Machine Milling Mastery


Back in the day, four squaring a board would have been a task left for an apprentice – the master would have more important work to perform. For many woodworkers today, including some who classify themselves as handtool woodworkers, milling lumber is a job best completed using machines. To complete the work correctly, procedures need to be taken in a proper order to assure a four-square board is the result of the work.

Where to Begin

Milling results improve dramatically when you first break down your boards into workable (and usable) sections – an inch over-long and ½” over-wide are recommended.

Each workpiece should be laid out on the selected board in order to better use the material. Before doing any layout work, make sure the ends of your board are not checked. I give the board a visual inspection to see if there are signs. If I have any concerns, I find it best to trim about 3” off the end of my board, then try to snap the cutoff. If it snaps easily, remove another section until the cutoff doesn’t easily snap. Then begin the layout work.

Plan for your pieces to finish over-wide and over-long. When moving from rough to milled, I leave about a ½” extra for width and a full 1” for length. Breaking down the board into workable pieces makes it easy to handle the units and allows for the best possible milling operations. I use a miter saw to break down my pieces, and I’ve also used a jigsaw and handsaw to do the work.

After your workpieces are trimmed to 1” over-length and if you need to rip them, establish an easily seen line using pencil or chalk if the boards are dark. Use a straightedge to run the line. Your band saw is the best (and safest)  tool for this job. Rip the pieces at the band saw remembering that the finish boards should be wider than necessary.

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One thought on “Machine Milling Mastery

  1. Nicely done. Tips on grain orientation are spot on.

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