Whether to Rip Your Own Stock

Cabinet shops consider the pros and cons of setting up to gang-rip and surface stock, instead of ordering it that way from a supplier. February 12, 2009

I have a 5 man face frame shop. We are making more of our doors now that things are slowing down a bit. So I am buying more hardwood than in the past. Orders for hardwood are made weekly or as needed and range from 300 to 800 board feet. Always have the hardwood supplier plane and straight line the stock for me. I can see us upping these order quantities to 1,000 bf or so a week.

We rip our face frame stock and stile and rail door stock on an old Davis & Well table saw with a powerfeeder. Then clean up the face frame stock edges by ganging through the planer. The face of our face frame stock is sent through the wide belt before cutting and assembling into face frames. I like the flexibility of ripping the face frame stock myself, as I can make whatever width I want and can use some of the small leftover rippings for small mouldings.

Does it ever make sense for a shop my size to plane and straight line in-house? Is there a better, more economical approach to buying and handling hardwood (besides outsourcing face frames and doors or going frameless)? I am curious about how other shops my size process hardwood.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I haven't found a benefit to straight lining myself, but I do have a good local mill where I get my lumber dressed to 15/16" and straight lined one edge. I then skim pass 1/16" on either side. This takes out a good bit of planer chatter from the mill and eliminates the sanding before assembly... but I guess it really is the same amount of steps. This really helps when staining, especially in soft maple.

From contributor J:
I run about 3 guys, frameless shop, but build my own doors and doors for other shops in Dallas. I buy all my lumber surfaced (27/32"), gang-ripped (2 5/8" for net 2 1/2" frame), then cut frame parts and RF glue my panels from the same material. Edge gluing I like to order one day, get delivered next day, and glue panels same day. My lumber supplier sends the off-fall rippings that I run a small moulding from. Sure beats muscling all that lumber through a table saw to save .10BF.

From contributor C:

Contributor J, what does the price per board foot work out to when you order your material like that? Have you found this to be cost effective?

We build framed cabinets and I like to buy my face frame stock (2") pre-run through a moulder. This saves so much time, both in the prep and sanding. The inside edges don't require much work. I go back and forth on the cost effectiveness. Soft maple runs about $6 per board foot this way. I think, for me, it's nearly a wash considering the time required to prep regular 4/4 and the waste factor involved.

From contributor J:
Last I bought, Sel&Btr soft maple 3.05BF.

The gang rip is fairly smooth, requiring little effort to clean up, especially on doors, as most edges get machined anyway, and the rest get edge sanded while flushing the stile and rail joints. Face frames are a little more effort, and I've used both the moulded S4S and gang planed on edge prior to cutting frame stock.

From contributor K:
My motive is plain and simple and I won't try to tell you this is the best way, because for different reasons to different businesses it doesn't make sense - like contributor J, probably. I get my lumber surfaced "hit or miss 15/16" and SL 1 edge. From there I live to work all the rest of the steps myself because I simply love to work wood. I have to price my work based on this and I know in comparison to contributor J, his shop is probably more efficient on a cost per unit than I am. That doesn't matter to me. I am really happy working wood and if I had it my way, I would go back to doing the whole thing myself, from milling the logs and air drying them to straight line ripping and rough planing, etc. I have found my happy medium where I do it the way I want simply because this is the way I want.

What are your reasons for doing it the way you do it now? Do you like having the control over the materials or are you frustrated with having the extra function to perform and would like to get out from under it? I think this a question that we can't answer for you. You have to analyze this for your reasons and work it out by the numbers.

From contributor H:
You cannot S2S and SLR1E cheaper than your supplier can. To surface 1mbft will take 2 guys a few hours at least. The joint or straight line another few hours.

I get my lumber S2S and SLR1E. Unless you have a 2 sided planer, rip saw, and minimum wage labor, you won't come out ahead.

I do not run a ripping blade on our table saw. We use a triple chip grind blade (Freud). The cut is glue line smooth. This might eliminate the need to gang plane. You could just rip and sand.

Lastly... by getting it surfaced and ripped, you eliminate a heck of a lot of shavings to get rid of (more in house labor).

From contributor D:
Very good point about the dust.

From contributor S:
I think maybe if you are slow and you want to keep your guys busy, you could do more in your shop. It sounds like you can buy lumber with a good edge and two good faces for similar to what you can do it yourself, so then it would make sense to buy it that way. I live in western Canada; here you can buy s4s at places like Home Depot, or some of the local lumberyards, but it is very expensive and they only carry a few species. The wholesalers we buy from don't touch the wood with anything other than a forklift. So we do all our own prep work in our shop.

From the original questioner:
Yes, I do like having the flexibility to make whatever width face frame stock, door stile/rail, or paneled end stile/rail combos that we need. We, like most small shops, are a custom shop. While I do try to standardize as many parts of the production process as possible, we are frequently running into oddball situations that call for non-standard solutions. Having the means to produce what I need on-the-fly in-house is a big help.
Thanks to all responders.

From contributor B:
I do everything myself because I like having what I need when I need it. If you have a 5 man shop, I don't think a SLR saw is out of the question, nor is a small moulder to s4s the stock after it is ripped to rough size. If someone else can do it at a profit, most likely you can figure out how to do it as well. The money you pay your supplier is only part of the picture.

I am a two man shop with a SLR and Weinig moulder. I can have whatever size stock I need in just a few minutes. Machinery is the least expensive thing you will buy and having the right machine to do the job makes your life easy.

From contributor M:
I agree with most everything contributor H wrote.

The only real issue is what kind of planing the supply will provide. We primarily use two lumber distributors. I will not have one of the distributors plane anything beyond 15/16. The other distributor takes it down to 13/16" perfectly.

A few years ago I started using a Woodworker 2 for ripping face frames. It takes the same amount of time to sand versus the planer/jointer/shaper. I typically joint/rip. So many of the edges are unseen, so very little sanding is needed anyway.

From contributor W:
If you are using the right blade and your saw is set up properly, you really shouldn't have any major sanding. I started really tuning the equipment in with digital micrometers and such and found that a few thousandths can make a big difference on the way the blade is cutting the lumber. It will also cut down on burning. Also keep your blades clean, as buildup on your blades will make a nasty cut with burning also.

I agree that it is definitely cheaper and faster to purchase the material pre-cut, but I have had problems in the past with the material not being true and a lot of the time, the sides are not square to face. That really creates a problem when building the face frames. I have tried several different suppliers and it is hit or miss on the quality. Sometimes it is great and others, you just have to take a deep breath and relax before you call the supplier and tell them to come back and pick up this crap. I found that it is less stressful to just mill the wood myself and that way I have control over the end result.

From contributor I:
I purchase my face frame material from my door maker and it is hard to even match the price of the wood for the price of finished product. The last order of 500' of oak, I paid 55 cents a lineal foot. Very little waste product, no burns, quality material. Hard to beat that price, much less the quality. I still rip some of my material when it is wider than 2 inches, but I have changed some of my setups so I use 2" more often. They would also sell it in any width I would like. Hard to beat.