Breaking Down Slabs

The large majority of the wood that I have is sawn in slabs. While the live edges allow more design possibilities, there are times when I don’t need them.

Breaking Down Locust1


To process this slab, I start by aligning my straight edge just inside the bark. This results in the straightest grain with the least amount of waste. This wood is black locust, which I really like using. My sculpture, Something Like That is made of the same species.

Breaking Down Locust2

I use a carpenter’s pencil to transfer the location of the straight edge onto the slab.

Breaking Down Locust3


Then, I use my circular saw to make the cut. For large, heavy slabs, I prefer to use portable power tools to break down slabs into more manageable pieces. I use a circular saw when possible for efficiency, and a jigsaw for material thicker than 2.5 inches, or curved cuts (e.g. Relationship Study).

If the material is more manageable, I usually turn to my bandsaw for breaking down rough stock, mostly because it is safer to use with unflattened parts than the table saw.

Breaking Down Locust4

Due to the dusty nature of this operation, I prefer to do this work outside, weather permitting. It creates a lot of dust, and if there isn’t a breeze carrying away the dust, I try to hold by breath for the duration of the cut. Unfortunately, I can’t hold my breath for the two-minutes  it takes to cut through seven feet of 2.5 inch thick hardwood.

Breaking Down Locust5

If the saw doesn’t make it all the way through, I usually finish with a hand saw. I find it quite enjoyable pretending to make the entire cut with a hand saw at an amazing speed.

Breaking Down Locust6

This edge needs to be jointed to make it smooth and straight. Note that even if the cut surface is perfectly smooth and straight, I still check it a few days later to ensure that the wood hasn’t moved after being released from the rest of the slab.

Breaking Down Locust7Here’s the yield (minus the long piece at the back which is my straight edge). I will allow them to acclimate and stabilize before processing them further into rails and cross members for my vehicle’s roof rack.

Breaking Down Locust9

What a Mess

As I broke down the slab, I was aware of the massive amount of dust I was creating. My circular saw, which takes a 0.069″ kerf, removed 125 cubic inches of material. That’s equivalent to a 5 inch cube – a lot of dust to throw around.

The Festool TS 75 Track Saw is starting to make a lot of sense to me. Not only does it have provisions for dust collection, the saw has over 3 inches of cutting capacity and leaves a much better cut surface. Using a rail to guide the saw allows me to make perfectly straight cuts, resulting in less clean-up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to wash the sawdust out from between my toes.


4 thoughts on “Breaking Down Slabs

  1. Great Post! I could not live with out my TS75 as I don’t have a table saw yet. I briefly had a TS55 which had better dust collection and was easier to handle, but it got recalled so Festool sent me the 75 as a replacement. I don’t think you would regret buying one.

  2. Hi Chris, between your toes, hehehe, thats funny. You are joking right? You are wearing proper shoes or boots in your shop? Sure you are, taking good care of those little toes I’m confident. We tend to sometimes slip into the home shop for just a few minutes a times, do a quick cut or drill a few last holes to advance a project. Not having a lot of available time we are in and out. I’ve seen it a thousand times and will see it a thousand more I’m sure. Good woodworkers sliding in in there streetwear and quickly picking up where they left off to take advantage of a few precious moments, not realizing the loose sleeves, sandals, runners, rings bracelets etc. could bring a quick and tragic halt to a project that we could easily prevent.

    Leaving a shop coat hung by the door, some good footwear, a place to place and hang jewelry all as one walks into the work area. It takes much, much less time to gear up so to speak than the suffering through the time to heal after a serious mishap that is always unexpected and never, ever beneficial to any project.

    We usually know better and are a species who seems to like to take chances that are really not very bright indeed. Therefore I would suggest that we police ourselves and not allow yourself to make that cut or use the shop for that matter unless we are willing to get geared up and protect the precious tools that are part of our body. A quick change of shoes really does guarantee that you will be there tomorrow to do a good days work on the project and be there to see it through to completion, PAINLESSLY…

    Sorry Chris, I didn’t mean to take advantage of your joke. With the experience you have in shop and teaching I’m quite confident that you do gear up and know the dangers fullwell. I guess I just thought that the timing was ripe to maybe sensitize a few that should take this seriously and hopefully help them along to a long and accident free shop life. There’s so much joy doing something with your own hands, thereby being the best reason to protect them.

    Glad to hear that you are able to get time on your own projects even while settling into your new job. Your spirit seems high, proud of your progress.

    Till next, Ray R.

    1. Ray,

      The only time I didn’t wear shoes in the shop was when I was using hand planes after I had just vacuumed the shop on a warm summer day.

      This time, I was wearing shoes and socks. And pants. And by the time I was done, I could feel the grit of sawdust between my toes. Other times, I leave the shop with so much sawdust in my hair, my head looks gray. Ugh.

      Thanks for the interesting comment.


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