Canadian Woodworking

Top 10 lumber breakout tips

Breaking out lumber begins the process of turning rough material into a finished project. Complete this step properly, and you’ll have an easier time with all the other steps.

1. Avoid Twists and Warpage

When purchasing lumber, make sure the boards are as straight as possible, especially boards that will supply you with the longest parts of your project. Even if you can machine the required parts from the board, a piece of heavily warped lumber will tend to move more than average once it’s been turned into a furniture part.

2. Say No to Knots

Knots can cause wood to twist and warp, they add structural weaknesses to parts, and depending on the species and project, can be an eyesore. If knots are in your material you can always cut around them, but it does take time and planning.

3. Let Lumber Acclimatize

Letting wood sit in your shop for a while before cutting into it allows it to become at one with the moisture content in your shop. Planning and patience will become more important, or you can store lots of wood in your shop so it’s ready for action when you are.

4. Check the Moisture Content

Generally speaking, the moisture content of purchased lumber is acceptable, though if you don’t luck out you’ll pay for it with a project that moves much more than you want.

5. Maintain Your Machinery for Lumber Breakout

Jointers that don’t leave one board face flat and straight, and planers that chip wood or leave heavy snipe, will not help you create square, usable stock for cutting joinery in. Even mitre and table saws need to run true and create square cuts, to break out lumber accurately.

6. Cut to Rough Dimensions First

Once you have marked where the project parts will be cut from your boards, cutting to rough length or rough width will make breakout much easier and more accurate. Dressing 8’-long x 10″-wide boards isn’t easy.

7. Don’t Hate All Waste

Some parts can be rough cut from a board on an angle so its grain is parallel to the freshly cut edge, producing a more visually appealing workpiece. Extra thick pieces can be rotated slightly then dressed to create quarter cut / rift cut stock for aesthetics and function.

8. Use Just One Board

Whenever possible, obtaining all your parts from just one board will give you more consistent colour and grain. It’s surprising how different boards can be, even though they’re the same species.

9. Dress Once

When machining parts of like thicknesses, plane them all at the same time to ensure they are all exactly the same thickness. Doing so will help avoid slight discrepancies while machining joinery.

10. Machine and Assemble Promptly

Don’t let parts sit around before machining joinery and assembling the project, as parts can warp. This causes joinery not to fit as tightly, or assembly to be more difficult. Also sunlight causes discolouration in weird spots while furniture parts sit around the shop, even if they’re stacked neatly.


Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

1 comment

  1. I learned my lesson about #10 many years ago. Before I had my own woodworking shop built, I worked in my neighbour’s basement workshop. I was making an armoire for my son. I had the box part made and assembled. I planed and cut to size the face frame pieces and left them leaning against the cement wall. When i got back to the job a few days later the longer pieces resembled (almost) hockey sticks. Was I ever frustrated. I had been using my own maple from a tree that had been cut and left to “dry”. I didn’t have a moisture metre at that time. I ended up going to our local Lumber Store and bought a 6 foot by 4 piece of kiln dried maple to to complete the armoire. Damp basement and dampish wood were the problem. probably stress in the origin al piece of wood that I used also caused the warpping.

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