Exploratory Surgery

lumber pile

That is how I typically start working on a new project – with rough cut lumber. I mean ROUGH cut. I don’t care how experienced you are reading grain – if there is too much grit, filth, and age on a board it will not be read until it is cleaned a bit.


Can you tell what this board will look like? I can not.


It all begins with my favorite cleaning tool – a stiff steel wire brush.  I like this one because I can grip it like I do a bench plane.  Every board that I touch gets cleaned with this little brush before a plane ever touches it.  Scrub it – put your back into it.  I recommend this brush to power tool guys, too because all the grit, dust, and grime on the surface of rough lumber is abrasive and at the least will dull blades quickly.  At the worst, I have seen pebbles imbedded in the wood that nicked my blades – which created a lot of work in sharpening.


Next I turn to my jack plane. Heavy camber (8in radius or so).  This is almost my favorite part of the project.  It’s the part when you get the first glimpse of how your project will look once your lumber is cleaned up.  Here I am traversing the board to remove the highest spots and expose the wood below.  Keep working down the length of the board.


It really is fun to see the grain come through for the first time. I am starting to see that this board will need to be 2 of my drawer fronts as I really like the symmetric cathedral grain and the width is about right.  This is what I mean by “exploratory surgery”.  Every board has a purpose, but in the rough it is tough (or impossible) to know that purpose.  As you expose the wood and see how twisted, flat, bowed, or warped the board is you can determine how it can best be used.


Here  the grain is nicely exposed and I have not really reduced the thickness of the board.  That is good because I was focused on looking at the board and not flattening it.  Anyway, this is about where I will generally stop with the jack plane sit the board aside.  I label it with chalk for where I think it will go in my project and I move on to other boards.  I will identify all of the major pieces before I do much work with the saw.  Remember, I am going to “find” my longest, most visible pieces first, then move to shorter but highly visible boards.  That will be another post.

Bob Jones

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s