Question about squaring/ truing wood

Hello all:

As I keep learning I have found that I want to build some projects that require much more square and true wood than you can get from a 2x4. It looks like at a minimum I should be considering a table saw BUT I am curious. Would it make more sense to just buy “fancier” dimensional lumber from my local lumber store? It seems like for cost of any decent table saw I could pre-milled wood that might work for my projects?

What do you guys think? Table saws are pretty expensive and I might still need a planer…

Thanks for your advice! Steve.

shop around but yes

I have a table saw and I do that still. I mean to make really square and clean wood you need to have a planner and jointer.

Now I have taken and trued 2x4’s and 2x6’s on my table saw. yes cutting all 4 sides. around 1/8th off the sides - squares up the sides and a scalping cut off the top and bottom.

Yes you really end up throwing away some wood - shims they can be.

But for most of what I build right now - I buy some version of planned wood. 1x4 spruce, or 4/4 oak and Alder. it’s planned and trued when I buy it but I shopped around for a store that has decent prices.

OK Had. costs have spiraled.

I have been in the same boat. For projects where it really matters, I buy better lumber, only using studs and other construction boards where a little slop is okay or easily bent into place.

Having proper tools can make it a lot easier to work with wood you cannot easily source in the dimensions or straightness you require.

You can always buy the necessary tools down the road.

You can do a lot with a table saw. But then you might want a band saw for resawing. You might need a planer for thickness adjustments. A board might warp or not be as straight as you expected, and you might then need a jointer.

For small projects, it won’t cost that much more for you to go with lumber already surfaced on all sides, compared to the hassle it saves. For larger projects, or years of small projects, there will be cost-savings but also flexibility in getting the equipment you need to surface lumber as needed.

Surfaced pine boards are fairly easily available. Beyond that, I also buy small amounts of poplar, oak, and maple locally, and maple and other boards from other suppliers. Some lumber yards and other suppliers can plane wood at request for a small fee, and even if boards aren’t surfaced on all 4 sides, they might be parallel and with a straight edge that can be used along a table saw fence.

In other words, you can look at better lumber for small projects and then still consider the equipment for the next larger project. If you’re on the fence, there’s no need to rush purchasing decisions.

As above, the easiest tool for producing dimensioned timber is a planer/thicknesser but you’d need to get a lot of use out of it to justify the purchase. They also produce a shit ton of shavings and upset your neighbours with the noise, trust me!
You could try going to a local joiner’s shop and see if they’ll supply you the sizes you need, freshly made.
I don’t know what you’re making but if you’re encountering a lot of warped twisted wood it’s probably low grade softwood. Maybe upgrade to a nice hardwood like sapele or tulip? More stable and less knots etc, both very nice to work with and finish.

Like others have said, the real tools for the job are a planer and a jointer. But I’ll be more specific. (And this is just what I was taught. If I’m wrong, please correct me!)

A jointer makes a surface flat. It references off the OUTFEED table of the jointer. So you press a board down on the infeed table and the blades chip away the underside of the plank. It then rides up on the outfeed table. If the jointer is adjusted correctly, the two tables will be parallel, but the outfeed will be just a bit higher, so the jointed plank rides on it smoothly. Then you press down on the board on the outfeed table and pull the board across the blades. So the start of the board might not be flat, but after it starts riding on the outfeed table, the rest of the board will be flat. (A jointer handplane was used for much the same purpose.) Very warped boards might need some auxillary support so it doesn’t rock as it goes over the blades, and maybe a few passes.

But a jointer won’t make the other side of the board parallel to the first. For that, you need a planer. It also references off the board pressed against the feed table or rollers, but it shaves wood off the TOP of the board, not the bottom. (I’ve heard of people using wide drum sanders with power feeds for the same purpose, but I don’t know anything about that.) Since the bottom surface of the board is already flat, it shouldn’t rock (though you can get “snipe” or taper at the start of the board. That means you should cut boards long before jointing and planing, and then trim.)

You can use a table saw for both of those operations, but the depth of cut is limited, obviously. You couldn’t joint a board more than 4" wide or so. Jointers can come 6", 8", 10" wide, etc.

Both jointers and planers are noisy, require a lot of space and generate a lot of chips. They can get pricey too. So some people use pre-jointed and planed wood like you’re considering, for extra money. But I’ve seen that expensive wood continue to warp and even crack after you take it home, even to a climate-controlled shop. And some lumberyards let their planer blades get dull, or they sharpen them improperly, so they leave a slightly scalloped surface on the wood, either because the wood is cut that way or because the blades compress the wood with their bevel, after the edge has cut it. Then you’ll want to dampen the wood to raise the compressed fibers, let dry, then sand. More work.

If you’re lucky, some cities have woodworker’s co-ops, where you pay an hourly fee to use their big tools. If you plan out your work, and use the place only for the tasks you need, it might not be expensive. You may need to undergo a safety training session so they know you won’t do something dumb.

Another option that nobody has mentioned yet is using engineered products like plywood and MDF. They have their weaknesses, but they are uniform and won’t warp as much (I’ve seen plywood warp, so beware.) They won’t need jointing or planing, and you can glue pieces together to create thick cross-sections. Some things become easier to build because you don’t have to account for wood movement (as much.) It can look pretty good too if you buy it veneered, or veneer it yourself. You can also apply edge-banding, but (in my opinion) the exposed plies look okay.

Good luck!

I forgot another option for jointing and planing wood, and that’s a router.

A router can be mounted on a slider plate that rides on a pair of rails, so it can traverse a piece of wood top to bottom (let’s say). That pair of rails is itself mounted on another, perpendicular pair of rails, so it can also traverse left and right. The two movement directions allow the router to cover an entire plank’s surface. Provided the rails are stiff, straight and well aligned, the plank’s surface can be flattened.

A few companies sell those rail assemblies, but I’m sure you can make one yourself from something like steel box beams or unistrut.

It sounds like a lot of trouble, but the required machinery is just a router, which you likely have already. Also, since only the router moves, you don’t need as much space. The workpiece can just sit flat on a bench.

But that’s all I know. I’m sure there’s lots of wisdom about the proper router bit, rotation rate, depth of cut, etc. that I don’t know.

Good luck!