Working with imperfect lumber - What are the steps you take to straighten it out?


My local lumber supplier had bought some Sapele out of a local warehouse recently, and is selling it off fairly cheaply for our area. The problem is the boards were probably air dried incorrectly, as there were a lot of unusable boards there. I ended up picking up a couple that weren’t as bad off. They look fairly flat, but they definitely have some bowing on the edges. I don’t have a jointer, so my plan is to run them through the table saw on a straight line jig to get one flat edge, then run the other side through with the flat edge against the fence. I’ve never worked with lumber this “bad” before, so I’m not really sure what I should expect, and I’d like to hear the steps you all take when working with less than perfect lumber.

Thanks in advance!

You have a few options without a jointer. The bow is easy to remove with a hand plane and elbow grease. You did not mention if the boards are twisted as well.

I’d try to work towards getting the stock flat before you do the straight line cutting.

If you don’t have a pair of winding sticks, make a set. Simple solution to help determine your progress as you flatten stock. Many free plans/how-to’s, just search google and/or youtube.

If the boards are really wide, then you may want to think about ripping to smaller widths and save removing materials. As an example, if your board was 12" wide and had a 1/4" bow, you will essentially be removing 1/2" (1/4 on the top, 1/4 on bottom, worse case). If you ripped the 12" board in half, you’ve essentially cut the bow in half. These numbers are a broad strokes, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point.

Another method would be to use a carriage assembly (aka sled) that could hold the stock, and use a router with a straight bit, riding on top of the carriage with a large base to flatten your boards.

If you want more information, reply back with tools that you have available to you (hand planes, thickness planer, router etc…) Lots of information available that show various methods.


Nicky, thanks for the reply! It helps! The boards have some twist in them as well. I have a 12" benchtop planer, a table saw, fixed base router and a 10" bench top band saw. The only hand plane I own currently is a wood river block plane. I like the idea of using the router on a carriage assembly to flatten one side, then I can send it through the planer and flatten the other. The boards aren’t wide. The are between 5 and 7.5" wide and about 10ft long. Thanks again, I appreciate it!

I have to assume that the boards you are trying to salvage are at least 8/4 or possibly 12/4? Any twisted/bowed boards 4/4 or less can be next to impossible to save/salvage unless you are planning on using them for small boxes and such. If you know that you are going to need such boards for a project, plan ahead and cut to approximate length BEFORE flattening your stock. This way you will not be wasting as much wood when taking your corrective measures.
Just my 2-cents… ;-)


I agree with HorizontalMike – bowed and cupped boards can be cleaned-up; straightening twisted boards will quickly chew-up both time and lumber.

Also, be very careful with your ‘Plan A’ to flatten the boards – running cupped/crowned boards through a TS is dangerous, as no flat edge is securely supported by the fence – the straight-line jig is good for edges, but not the face. It will be very easy for the board to shift while going through the blade; and there is no up-side to all of the things which can go wrong.


  1. is the hand-plane recommendation, to both smooth the crowns and knock-down the lumberyard machining marks – with sufficient effort and success, you may have a board suitable for you TS approach.
  2. is a router jig which will face-plane the boards – YouTube has several good examples: Marc Spagnuolo (The Wood Whisperer) shows this process, in-detail.
  3. - Clean the edge, with the straight-line; then, run through a bandsaw (in-effect, re-sawing the board, taking only a small amount of the face).
    Just me initial thoughts.