Wanting to buy suitable project hardwoods but, no jointer? ... no problem?
Below is a short guide to one possible approach to buying suitable hardwood
lumber for that next project if you don't own the tools necessary to mill
your own from rough stock.
IOW, even if you don't have a jointer, or in some cases a planer, you may
still be able to avail yourself of straight, suitably flat, hardwood stock
for that upcoming project.
Many hardwood lumber yards, and particularly the "hardwood boutiques" that
have sprung up recently in metropolitan areas catering to tradesman and the
public, routinely carry a selection of their hardwoods in various stages of
"dimensioning" and/or "surfacing".
One method of overcoming the lack of tools that preclude milling your own
rough stock is by finding a hardwood dealer that displays, FOR YOUR
SELECTION, hardwoods designated as "S2S1E".
If properly selected, and certainly depending upon your project needs,
"S2S1E" in particular will rarely require jointing to be useful. The key to
insuring this is to select stock that is suitable for your project to start
with, While some cupped and bowed stock may be able to be dealt with by
judicious trimming to width and/or length if the board is otherwise
suitable, if there is any doubt, leave it at the lumber yard!
"S2S1E" is an industry standard term that designates that the stock has been
planed (often to a specified dimension - See pdf file below) on 2 faces, and
one edge has been ripped, giving you an edge to reference against your table
saw fence for ripping to desired project width.
CAVEAT: Besides a tape measure, which you should always carry with you when
buying hardwoods, bring a square and check out the edges of your candidate
S2S1E. If a board suits you otherwise, but the edged surface is not quite
square to the faces (a rare case with S2S1E from a reputable dealer!), you
can either deal with that later in the shop, or you can leave it at the
CAVEAT: Be careful of the regional differences in the SxS "terminology" (the
"standards" should be the same, but as in life and law, definitions are
subject to interpretation and can throw a monkey wrench into your intended
purchase of suitable stock). In some areas what is referred to as S2S1E
herein, may be termed "S3S", or "surfaced three sides". however DO NOT,
repeat DO NOT count on it to be what is described here!
CAVEAT: BE VERY SPECIFIC ABOUT YOUR NEEDS IF YOU MUST ORDER YOUR HARDWOODS
SIGHT UNSEEN, A HIGHLY UNDESIRABLE PRACTICE FOR THOSE WITHOUT THE TOOLS AND
EXPERIENCE TO HANDLE THE INEVITABLE PROBLEMS INHERENT IN ANY STACK/PILE OF
CAVEAT: Bring that tape measure along to check stock thickness ... even
though standards exists, when hardwood lumber has been surfaced (and because
many dealers sell both hardwoods and dimensioned softwoods) what is being
called 1" may be any where from 1" to 3/4", particularly when dealing with
"S2S1E" (see #1 below).
Buying "S2S1E," although generally roughly 10% more expensive than its rough
counterpart as a rule, has distinct advantages for those without the tools,
time, or desire to buy and mill rough stock.
Some of those advantages include:
1. You may find that your hardwood lumber dealer carries "S2S1E" that has
been already planed to the most used dimensions: 1/2", 3/4", 7/8", 1", 1
1/4", etc. This means that if you can find stock on display that suits your
project, it may not even need to be further planed to your project specs. If
not, you can always buy the next up in thickness and plane it to desired
2. Most defects, like knots, whose effect may not be apparent to the
inexperienced buyer's eye on rough lumber, can be clearly seen and
evaluated, This is particularly useful in determining whether these defects
effect both surfaces. For a particular project, what is unacceptable on one
surface, may be quite acceptable on the opposite surface.
3. The grain is visible on S2S1E stock so the finished appearance of the
board, and suitability with respect to grain matching, direction, etc,
within the project can generally be more easily evaluated,
4. Back at the shop, dimensioning your carefully selected stock to project
specs should be a relatively simple task: With the good edge against the
table saw's fence, rip to desired width, and plane to desired thickness, if
If you have selected your "S2S1E" stock carefully, jointing should not be
CAVEAT: If you somehow find that you must joint a board in a project, and
your project requires using boards of identical thickness, be sure to
"equally" joint ALL the other boards that meet that requirement. That said,
and worth repeating - your best bet is to leave boards with questionable
suitability for that project at the dealer!
5. Even though purchasing "S2S1E" can be more expensive upfront, the savings
in shop time and effort over that required to mill rough lumber can often
end up saving money on many projects.
In the current contentious climate hereabouts, the proof can often be in the
pudding, so below are two links that will hopefully illustrate the benefits
of this approach if you have the opportunity to do so:
The first is to the .pdf of an invoice (with the personal information of the
client, who went along for the trip, blanked out for obvious reason) that
shows the description of the hardwood that was purchased (Note that this
dealer carries S2S1E that is planed to a specific thickness, which happened
to coincide with some of the project requirements):
The second is a link to a photo of the two largest boards reflected on that
Some gorgeous, wide cherry ... and being carefully selected S2S1E, no
jointing or planing is necessary and all that is required is to rip to
While the above may not fulfill all your needs, and as always, YMMV ... good
luck, and I hope you find some of this helpful on your next project.
Last update: 10/29/06
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