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May 06, 2009

Preparing Rough Lumber Four Square

One of the foundations of furniture making is starting with lumber that is four square, meaning that all four sides are square (90 degrees) to each other.

Preparing rough cut lumber is critical when building any project because it will effect how joints come together, how doors will hang, etc.

There are eight steps to getting lumber to four square:

Step 1: Cross cut material to rough length

Step 2: Rip material to rough width

Step 3: Flatten one face flat

Step 4: Square on edge to the newly flatten face

Step 5: Plane the second face parallel to the first

Step 6: Rip to finished width

Step 7: Square one end

Step 8: Cut the other end to the finished length.

The video goes into detail on ways to complete each of these steps so you can work with lumber that's straight and true.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or if you have a different process in getting to four square with your lumber, share it with others.


Comments (15)


Thank you Craig, for the excellent video (preparing lumber four square). I wish (again!) that I had a joiner. Still, the steps you outline and demonstrate give me confidence to use the tools I do have to prepare my workpieces.



I have allways enjoyed you video's. You put a lot of hard work work and money into making a high quality product. So I hope you don't take my comments the wrong way. My 15 yo son watched your video before I had a chance to. When I sat down to watch it he had some valid comments.
First was with step 1
If the video was directed to newby's,he was going by the way I teach virgins.
When new stock comes into the shop it has to sit in the shop for at least a week before seeing any tools to acclimate. Then its is cut to length with a circular saw, or hand saw. So if there is any tension in the wood it won;t have a problem when it reacts. For example it could bind the blade on the SCMS.
Step 2
All my rough rip cuts are made on the band saw, this way if it is reaction wood the material can be safely controlled. The worst that can happen is the wood may pich the blade but still it would only be held to the table due to the motion of the blade
Step 3, 4, 5
When you had your hands on the Jointer table and were opening the guard and such the power was still live. The rule in our shop is if the guard is opened by hand or if your hands are doing any thing with your hands on the tables the powere has to be D/C'd or else. Then when you were talking about what you were going to do. You never mentioned grain direction. And you didn't explain with the terms face and edge why you you needed the wood to run over the jointer, so as to create a flat surface so as to create a paraell product when you run it through the planer. Then you never said any thing about how much to take off per pass at the jointer or planner.
Step 6
I have allways taught anyone working on the table saw that when making a rip cut like you were. That the left hand should be firmly planted on is there to keep the stock pushed against the fence, and not moving all over the place.

Then when I get stock rough cut I leave it larger than finished sizes and let it sit for another week or so then bring it down closer to where it needs to be. I never bring it to finished size till I have to.

Remember these comments are meant to be friendly and constructive. It is amazing how much of what I have taught him has stuck with him. I guess he eally was paying close attention. I am a safty nut in the shop. I know it is due to working as a Paramedic all my working life. I have seen all to often what can happen when one screws up.

Keep pumping out the video's there great. I love the way you get the kids involved. My son started out in the shop with me when he was 5, so he allready has 10 years under his bely. Man time fly's he's no longer a kid, he has become a young man that I am very proud of.




Thanks for the video. I've been four-squaring wood for a while but I always enjoy watching others to refine my technique.

One thing to offer is that when milling multiple parts that are to be identical in the final piece, it's important to take them through the steps 5, 6 and 7 together, i.e. the planer, final width (rip) and final length. No matter how hard you try you can never repeat the setup exactly on a second piece, so running multiple pieces with the same setup is critical to getting final pieces with the same dimensions.

Keep up the good work.


Jim Eller:

Hey Greg,

Those look like legs for a new workbench! I couldn't see the top in any of the video.

Thanks for sharing.




I have to agree with the other Ed on this one. While I usually enjoy watching your videos, this one was rather disappointing. I understand that all of us has our own bad habits, but I think the most dangerous of the bad habits are the ones we pass along to others. I understand your methods work for you, but if the point of these videos is to teach new woodworkers, then you need to take into account the fact that they may not be as familiar with the tools or material.

Every semester students have to pass a general safety test as well as a table saw safety test regardless of their skill level. The table saw safety test covers their ability to to setup the machine, make a rip cut, and secure the machine. Unfortunately, you would have failed the moment you reached for the power switch. Students are never allowed to start a table saw with the workpiece in line with the blade. This is to prevent the student from accidentally bumping the workpiece into the blade while they are reaching for the power switch or getting their hands set to make the cut. When making a rip cut, the students left hand is to remain firmly planted on the table about 1/2 way between the edge of the table and the blade. The hand is only there to keep the workpiece firmly butted up to the fence. Once the tail end of the workpiece reaches the left hand, the left hand is to be removed from the table and placed along the student's left leg for the remainder of the cut. Now it should be said that once the rip cut begins, the student's eyes should be focused on the area of the fence across from the blade to ensure that the workpiece is firmly butted up against it. By limiting the location of the left hand, you are both ensuring that the student will not have to take his eyes off the fence to see where his hand is, and making sure that left hand is always somewhere safe. At the end of every rip cut, the student is required to push the workpiece completely off the table saw and onto the out feed table. While many people may argue that "close" to the edge is sufficient, it does not define a clear reference point for beginners. So over time, 1/2 and inch can easily become an inch, and an inch can easily become two inches, and so on until you're dangerously close to disaster.

When dealing with rough cut lumber, students are never permitted to use the table saw, circular saw, or miter saw. These three tools rely heavily on the workpiece being held firmly against part of the tool such as the table, fence, or guide. As you showed in your jointer demonstration, most rough cut lumber is very unstable when placed on a flat surface. This can lead to some pretty unpredictable results, especially in the hands of a beginner.

Just as a side note, while you do mention that the workpiece in this clip was an unusual piece, I think it would have been helpful to mention that it was two pieces that had been jointed and glued together. I'll be the first to admit that I was intimidated by the thought of going to the lumber yard for rough cut lumber. One of the things that intimidated me the most was the thought of having to deal with this huge piece of lumber. To help beginners break through that barrier, I think it's important to show them what true rough cut lumber is. Even if you just break out and describe a couple of pieces of 4/4, 5/4, or even 8/4.

I think it's also fair to mention that the mills that produce lumber for the big box stores don't follow these same steps to square their lumber. Most rely on a machine that surfaces all four sides of a board in one pass, then they cut the board to length. While it is efficient, the results aren't always perfect.

I'll get off my soapbox for now. As Ed said, I love the show and look forward to seeing more.


Well I must disclose that this video was great. It refreshed the information one of my prior instructors taught me.

I must admit though for some reason I haven't been getting your podcasts, so I figure there was something wrong with either Cox Cable or my computer.

I enjoy your patience (learned from having children) and your professionalism. I watch The Wood Whisperer as well and I enjoy the fact that there is a bit of comedy involved (remaining blurps etc.). Please don't misunderstand me I know there are times to be serious, but one cannot be serious 100% of the time.

Please keep up the great work and keep sending the podcasts. I just wish I could save the series to my computer (or do you sell DVD's).

Also did you have a podcast about installing insulation in the garage doors. If so I believe I asked about doubling up the insulation (foam blocks with the reflective sheeting covering them). At any rate with the heat in the Phoenix area (all ready 103 degrees), I find my garage to be exceptionally cooler and more sound proof when the door is kept shut. I only installed the foam squares which was recommended by Lowes'.

Now all I need is an AC unit in there (and convince my spouse to leave her vehicle outside and the area will remain at about 78 degrees).

At any rate awesome job and keep up the professionalism and comedy and the public will continue to watch these sensational podcasts.

Craig (WR):

Hey Greg,

Thanks for the your kind words about the video and what I'm trying to do. As far as the comedy part, if I wanted to, I could have a whole episode with just bloopers because when I'm filming, that's what most of it turns out to be! For a 15 - 20 minute episode, I may have 60+ minutes of tape.

I do remember your question about the garage door insulation episode we did. Glad to hear you came up with a way that worked in your heat. As far as keeping your wife's car out of the garage, just keep building her furniture and say, 'I can't work with your car in the garage honey because I'm afraid of getting sawdust on it. I think it would stay cleaner if we left it outside.'

(Yeah, that will probably never work, but it's worth a try : )


Craig (WR):

Ed (no.1)

First of all Ed, don't ever worry about sending an email to me where you disagree or want to critique anything I do. I'm not above being corrected, I 'm just a woodworker who enjoys building things with my hands and want to get as many people 'hooked' on this past-time as I can.

You make some valid points. Let me just add that I try to keep my videos as concise as possible and cover as many points as I feel I can without making a 2 hour video. There are just some things I don't feel I have time to cover and to be honest, some things I just don't think about in the moment.

The biggest reason that I like the blog part along with the video, is that it allows for a place to add things that didn't make the video portion.

Your comments about the letting rough lumber sit in the shop and acclimate is absolutely correct. I've actually had the lumber you saw in the video in my shop for 3 months because it was a little 'wet'. I like for my stock to be around 8% MC before I use it in furniture projects. The lumber in the video is for a new workbench for my shop. Since this wood will not be subject to artificially dry air indoors, I waited for the wood to get to 12% before I started using it.

"All my rough rip cuts are made on the band saw, this way if it is reaction wood the material can be safely controlled. The worst that can happen is the wood may pich the blade but still it would only be held to the table due to the motion of the blade" I agree with this and did give the band saw as a great option for roughing out stock, but there are times, especially with large stock, that this may not be possible.

You nailed me on not unplugging the jointer before exposing the blades. I messed up big time there, I should have unplugged the jointer as it does convey the wrong message to folks.

I didn't get into talking about the specifics of how to use a power jointer simply due to time. I should, however have mentioned grain direction like I did when talking about the planer.

I'm not sure I agree with the notion of keeping your left hand flat on the table and use it as a means of keeping the stock pushed tight against the fence. The reason for this, I think, as with any safety advise, is to prevent injury. Having rough lumber slide across my hand as it's going through the saw blade is a splinter waiting to happen. While the splinter may not be that big a deal, the reaction of jerking your hand away could be. Having your left hand by your side and using a push stick of some kind with your right hand is a better solution to me.

I applaud your safety mindedness and pointing out areas that I should pay closer attention to. After having done woodworking for many, many years (and being entirely self taught), I need reminded of some of my own bad habits.


Craig (WR):


Excellent point about running multiple pieces that need to be the same thickness through steps 5-7 at the same time. It is extremely difficult to go back and get a piece done afterward and have it come out the same thickness.

Thanks for pointing this out to everyone!

Another reason I love having this blog along with the videos.


Woodworkers Resource:


You're right, the stock I used in the video is the legs to my bench. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and get my legs milled and shoot a video.

The top is still in pieces on the floor of the shop. It's amazing how I can hide things in my shop by simply changing the camera angle!


Woodworkers Resource:

Ed, (#2)

Just as I stated to Ed (#1) I do appreciate constructive criticism. I want what is best for the woodworkers watching these videos. I have been doing this for awhile and I do sometimes forget that not everyone in my audience is on the same page as I am.

You make many good points in your email and I appreciate you taking the time to share.



Saturday May 9, 2009
Hey Craig,

I just want to give a little support to you in regards to safety in your latest video. I will preface my comments also with; I hope my comments are not taken the wrong way.

I am a professional wood worker for over twenty plus years, not a hobbyist, weekend �warrior, teacher, or paramedic and I feel your video is a realistic representation of wood working. That is what I come to your website for. I want to see how other professionals do it. I did not see you do anything in my opinion that was even close to being un-safe. I do not want to be preached to about safety. I want content. Then I will decide if it was done safely. What is safe for you may not be safe for me and vice-versa. Each must decide their own safety tolerances.

I do feel you were admonished for your method of work and safety practices unfairly. Right or wrong this is how you work in your shop and you must be doing something right since you still have all your fingers and you are still in business making furniture. I imagine you feel an obligation to work in a safe manner in your videos, and you do. That obligation is not more or less important than the person watching�s obligation to actually think about what and why you are doing what you are doing if they try it.

Anyways, keep up the good work, and I hope to see you turning a profile on those monster legs with that lathe you got hiding in your shop.

Chips and Shavings,

You do a nice job explaining the steps. I like the fence/stop system for the miter saw. I believe I'm going to break down and get a set up. The Kreg looks nice. Thanks again. Jack

Rik Minnich:

Craig, I got a Dewalt 12" plainer about year or so ago. I've been thinking about using rough cut lumber but been a little scared to mess it up. I'm glad for your video cause it gives me a guide to go by.
Thanks Again



thanks craig

your tips really help

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