Resawing Can Be A Wild Ride

You never know exactly what's going to happen when you cut open a board! Just getting your tablesaw or bandsaw to work right can be an adventure, too. Resawing often pushes those machines to their limits.

If you've tried resawing, and have had only had limited success, I hope that I can help you. I've been a professional woodworker for umpteen years, and now run a school devoted to fine woodworking, the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop. I've taught dozens of students how to resaw-folks who came to class with many tales of frustrating experiences, but left with a solid grounding in how to succeed. You can, too.

Why resaw?

Here are four ways you can improve your woodworking by mastering the art of resawing:

• Make bookmatched panels and tops. When you cut down the length of a board and lay the two pieces side by side, you'll see that they are mirror images of each other-sort of like a folded inkblot. They're "bookmatched." Ifs an effect that can be quite stunning, particularly when your pieces have irregular figure (Photo 1). Before you saw, you can get an idea of what the bookmatch may look like by holding a mirror alongside your board. Bookmatched boards are widely used to make panels, cabinet sides, and most notably, beautiful tabletops, such as those made by the famous craftsman George Nakashima.

Resawing can produce stunning results, such as these bookmatched boards for a large table. You can achieve the same effect-with smaller boards, of course-in your home shop.

• Make bent laminations that look like solid wood. Bent laminations are made by gluing a number of thin strips over a form (Photo 2). The most efficient way to make these strips is by resawing thicker wood. If these strips are randomly arranged, the lamination may look like it's obviously made from many layers; by using resawn strips, you can essentially re-assemble the original board by stacking the strips in the same order that they were cut. The layers all blend invisibly into one another-as if the bent piece were solid wood.

• Make extra-thick veneer. Veneering is a way to employ beautiful, but unstable, wood in your furniture. However, most veneer isn't available over 1/32" thick. By cutting your own (Photo 3), you can make veneer for tops and edges that's more durable than the thin stuff.

• Stretch special wood. You can make one board go a long way by resawing all or part of it into thinner pieces (Photo 4). If that board has a unique look, resawing it allows you to mix veneered and solid pieces, maintaining uniformity of grain and color throughout a project. You can also salvage material that would otherwise end up as waste.

Choosing your stock

Most stock for resawing should be dry, having 6-13% moisture content (Photo 5). Kiln-dried wood should be fine, but check air-dried wood with a moisture meter. If your material isn't dry, it won't be stable. If it's not stable, it won't remain flat after resawing.

There are no guarantees that resawn boards will stay flat, however. No matter how dry the wood is, or how stable the species is reputed to be, sometimes a board will cup or bend right off the saw. There's no sure-fire way to predict whether a board will warp before you saw. If the first board off your pile warps, assume the rest may warp, too. Resaw the next pieces thicker, if you can, or settle for thinner pieces, once they're jointed and planed.

On a much smaller scale, resawing is also used to make strips for bent laminations. All of these strips were cut from the same board; by putting them back together in the same order, the glue joints will be almost invisible.

On a much smaller scale, resawing is also used to make strips for bent laminations. All of these strips were cut from the same board; by putting them back together in the same order, the glue joints will be almost invisible.

Mastering the art of resawing allows you to make your own veneer. You can saw it thicker than commercial veneer in order to make a more durable surface.
Resawing also allows you to "stretch" a special board. These legs are solid walnut, but the rails are faced with thick veneers, created by resawing the same board.
Wood Defects Knot

Good material is essential for success. Your wood should be dry and free from defects. Knots and other flaws make resawing more difficult-but it's still possible.

For the best results, flatten one face and square one edge of a board before resawing it.

Good material is essential for success. Your wood should be dry and free from defects. Knots and other flaws make resawing more difficult-but it's still possible.

For the best results, flatten one face and square one edge of a board before resawing it.

Consider how your resawn pieces will be used. A bookmatched crotch slab can make a spectacular tabletop, but wild material like this can be a little unpredictable-you never know if it's going to stay flat. A slab-topped table won't suffer much if the top twists a little, so go ahead-take the chance. But be wary of using resawn pieces for door frames or thick door panels. If these pieces warp, you're really in trouble.

Preparing your stock

Let's say you're starting with rough lumber. To get the straightest cuts when resawing, and to minimize waste, mill at least one face and one edge of your boards before you begin (Photo 6). If you're resawing a board into more than two pieces, it's usually a good idea to re-joint the face of the board after each cut.

How much should you allow for waste? If I don't expect my lumber to move much after resawing, I'll add 1/8" for cleaning up. If I need 1/2" thick material for drawer sides, for example, I'll re-saw it at 5/8". Adding in the saw kerf and initial jointing, I need to start with 5/4 material (1-1 /4" thick) for these drawer sides. The lesson: You can't get two 1/2" thick pieces from a 1" thick board. Adding an extra 1/8" is playing it safe. It's definitely possible to resaw with a smaller margin, but you're taking a chance that one or more pieces won't clean up at the thickness you originally intended.

If I'm pretty sure that a board is going to warp after resawing, I'll add 1/4" rather than 1/8". In any case, I usually resaw in stages, letting a board sit for a few days between cuts. It can move the way it wants to, and then I re-flatten it before going back to the bandsaw.

Of course, resawing strips for laminations doesn't require such wide margins. For strips, add an extra 1/32" to 1/16".

Using the tablesaw

You can get pretty good results by resawing on your tablesaw (Photo 7), but there are a few things you should know before trying it.

First, think about safety. You should use a splitter or riving knife to avoid kickback (Photo 8). If your pieces are fairly narrow, and you can cut all the way through them in one pass, the splitter that came with your tablesaw will work fine. But if you're making non-through cuts on wider pieces, this splitter won't work. Your best bet is to add a short splitter to a shop-made throat plate.

A riving knife will work for through and non-through cuts. It rises and falls with the blade, and can usually be adjusted to sit just below the top of the blade. Most older saws do not have a riving knife, and are difficult to upgrade with one; new saws are required to have a riving knife.

Still thinking about safety, it's a good idea to use a zero-clearance throat plate when resawing pieces less than 1/4" thick. The throat plate's narrow opening supports your workpiece throughout the cut and prevents thin offcuts from wedging themselves between the blade and throat plate.

Choosing the right blade can ease the strain on your saw's motor, particularly if the motor has less than 2 hp. For re-sawing hard material, use a 18-tooth ripping blade. This will give you clean, straight cuts-without burning or binding. For soft wood, a 40-60 tooth combination or general-purpose blade will be fine. As you cut, listen to your saw. It should run smoothly and quietly (more or less), and not generate an ear-splitting racket or a blinding cloud of smoke.

I also use a featherboard and a push stick (Photo 9). The feather-board helps maintain a straight cut (see Sources, page 73), which minimizes waste. (After all, you're already losing a saw kerf's worth of wood with each cut!) Without the guard in place, a push stick is essential for keeping your fingers safe.

How well does the tablesaw method work? Pretty good-but it's not perfect. In my experience, no matter how carefully you guide and support the material during the operation, your cuts probably won't line up perfectly

If you don't have a bandsaw, you can use a 10" tablesaw to resaw boards up to 6" wide. Make a shallow cut from both sides, then gradually raise the blade and repeat until the cuts meet.

riving knife

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