Rough Milling Solid Wood Lumber: Rip First or Crosscut?
March 31, 2015 | 2:38 pm CDT
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Should you rip saw first or crosscut when machining solid wood? That question and more are the topic of a recent webcast, Rough Milling Lumber for Small to Medium Woodshops," presented by Aaron Brink of Stiles Machinery and Erland Russell of TigerStop. Presented in March 2015, the webcast can be heard on-demand at (

To answer the rip vs. crosscut first question, first set the order of the process for your rough milling operation. The sequence will drive the decision about width of the machine, and even the blade size. Two examples: if you are cutting stair treads, and want wide clear material, with as few glue lines as possible, you’ll want to crosscut first. If you are producing moulding, on the other hand, you will want to rip first, to get long straight pieces, retaining the ability to cut out defects afterward – which also suggests using a smaller crosscut saw.

Rip sawing first will result in a smaller cut envelope for the subsequent crosscut saw operation. And since there are more cuts, more throughput will also be required during the crosscutting that follows.

Crosscutting first means the cutting envelope will by necessity be larger on the crosscut saw. Fewer total pieces will be crosscut when it is done first, so throughput is less of a concern.

Cut quality is usually not at the top of the list when thinking about a crosscut saw. But it is an important thing to consider: Is the cut we need from the crosscut saw a finished product or is it just a rough dimension? Are we doing another process after this?

Remember: a smaller blade size is going to get a better finish cut. While a larger blade provides a larger cutting envelope, it is not providing as good of a finished a cut, due largely to run off — the wobble that comes with larger blades. From this standpoint, bigger is not always better.

Another important factor is glue line tolerance. If we are ripping first, as in our mould project example, we probably need a longer glue line tolerance on the rip saw — because we want to deliver long, straight material. If we are crosscutting first, our rip saw will need a larger rip width capability.

Glue line tolerance defined

What is glue line tolerance? It refers to the cut straightness required if we are going to be gluing up boards with one another. If you are ripping something and then gluing it, and it doesn’t have a uniform straightness over a given length, it means that there may be a bit of arch in the work pieces. When you clamp the two pieces of wood together, while they may hold together with that glue, there is still memory in the wood. It will still fight back against the glue. Typically the glue will actually be stronger than the wood and sometimes you will even get wood fibers pulling apart in a board — all as a result of not having good glue line tolerance over the length of the material.

Editor’s note: This article is drawn from a webcast presentation by Stiles Machinery’s Aaron Brink and TigerStop’s Erland Russell. Click here to hear the webcast on demand, or to see the complete series of Woodworking Network webcasts, go to or visit

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