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Rough Cut vs. Dimensional Lumber

February 3, 2016 by Scott - Saws on Skates

Hey there friends – Happy Workshop Wednes-DIY! We are halfway through the work week. Hope it’s going well for you so far.

If you tuned in yesterday for “Vexed by Vanity” you learned that I ran into a snag while working on a new vanity I’m building for a friend’s bathroom. Today we are going to chat about rough cut lumber, dimensional lumber and what happened to the lumber for the vanity.

Rough Cut Lumber
Rough cut lumber is exactly that. It’s rough. It’s not finished. It has yet to be milled to it’s final thickness or dimension. It feels rough to the touch. You’ll see the saw marks used to form the piece of lumber. We all have seen a pallet, right? That is rough cut lumber.

Here’s a quick overview how rough cut lumber is milled to its final thickness. First up is a pic of a piece of rough cut wood. You can see how the face is not smooth and the wood is not flat…

rough cut

The first step is to run one face of the lumber through a jointer. A jointer is a machine that flattens faces and squares edges of wood.

rough cut 1

Here you can see the top face (the face that went through the jointer) is now flat.

rough cut 2

Then the flat face is placed against the fence of the jointer and one edge is run through the jointer which will square that edge to the flat face.

rought cut 3

Now the left edge and top face have been squared to form a 90 degree angle.

rough cut 4

The remaining rough edge is squared on the table saw. The flattened face is placed against the table of the table saw and the squared edge is placed against the table saw fence. The piece is then run through the table saw, so both edges are now square to the flattened face.

rought cut 5

The final step is to flatten the remaining face on the planer. The flattened face is placed against the table of the planer and the overhead cutter flattens the remaining face.

rough cut 6

You can see after the first pass through the planer that the center of the face is smooth and the edges of the face are still rough. With a few more passes the entire face will be smooth.

rough cut 7

Now all faces and edges are square and smooth.

rough cut 8

Dimensional Lumber
Dimensional lumber is the lumber you buy at the big box home improvement store. It has been milled to it’s final thickness, smooth and it’s ready to use.

Rough Cut vs. Dimensional
A 1×4 at a big box store actually measures 3/4″ x 3-1/2″.  A rough cut piece of lumber would actually measure around 1″ x 4″ and would be milled to a final thickness of 3/4″ x 3-1/2″.

Remember these dimensions because they will be important in the next paragraph as to what happened to the lumber for the vanity.

Vexed by Vanity
So here’s what happened with the vanity wood. As I was getting ready to run the lumber through the jointer I noticed the lumber felt “thin”. I took a tape measure to it and sure enough, the thickness measured about 3/4″. This basically meant after planing the lumber to thickness it would end up thinner than the standard 3/4″ thickness of dimensional lumber.

I decided to move forward, perhaps I wouldn’t have to remove that much and the final thickness would be close to 3/4″. Well, I was wrong. The finished boards ended up being just shy of 5/8″. This thickness might work for a box or a decor piece, but for me, it was way too thin to use for the vanity. The original vanity design was largely based on the size of the rough cut cherry wood I had on hand. Now that I wasn’t going to use this wood, I wouldn’t be limited by its size, so I redesigned the piece. Here’s the sketch. Be sure to stay tuned for the bathroom remodel, the vanity build and vanity plans.

Vanity Final

Thanks for tuning into Workshop Words. I hope you have a better idea about rough cut vs. dimensional lumber. Have a good week. We’ll catch up next Tues-DIY!


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2 thoughts on “Rough Cut vs. Dimensional Lumber

  1. Bob W. says:

    Quite informative — thanks!

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