Milling Lumber: What’s the Call

MahoganyPanels_6105I needed to mill and glue-up a couple of panels for a chest of drawers I’m building. I selected a mahogany board that was 11″ wide and 130″ long. My case sides were to be 16-7/8″ x 31″. There are many milling options to provide the panels needed for the case sides. Different choices result in the varying lengths and widths, and number of pieces leftover.

Every time we pick up a board to work, we make these decisions. What guides our choices can be a mix of many things, such as the width of your jointer (there are techniques, however, that allow you to flatten boards wider than your jointer bed), type of material or our ability to handle long and/or wide boards. Options I could think of are listed below.

Option #1 – Chop the board to lengths just more than 31″, rip each piece to 8-1/2″ wide, mill them to thickness then glue the boards together to make the sides. The leftover material would be four pieces that were 31+” long x 2-1/2″ wide.

Option #2 – Chop the board to lengths just more than 31″,  mill them to thickness, glue the four boards together to make the sides (two sets of two) then rip the panels to 16-7/8″ wide. The leftover material would be two pieces that were 31+” long x 5″ wide.

Option #3 – Rip the entire board to 8-1/2″, chop the board to lengths just more than 31″, mill them to thickness then glue the boards together to make the sides. The leftover material would be one piece 130″ long x 2-1/2″ wide.

Option #4 – Chop the board to lengths just more than 62″, rip both pieces to 8-1/2″ wide, mill them to thickness, glue the boards together then cut the panel in half to make the sides. The leftover material would be two pieces that were 62+” long x 2-1/2″ wide.

Option #5 – Chop the board to lengths just more than 62″, mill them to thickness, glue the boards together then rip the panel to 16-7/8″ wide and cut it in half to make the sides. The leftover material would be a piece that was 62+” long x 5″ wide.

What would you do?


My choice was Option #5 for a couple of reasons. Granted the work is a bit more difficult, but the results are worth the effort. First, the leftover material is 5″ in width and 62″ long. It is a very usable piece of lumber. Second, when working with the boards at full width, you have the best chance to arrange the boards to achieve the best grain match, and potentially a better color match.

If I only had a 6″ jointer, I would have elected to rip the boards to 8-1/2″ first – that width can still be flattened using a narrow jointer and a couple of tricks we’ve already discussed in a 360 Woodworking article or two. (Milling 11″-wide boards with a 6″ jointer is not the easiest task.)

Of course, if you’re using hand tools for this job and worried only about a reference face and edge, the options above don’t really apply. Unless, that is, you are not interested in milling flat material that has no spot in your project as of yet.

Did I miss an option? Would you do the work differently? Leave it in a comment.

— Glen D. Huey

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