Hand Tools Archive

Power/Hand Tool Milling
Response To:
Re: Hand work ()

Steve Elliott
Milling rough lumber to finished size is one of my favorite parts of the work I do. In commercial cabinet and furniture shops milling is done with power equipment, at least if you want to keep your job. Those are the hard facts of my situation, not a dig at hand tool work.

To prepare 7/8” stock for frame and panel doors (where it is essential that the stock be straight and not twisted) I’d start by looking for boards that were straight enough and thick enough to yield the parts I need. Straight 4/4 stock would be easy to use, and bowed or twisted boards would do for shorter lengths.

Getting the thickest and widest straight piece out of a given chunk of rough lumber has been the goal of my milling technique and I’ve found ways to do it with power equipment. Finesse on the jointer is the key, and knowledge of wood tension is important. For a simple tool, the jointer can be used in quite a number of ways that go beyond just pushing a board across. To remove stock from the convex side of a board I start by using a taper jointing technique, where the leading end of the board is set onto the outfeed table so that zero wood is removed from a place where I need all the wood I can get. To remove twist, I put down-pressure on the middle of the board (which starts the cut resting on the far end of the infeed table). When executed successfully using several passes over the jointer, the result is a board that still has a few marks from the rough-sawn surface showing at each end. Usually the jointed face is a little concave due to tension released by removing wood from only one side of the board. When the piece goes through the planer it tends to straighten out because wood is being removed from the other side.

Doing the same operation using hand tools requires the same knowledge of wood and tools, and the same good result can be achieved.

I’ve now been working for 40 years and can understand why most shops would buy 5/4 stock to make 7/8” pieces: it gives a better chance that even a less-experienced worker will be able to produce the necessary product. It also makes it possible to order stock from a supplier without looking at every board. For an increase in materials cost of about 25% the chance of success is likely at least doubled.

I like using hand tools too and when I retire I won’t have the sort of power equipment I’m used to. I’d rather be able to produce good work using simple tools than own a bunch of big, expensive equipment.

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