Sunday, May 20, 2012

Resawing by Hand - A Fool and His Errand

There are two types of people in the world, near as I can tell. There are those who resaw by hand, and then there are those who have a bandsaw, live near a decent lumber supplier who carries thin stock, do not do any woodworking, or are too wise to do it themselves. Sadly, I fall into the first category. Believe me, if I had a bandsaw or access to thin stock, I would not be treading this lonesome road. Maybe someday. There is probably some satisfaction in doing a process like this by hand, but it is a bit lost on me in the midst doing it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that bad. It's still a quiet and peaceful session in the shop, and I would rather do this all day long than almost any other work. However, compared to planing or other operations, it's pretty much a drag. It might help to have the right tools for the job, but I got by using just a tenon saw.

I started out with some 5/4 Port Orford cedar which I wanted... I dunno, thinner than that. I'm aiming to make a small tray to fit into the top of a box. With a bandsaw, I might have tried to squeeze 3 boards out of the one, but instead I just did it in half, and then planed them down even thinner until I got tired. That's thin enough. I dunno, maybe tomorrow I will thickness them (thinness them?) a little more.

I scribe a line all the way around all 4 edges of the board, and then start on a corner. This way, I can follow 2 lines at once.

I drifted from the line a little bit, as you can see here, but that is ok since I wanted to make the resulting boards a bit thinner anyway. There is never an excuse for sloppiness, but this was the best I could do with my current skills. I stopped to wax the saw constantly, it was a welcome break and makes a big difference.

6,000 calories later, I had the boards split into thinner ones.

The narrow boards for the sides of the tray were relatively easy, but the wider ones for the bottom were unpleasant. There is a lot of friction with that much wood contacting the side of the saw. Like I said, despite loving hand tools, I would choose a bandsaw for this every time. I know a lot of folks out there resaw much larger boards (and much harder species) by hand. I also know I am just griping. Honestly it wasn't that bad, but I figured the blog could use a hint of drama.

The silver lining is that this makes ripping, my other least-favorite operation, seem like a piece of effortless cake!

The other silver lining of making this tray is that it generates curls of Port Orford cedar shavings. This stuff smells so amazing.


  1. Yup, done it, and every time, my reaction is, "I really need to tune up my bandsaw." I'm fine doing just about everything else by hand, but this is just not fun.

  2. I think I'm wrestling with this myself, I have gone all hand tool, but the availability of thinner stock for a variety of things has me questioning that.

    I have a bandsaw, but have I have NEVER liked it. It was a cheap one from Home Depot, and it's never cut anything straight despite tuning attempts. I've been sort of thinking of getting a better one down the road for this express purpose.

    I have yet to try it by hand, but it's on my list of things to work on down in the shop.


  3. Shoot, I have a bandsaw but still do some resawing by hand. Sometimes it's just too much trouble to walk out to the saw (not in the same room, or on the same floor, as my workbench), get the fence set just right, and make the cuts. My Disston 12 makes pretty short work of resaw jobs in softer stock. I am primarily a hand-tool worker, but I would be working a lot slower without my band saw.

    Looks to me like you did a pretty accurate job, though. Lots of practice, eh?

  4. It's always going to be a drag, but you probably could have a more appropriate saw for the job.

    Using a backsaw like that, you're forced to do a lot of the cutting parallel to the wood grain. Rip sawing is more efficient when you're perpendicular to the wood grain. Also, you want much bigger teeth. Start the cut with that tennon saw by all means, then switch to a great big 4TPI ripsaw. I made up a frame saw to do this job, but I've actually had better success recently by just using a big ol' diston.

    The only problem I find with being an "apprentice of the internet" is that you don't get a sense of what you should be achieving. Your board there looks pretty short. You should be able to resaw it in well under a minute with your (or my) current level of skills. At some point I'm going to wimp out and get a bandsaw for this, but initially I think it's worth learning what can be achieved by hand.

  5. My crappy Home Depot, made by Rigid in China, band saw finally gave up the ghost about a month ago, and I'm certainly not looking forward to trying to resaw by hand. Maybe a spring-pole saw might be a good compromise between investing in a decent band saw and the suffering of resawing by hand.

  6. Am I the only person who actually enjoys resawing? The idea that I could make two (or more) thin boards by cutting a thick board length wise was one of my most foreheadslapping moments. So obvious once I knew but it had just never occurred to me. I still find something kind of magical about ripping a slab of wood into usable slices.

    I find that cutting a kerf all the way round with your guage mark helps keep the saw on track. Something I learnt from Matt on the saw blog.

  7. Wood is such a nobel material...