Milling lumber with hand tools can be broken down into two distinct processes : rough milling and fine milling. Today, I want to walk you through the process of rough milling a board by hand. This is typically accomplished with hand saws and will prepare a board to be finished 4-square with hand planes. It isn’t until a board is properly 4-square that it is ready for joinery.
The process starts by roughly laying out your dimensions on the board using pencil or chalk. You should allow for margins based on your skill level. I usually allow for about 1/16th – 1/8th depending on the board’s condition. It’s better to leave too much, than too little. There’s nothing more frustrating than scrapping an entire piece, because of a small error. The goal is to make as few cuts as possible, so mark out your lines wisely. For example, combine parts with similar lengths.
Once you have your lines marked out, proceed to milling. I start by crosscutting any lines that extend the width of the original board. From there, I rip my boards to width. Ergonomics are key to doing this efficiently. If you don’t already have one, I recommend building a traditional saw horse. This will allow you to use your body to hold your work piece and sets you up to make efficient, accurate cuts. Before cutting, always make sure that your elbow is free from obstructions. Don’t overgrip the handle and concentrate on making a straight line from your shoulder, to elbow, to wrist.
Once you’ve sawed your parts, check the straightness and squareness of your cuts. This can be used as a guide for future operations when planning how much margin to leave. The best way to improve your performance, is to practice regularly. I have prepared a list of helpful tips below:
1) Always support your offcuts when crosscutting so the weight of the off cut doesn’t breakout on the backside of the cut.
2) I find that crosscutting roughly 45 degrees and ripping roughly 60 degrees relative to the face of the board is most efficient
3) When ripping long pieces, you can correct your cut by lowering the saw and gently applying lateral pressure to the saw handle in the direction of your line. Be careful not to over correct.