Getting Started

Turning your logs into lumber is a worthwhile endeavor and it is important to understand the process and what it will entail before beginning.

Both seasoned woodworkers and those taking that initial step to building their next family heirloom need to realize that they may have to wait months before they can start working with their lumber.

There are some pros and cons to turning your logs to lumber, and these are important to consider before you charge into this venture.

    Pros:

  1. Lower cost
  2. Convenience
  3. Flexibility

    Cons:

  1. Storage
  2. Drying
  3. Planing

 

The Pros:

1. Cost

If you’ve been to your local home improvement store or lumber yard lately, you know what they charge for a piece of solid oak. Yes, it is sanded, but you’re buying little more than sticks – 1” x 2” x 36”. As an example, a piece of white cedar ¾” x 6” x 8’ is a little under 4 board feet (BDFT) and costs around $16. That is $4 per BDFT for three sanded sides. Ouch!

With Logs to Lumber, the log is yours so the wood is free.

2. Convenience

You no longer have to wait for the store to open or stock what you need. Your lumber is there when you need it.

3. Flexibility

You’re no longer limited by what is offered at the lumber yard or have to piece together all those sticks to make a table, headboard, crib, or whatever you want to create.

 

The Cons:

1. Storage

It really doesn’t matter how many logs you have, you must store the lumber somewhere. You can’t just throw it in a garage or barn or cover it with plastic. And this leads us to drying.

2. Drying

There are several ways to dry lumber. All commercially available lumber is kiln-dried. Most home hobbyists take a two-step approach to air drying: they air dry outside and then move their lumber to finish drying in the environment where the finished product will be placed.

Depending on the kiln type, drying can be completed in as little as a week to a few months. On the other hand, air drying depends a lot on relative humidity, temperature, and air movement (breeze). Air drying takes six or more months and this only gets the lumber to a moisture content consistent with the relative humidity.

Please see Drying for more information.

3. Planing

Turning logs to lumber produces rough cut lumber with small blade marks. The process of drying can also cause some cupping or warping. The first step in taking this rough, dried wood and turning it into something useful is planing. Planes come in a variety of sizes so you need to remember that the lumber you have milled needs to be able to fit your plane.

 

Choosing Your Log’s Cut

Now that we have the pros and cons out of the way, let’s look at some decisions you’ll need to make about what you’re intending to do with the lumber. The reason you need to think about this is because what you want to do with the lumber determines how your log is best sawn, with each cut having its own purpose.

Many of my customers are hobbyists, craftsmen, and individuals with special projects. One of those special projects involved the customer clearing their property for a new house and using the trees on the property for the hardwood floors. Their logs yielded over 9,000 board feet (BDFT) of oak.

I have cut cedar for artists and craftsmen who create items for sale at fairs, made special grain cuts for a gentleman who makes dulcimers, and even cut wood for those who are not sure what they want to make but don’t want to burn the wood.

There are two basic cuts: Planking and Quarter sawn.

Planking

Planking gives you both heartwood and sapwood in the same board. This is great for cabinet doors, coffee and end table tops, headboards, and foot boards. However, it is more prone to warping and cupping during the drying process.

Quarter Sawn

Quarter sawn provides an end grain between 45 and 90 degrees and is not as prone to warping and cupping but its pieces tend to be smaller and may require joining.

Quarter sawing on a bandsaw mill is a little different because of the nature of the mill. The point is to keep the end grain between 45 and 90 degrees.