Dimensioning rough boards by breaking them down into smaller, precisely sized parts is one of the key first steps in any woodworking project. This preliminary process certainly isn’t the most glamorous part of working wood, but virtually every skilled artisan will agree it’s one of the key steps for achieving consistent, high-quality results.

In this video, artisan Eric Matson, who is the Director of the University of Rio Grande’s Fine Woodworking Program, walks us through the same eight steps Eric’s students must master early in their college training. Eric explains how even twisted, cupped, bowed or kinked boards can be quickly and safely broken down into smaller rough parts, which can then be milled to tight tolerances and made ready for jointing and other more refined processes. In part one of this two part series, you’ll learn how to rough cut boards to length, rip to rough width, joint one face flat, and plane both faces to thickness. But there’s more to Eric’s approach than just these basic steps. Eric also shows you how to stay organized and mill parts in batches, and why it’s important to prepare extra parts for set-up, testing, and disaster recovery. His entire approach offers you a comprehensive strategy that will help you achieve the tight tolerances essential for master quality work. — Keith (11 Minute Woodworking Video)

Click here for Part Two, the final segment in this series. Watch steps 5 through 8..

Eric Matson is the Director of the Fine Woodworking Program at Rio Grand University. Rio Grande offers a one year certificate program, as well as two year associates and four year college degree programs. Graduates have the skills and knowledge to be productive in custom furniture shops and architectural/cabinet shops. Rio Grande (pronounced rye-oh) is in Southern Ohio.

(7) Comments   


Curious about your second step. I realize everyone does these things differently. But why not rip stock to rough size with a band saw instead of a table saw? There would be no risk of kickback. On the table saw, a twist on the bottom or a curve on the edge might cause kickback. The down side is that you’d have to draw a line on the stock when you use the band saw, but isn’t that extra time worth not having to rip stock that isn’t flat on the bottom and on the edge? Maybe I’m a little extra sensitive because I had a kick-back incident last year.

Keith’s Note: Mitch – This is a very good cautionary consideration that doesn’t hurt to emphasize. If a woodworker is concerned that rough stock is not stable enough to run through the tablesaw, then Eric does advise that you use a band saw or jigsaw to make those cuts. Another thought and as an alternative, I often take a hand plane and knock the high spots off a board so that it lays flat enough to comfortably run through the tablesaw.


Yes, I’m not a big fan to cutting rough stock down either unless I have to. I have a 10” Jointer / Planer that can handle most material that comes into my shop. This is the order that I usually follow:

Flatten face on jointer
Clean up one edge on jointer
Cut to width plus 1/16” on table saw (clean sides towards the fence and top)
Clean up remaining edge on jointer and remove that extra 1/16”
Flatten remaining face on planer
Cut to length on the table saw or compound miter saw

I group all related pieces in just the same manner that he does…


So Frank, if you rip to final width plus a 1/16 then go back and joint your ripped edge, how do you know for sure that both edges are parallel? And if your worried about your ripped edge not being a sufficent finish due to saw blade marks or burning, wouldn’t you eliminate that through prep anyways?


As far as being afraid of a kick-back when ripping rough stock, there are several ways to help prevent this. Most woodworkers know of a few, and if you look around on the net enough, there are plenty of tips on how to safely saw rough stock, as well there are some attachments available to help prevent kick-back as well.

You can also make a rip sled from plywood that runs along the fence and clamps the rough board to it, that way you have a straight and flat reference surface guiding the rough stock.

Worrying about kickback while sawing isn’t a good thing, and will take your mind off what you are actually doing and can actually make sawing more dangerous. If you are afraid of a certain tool, maybe you need to find another alternative or add some anti-kick-back products, such as a splitter, anti-kick-back rollers, feather boards, or one of the other products made to prevent kick-back.

And yes I know all about kick-back, as I have had a few and bare the scars to prove it. I have just made a few modifications and added safety features to prevent it in the future. I also have my saw blade aligned to the miter slots and fence within .005″ and use anti kick-back blades and other safety devices. But if I was afraid of it, I wouldn’t even try to use it, that’s asking to get hurt.

Stuart F in England

After planing one face flat why not plane one edge square then thickness. finishing by ripping to width plus a 32nd or 0.5 mm over here in england, finishing at the joiner for a clean square edge.

Keith’s Note: This seems like a reasonable ordering.

Ken (Australia)

I watched this from the other side of the world (Australia), thinking that I was probably not going to learn anything, but I was wrong – I did. I like Eric’s presentation style too. Thank you for providing this.

Keith’s Note: Glad you enjoyed.


I’m also from 10,000 miles away (AUS) and like your style of video by going on the road to various locations and craftsman….different and enjoyable…keep it up.
BTW enjoyed Eric’s hands on tutorial….it was slow and detailed allowing my brain to keep up ….great!