Milling Lumber

Greetings Tool Users,

Anyone out there familiar with milling? For those not familiar with the subject, milling is basically cutting wood down to specific measurements, making boards from logs as it were. This is an over simplification, but it, pardon the pun, cuts to the chase.

The project I am working on now is an all-wood airplane; that means all of the structural components are going to be milled lumber, except for the plywood. All of the materials can be purchased from a supplier pre-milled to specifications, but that would likely triple the cost of the materials, not to mention the freight charges from a shop that is not close by. What’s a craftsman to do? Mill lumber sourced locally, of course.

In most cases lumber here in the U.S. comes in “standard” sizes. These sizes originally were at one time the actual dimensions. A 2″x4″ (two-by-four) was actually two inches by four inches. Now-a-days a 2″x4″ is cut to 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. This can make it tough for a guy working on a project that requires “nominal” or actual dimensions, let’s say something like an aviation project.

I spent much of yesterday out-and-about looking for lumber for my project. As you might guess aviation has its own standards for materials, and wood products are no exception. Adding the term Aviation Grade significantly adds to the cost, too. In an attempt to cut down on some of the costs in buying my aviation grade lumber I am going to end up doing a lot of milling.

This is where milling yourself comes into play. Buying lumber at a slightly larger size and cutting it down to the size needed. Producing a high quality material involves cutting the lumber down to about 1/8 of an inch larger than needed in each dimension with a table saw, then using a plane, or planer, shave off the remaining material one side at a time. This can be time consuming because you are shaving off about 1/32 of an inch with each pass and you need to be careful to plane to the exact dimension you want. There is a lot of measuring, checking, and more measuring as you go. That extra 1/8 inch is going to take two to four passes on each of the four sides, one or two sides at a time depending on the planer you have. Planers can also be very dangerous. They have razor sharp blades spinning at high speeds on heavy steel spindles. Be sure to keep your hands well clear of the openings; these tools can do a lot of damage if you don’t treat them with a great deal of respect. That being said, they are great tools to have around.

In case you haven’t noticed, my aviation projects are going to bleed over into this tool blog on occasion. I have a blog specifically for the aviation stuff, but it makes sense to post about the tools, tooling, repair and techniques here. I will do my best to keep the aviation jargon and chatter over there and focus on the tool stuff here.

Coming up in the next few weeks I will cover a variety of woodworking subjects relating to working with milled lumber and smaller projects. One of the things I will need to do is duplicate a layout several times so it will involve jigging, jig building, and some other duplication tricks.

Until then,