Woodworking Tips
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Dimension Lumber
The warm weather is just around the corner. And that gets me to thinking about outdoor projects, and the materials used to build them, including dimension lumber ("two-by" stock).

Dimension lumber is a perfectly good material for outdoor and shop furniture projects. But there are a couple things to consider when buying and working with dimension lumber. Most dimension lumber is used for house framing -- joists, rafters, and studs. But when you choose dimension lumber for a furniture project, it pays to sort through the boards more closely than a building contractor might.

When sorting, I'm looking for the same things I look for in hardwood. Clear boards with few knots and minimal warpage. I'll pick out the best boards I can find (be sure to re-stack neatly) and then, as for other furniture projects, buy a couple more boards than called for in the plans (to allow for waste when cutting around knots and cracks).

After getting the wood back to the shop, there's the matter of moisture content. Here in Iowa, dimension lumber is dried to a moisture content of about 20%. This is a higher moisture that I want when building furniture projects. I prefer something around 12% or a little less. So I like to take the time to let the wood dry out a bit more before making any cuts.

To dry the wood, just stack it in your shop for a week or two on a flat surface with sticks between the boards to let the air circulate around them. If you have a moisture meter, check the moisture content once in a while. If you don't have a moisture meter, I suggest you give the wood an extra week to be safe.

As the wood dries, it may also change shape (warp, cup). Or develop checks (cracks) on the surfaces or ends. So I look at the boards carefully as I begin to lay out all the parts. When laying out the boards, I'm just marking the rough sizes of the pieces in the cutting diagram or from the materials list that came with the plans. Note: Give yourself about an extra 1/2" in width and 1" in length. The main thing is to avoid any loose knots or cracks.

After laying out all the parts, I begin cutting the boards to rough size. First, cross cut them to make the long boards more manageable. Then the pieces can be ripped to rough dimensions. The important thing is to square up one edge first. At this point, the wood may not have perfectly square, flat surfaces, so the first edge may have to be jointed.

Shop Note: Also, if a board is cupped, place the cupped face down on the table saw to keep it from rocking during the cut. Finally, because the dimension lumber usually has milled (rounded over) edges, I make all the rip cuts with the square edge against the fence. This way, when the piece is ripped to finished width, the last cut leaves both edges of the workpiece square.

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