I am then much more confident in knowing how it will behave.

  11. Paul,
    The COVID lockdown re-envigorated a love of woodwork which stemmed from an upbringing of weekends with my grandfather in his shed, and although i have collected over the years numerous machines – your videos and blogs have really hammered home the importance of woodworking by hand, and so this year, i have made many beautiful pieces all by hand, with significantly more enjoyment than before by machine.
    There is something captivating and exciting about your videos – in a raw un-scripted way, the true love of woodworking is conveyed – and for that i thank you.

  12. S4S spruce-pine-fir lumber from the big home center stores is fine if used pretty quickly, but if i leave it in my garage for a couple months it develops cups and bows. This suggests that a) wood from some stores is often still high in moisture b) that the point in time when you prep wood is important and what might happen beyond that time needs to be taken into account. I’m guessing the alternatives are dry out wood, then prep or prep but account for future drying out.

    I don’t understand how (or if it is possible) to tell if a piece of wood has finished changing in shape/is dimensionally stable or if there are guidelines to minimize future dimensional change, but this seems to be important. I would like to avoid dimensioning lumber, only to have this undone by future changes in the wood that I can’t detect. Any wisdom appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Moisture meter will help, getting a feel for wood weight helps, but really it is just knowing the wood has dried to balance with the environment. Which means when the environment changes the wood moves again. 90% of the big box stuff, especially construction grade, is still above 12% sometimes even still wet enough to make the saw damp in the cut.

      I usually bring that stuff in early and just let sit around th shop for a about a month and it gets close enough to be safe to work with.

  13. William Dickinson


    Just want to share some thoughts. I like your philosophy. When I was in 7th grade, I had the luxury of living in England for a year. I had woodworking and metal class near Headington, England. My wood working instructor, Mr. Blackwell, established a few standards. 1) always set a hand plane down on its side so as to not risk the chance of dulling the blade. Till this day, I cringe when I see anyone set a plane down on it’s base; 2) always, before sawing along a mark, remove a slight bevel with a chisel along the mark so that your cut will be perfect.

    These two things are burned in my brain. I mention these things because they make sense. And, your teaching makes sense in the same way. Thanks. That’s all, just thanks for sharing with us.

  14. Antonio Bettencourt

    Greetings, Paul! Thanks for the very interesting blog post and I look forward to the next one about your band saw process.
    I wish my father were still here. He would so appreciate the work you do. He introduced me to books by David Pye. Do you know him?
    I’m very much a beginner woodworker but one thing I am finding is that the prepping of boards with hand tools reveals instantly the characteristics of each individual board, something that is last when you blast it through a high horse power machine. Working by hand I know right away which direction grain is going, the warping of the board, the knots, etc. This intimacy with the natural material, for me, is the essence of craft. This is something Pye writes about beautifully as a part of the design process.

  15. Joel D Prevette

    Finally got myself a bandsaw. I would really enjoy seeing how you manage a long piece of timber or slicing planks from logs on your bandsaw. Specifically in regard to infeed and outfeed support of the wood and support of the log while slicing.

    1. Here are the things that have enabled me the most. One, my bandsaw is on attached wheels – I can move it easily to where I want/need and then retract the wheels for total stability. Two, my bandsaw table is the exact same height as my workbench so I can align the bandsaw with my bench for on rip cuts and use the workbench as an infeed table if I need to. I also have a moving table on wheels that I can place behind my bandsaw but this is not always easy to set up so I use a single roller bearing outfeed support tripod that works well. I don’t slab logs. My bandsaw is not meant for log cutting.

  16. Mike Anderson

    Great post Paul. Interesting how you’ve moved from an almost industrial way of working to handcrafting. I didn’t have the option of lots of power tools mainly due to lack of space. Now, like you, retired I have a 20 ft squ double garage which is my workshop. After many years of handcrafting for pleasure, feeling the wood, using sharp hand tools to persuade the wood to respond, getting blisters and too many nicks and cuts, I didn’t feel the urge to fill my workspace with machinery. I got a bandsaw for Xmas though and wouldn’t part with it now. The other day I also bought a mitre saw and stand. A Drill press would be handy but you’ve shown how to fashion a simple jig to drill true. I like making your ‘poor man’s’ tools and your knowledge and experience helps me improve my techniques. Keep up the good work. And keep up the real time videos too!

  17. Some specialist hardwood suppliers in the UK happily prep for even the most modest requirements. I also find it an enjoyable to wander around the different species in places like Surrey Timbers who label and price almost everything on display. I have learned from this and prefer it to the online method. What a joy.

    1. I think for one Surrey Timbers there are several who are not so good at PR though. I think Surrey Timbers is the best I have come across to date UK-wise.

      1. Malcolm Smith

        I’ve found I’ve gravited to ST recently. Unfortunately I can’t just go and wander but happily they’re online offering is much more navigable than others. I also find them quite fair on rough sawn stock when increasing board width and thickness to accommodate for any defects.

        (I will need to contact some Scottish suppliers though – their online presence seems to concentrate on the waney and live so that’s not a good way to tell if a wander is worth it.)

    1. Well, yes, Carey, but even the smallest task suggestion that comes in always means more work for me to add to my workload. My blog is my work and no one else is usually involved. The series on prepping wood has about 150 hours in it with photographs, writing, proofing, drawings experimenting and such. I am not sure how much time your suggestion would take me, it’s just getting to it.

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