When you are starting a woodworking project you will be faced with many options, but the first is purchasing surfaced lumber vs. rough cut lumber. As a beginner this could be a difficult decision. As an expert this is more a choice of preference. We will go through the many factors you should consider before you make your purchase.
Rough Cut Lumber
Rough cut lumber is exactly as it sounds. Once a tree is cut down it is then rough cut down to size with a bandsaw or circular saw. The beauty of using rough cut lumber is you get the tree exactly as it was after it fell. You can see the raw beauty of what you can make it into. It also can be cut down to the exact size and shape you need for your woodworking project. Many expert woodworkers choose rough cut just for this reason.
If you are a beginner you might want to wait on purchasing rough cut lumber until you have all the needed tools. Rough cut lumber requires many more tools than surfaced lumber. You will want a planer, jointer, rip saw, miter saw and more. Because it is so rough you will need to make several passes through a planer and jointer before moving on to sawing it to size. We of course highly recommend a Shelix head installed in your jointer and planer for a smoother finish and quieter experience.
A drawback to purchasing rough cut lumber is the time all this preparation will take. After finally preparing your boards for your project you will already have put an hour or more into work before even beginning. Obviously, because very little is done to the lumber before purchasing it is much more affordable than surfaced wood.
If you are new to rough cut lumber it is important to know the best uses for it. Pieces that require a rustic look are great for rough cut lumber. Outdoor chairs, swings, and benches. Home remodeling, shelving, and even picture frames.
Surfaced lumber is great for beginners and certain projects you might want to do. After a tree is felled it is cut down to size and then also surfaced. Being surfaced is when a board is ran through a planer until smooth. When you go to the lumberyard you will see SXS on the lumber. The first S stands for “surfaced” and second S stands for “side.” So if you see S4S on lumber, then it has been surfaced on all four sides.
Because your lumber has already been surfaced you don’t have to have as many power tools. Though surfaced lumber has taken a lot of the rough edges off, you will still need to sand it down to get the smoothness you want. Even though you still need to sand and cut, you will still save a lot of time and effort that you don’t get with rough cut lumber.
With the time and energy put into creating surfaced lumber out of rough cut will add to the cost of purchase. This is something you will want to take into consideration when budgeting. However, you do save money by not purchasing as many large power tools. Surfaced lumber is great for projects that require flush joints, such as countertops and shelving.
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