Four square lumber

Squaring lumber without the use of power tools.  Sounds at first like a fool’s errand.  Sure it is not as fast as using a Jointer and a thickness planer, but you aren’t limited by the widths of these tools, nor are you deafened by their roar.  The process, as long as you are not in a rush, can be pretty relaxing.

There are a number of web articles that deal with making rough sawn lumber square flat and useable (four square) with only hand tools.

Rather than write it all out, here are some of the articles I like the best.

  • Squaring Boards Using Hand Planes and a Historic Book by Chris Schwarz (channeling Joseph Moxon)
  • Flat & Square by Mike Riley
  • Peter Follansbee also has a great description of the process and also manages to show the use of a hewing hatchet

The Basics of Making Lumber Flat and Square

  1. Flatten one face using a scrub plane, fore plane or jack plane by going diagonal to the grain and monitoring your progress with winding sticks and a long straight edge. Mark it as your reference surface (I use a piece of blue masking tape).  Peter Follansbee has a great recommendation to chamfer the far edge of the board to reduce tear out on that edge.
  2. Square and joint one edge (square to the reference surface) then mark this as your reference edge.
  3. Use a panel gauge or even a combination square to mark the desired width parallel to the reference edge.  Cut with a hand saw or plane to the line.
  4. Use a marking gauge to mark the desired thickness of the board on all four edges.
  5. Use the Scrub  or Fore Plane to plane to these lines.

As great as all these articles are, I find this video by David Moore Furniture to be absolutely fantastic at showing the process in action and is full of great tips.

Now all I have to do is figure out where my “Fast Forward” button is so I can go that fast.

I find it interesting that he uses a rabbet plane body as his scrub plane.  I am not sure if there is an advantage to this or not but I have contemplated taking a Bench Rabbet Plane (Stanley 10 or 10-1/4) that is in rough shape and making a scrub plane out of it.  My scrub plane is currently a Stanley Jack No 5 knock-off.  There are a few reasons why I prefer this over the more traditional  scrub design which is narrower and shorter, but I will get into those another time.