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I have boards that are ~ 2" thick, ~15" wide, and x feet long. I would like to divide these boards in half. I do not have the funds to buy a large bandsaw or other power tools. I'm looking to trim the thickness and wind up with two boards around half the thickness.

What is the best way to divide these boards evenly (and close to level)? What tools to I need to buy?

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    Which dimension do you want to cut along? Do you want to produce two boards slightly less than 1" thick, or two boards slightly less than 7.5" wide, or boards less than x/2 feet long? – rob Aug 11 '15 at 20:46
  • I'm looking to cut along the thickness, getting two boards ~ 1" thick – rStyskel Aug 11 '15 at 21:42
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    Just provided what I hope is a fairly comprehensive answer. Given what I describe, are you sure you wouldn't be better off trying to find a mill or local woodshop that would re-saw the boards for you? – Graphus Aug 12 '15 at 10:02
  • I might be better off, but I do not have the ability to transport the boards. They're 9' - 11' in length. – rStyskel Aug 13 '15 at 13:45
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    If you're in the US, nearly every Lowes, Home Depot, or other big-box hardware store will rent you a pickup truck for an hour or so. With some proper timing and advance arrangements with the local mill, you could rent the truck, deliver the boards, return them to home & return the truck in 2-3 hours. It'll cost you some cash, but will save you many, many hours of intense manual labor. (Seriously, just think how long it would take to cross-cut that 15" board, then multiply by roughly 10. Then double it if you can't make the resaw in one pass. That's just your actual sawing time!) – FreeMan Aug 14 '15 at 14:29
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What is the best way to divide these boards evenly (and close to level)? What tools to I need to buy?

As you requested I'll concentrate on a handtools-only approach but fair warning, even on smaller boards this can be a lot of work and difficult to do accurately. On boards 15" wide it will also pose a great challenge physically — hard work, and for some hours.

Traditional method

The splitting of an existing board you're looking to do here is referred to as re-sawing, because you're sawing again what was previously sawed in a mill.

The traditional way this would be done, the method that would be recommended in older woodworking books, would be fairly simple in outline: you begin simply by marking or gauging your cut line across the middle of both long edges and the board ends, then, holding the work in a vice, begin sawing using the right saw (a rip saw, which is made specifically for sawing along the grain).

Traditional ripsaw

So the minimum toolkit for this would be:

  • ruler and pencil, or marking gauge
  • panel saw, sharpened for ripping
  • a vice to hold the workpiece
  • one or more small wooden wedges to keep the kerf open
  • one or two hand planes to flatten the sawn surface
  • scraper and/or sandpaper to smooth the board faces

Note: the vice must be attached to something fairly stout and heavy, ideally immovable, in order that energy is not wasted in moving the table as you saw. This is one of the reasons for the great heft of traditional woodworking benches.

The above description of the method makes this sound fairly easy and straightforward but in practice it's anything but, especially on boards of significant width and/or length.

Modern method

There's a significant improvement to the above possible but unfortunately it requires quite a bit more work or your behalf as you need to build the #1 item on the tool list, the kerfing plane. Read more about that here on the Unplugged Woodshop site, with video to go along with it.

The job of the kerfing plane here is create a starting groove along all four edges of your boards. Saws naturally want to track in existing grooves (taking the path of least resistance) so this makes it much easier to saw straight and true through the length of a board. It's not a 100% fix, but it's a big help so if you're re-sawing a lot by hand one of these is worth making.

So the toolkit would now be:

  • kerfing plane
  • multi-purpose panel saw (see note below)
  • a vice to hold the workpiece
  • one or more small wooden wedges to keep the kerf open
  • one or two hand planes to flatten the sawn surface
  • scraper and/or sandpaper to smooth the board faces

Note: these days it can be very difficult to find a good ripsaw, and expensive when you do find one. As a result many woodworkers actually buy multi-purpose panel saws with different tooth geometry to the traditional Western saws which were for ripping OR crosscutting. One example:

Modern tooth geometry, panel saw

This is a disadvantage as they neither rip nor cross-cut as well as dedicated saws for these jobs, however they have advantages too. Their teeth are "impulse hardened" or induction hardened making them much harder than those on traditional saws, so blunt far less quickly even in hard and tough woods, but most especially when cutting manmade boards such as plywood and MDF. And the modern tooth geometry means they do some cutting on the pull stroke (as well as the main cutting done on the push stroke). They're also significantly cheaper, perhaps 1/5 the price.

Japanese saws

A lot of Western woodworkers today use Asian-style saws (in practice nearly all Japanese) for some or all of their cutting. These saws can be very effective, tracking well and cutting very cleanly and swiftly because of the tooth geometry.

But I don't think you should consider one because of the maximum length of cut. Many of these saws feature blades of 250-300mm, one foot or less, and as soon as you saw at an angle the length of the cut becomes significantly longer than your starting length of 15". So in order to do your cuts you'd need to saw the entire length of the board twice (working in from each long edge), in essence nearly doubling the work!

  • There are long japanese ripping saws available. The term is anahiki nokogiri. They are not common in the US, but are available. – WhatRoughBeast Feb 11 at 20:29
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Cutting a board along its thickness--in this case, cutting a 2" thick board in half to produce two ~1" thick boards--is called resawing.

Hand Tools Only

With practice, you can resaw the boards in half with a handsaw or frame saw or traditional bow saw (not to be confused with a modern bowsaw, which is better suited for pruning trees and cutting small logs). If using a frame saw or traditional bow saw, the wider the blade from teeth to back, the easier it will be to make a straight cut.

Power Tools/Power+Hand Tools

If you want to resaw the board with inexpensive power tools, you'll need to get more creative. For example:

  • One method is to first rip the boards to narrower widths to bring them down to the capaciy of your preferred resaw tool. (Ideally you'll want to rip the boards using a tool and blade that produce a clean, thin kerf so you can easily match up the grain to hide the cut later.) Inexpensive bandsaws and 10" table saws commonly have a resaw capacity of about 6 inches or less (the table saw will require several passes across opposite edges), so in your case you could rip the 15" wide board into three roughly 5" wide boards. After that, you can resaw those individually on a table saw and/or bandsaw, and glue the ~1"x6" pieces back together.
  • Another method is to cut a kerf along each edge with the table saw, then use a handsaw to cut out whatever was left behind by the table saw, and plane the boards flat after resawing. This is easier than just using a handsaw since you can use the table saw kerf as a guide for your handsaw, but unfortunately it also results in more waste and thinner boards.
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    With more expensive power tools: Resawing is something full-size bandsaws excel at. With the right blade and careful setup, you can cut veneer-thin slices if you want to, or just open a thicker board up into grain-match pieces for attractive panels. Some bandsaws are (or can be adapted to be) large enough that you can even do some light sawmill work with them, turning sections of tree into boards; there are jigs and techniques for doing this safely and accurately. (Of course you have to figure out how to get the wood to the saw; portable sawmills take the saw to the wood.) – keshlam Aug 12 '15 at 1:43
  • "unfortunately it also results in more waste and thinner boards" - If you're careful about your kerfs, it will only lose you the thickness of the tablesaw blade. Since that's typically less than 1/8 inch, this amounts to about 1/16 per board, and for 1 inch thick boards that should not be an issue (most of the time). – WhatRoughBeast Feb 11 at 20:35
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Regarding answers recommending you find a sawmill... If these boards are salvaged and could have nails in them, no one is going to do the job. They won't risk their machinery. Otherwise this is your best bet for getting these boards resawn.

You're clearly a novice, so realistically speaking there is no chance at all - none - that you can resaw these boards yourself. They are too large, and you have no experience. It's nothing against you; I couldn't do it either, and I have some experience and know-how.

Your best bet is to sell the boards, which are likely worth quite a lot if they are in good shape, and buy the lumber that you actually want.

  • Hi Tony, Q is from 2015 in case you didn't notice. – Graphus Feb 11 at 8:10
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    @Graphus that's ok, he's probably still sawing! – Tony Ennis Feb 11 at 11:23
  • @TonyEnnis that is the funniest thing I've read on this site! – Andrei Rînea Feb 11 at 14:23
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    This is, in general, an accurate statement. That being said, with the craze for reclaimed lumber many regions have mills who know how to handle nails and staples and advertise as such. I know of at least 2 places in my region that will take all sorts of crazy reclamation jobs. (Now I recall my dad sawing up boxcar floors with a giant chop saw to feed his wood-fired furnace. The right blade eats nails, and the right furnace transforms them into white ash! I was more worried about all the creosote and god-knows-what-else was soaked into the wood.) – jdv Feb 11 at 14:38

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