Turn Your Logs into Lumber
Jason Stephens has been having trees milled for more than a decade. In this article, he shares what to look for, how to dry the boards, and how to avoid pitfalls when having lumber milled.
Synopsis: There are a lot of reasons why woodworkers will seek out fallen trees and have them milled as a source for lumber. Cost is one, but more often the reason is that it’s exciting and fun. Jason Stephens has been doing it for more than a decade. Here he shares what to look for, what to expect, how to dry the boards, and how to avoid pitfalls, whether you are bringing a portable mill to your log or transporting the log to a stationary mill. As a bonus, we take a look at Matt Cremona’s professional lumber milling operation.
I remember finding the very first tree I milled, a white oak with a massive crown that had landed on farmland. It was 2007, and I was driving through the back roads of Virginia. I’ve been hooked since. In the intervening years, I’ve had a number of logs milled by a number of sawyers. All those board feet have taught me a lot about having your lumber milled—what to look for, what to
expect, how to dry the boards, and how to avoid pitfalls. I’ve also learned that cutting open a tree and seeing what’s inside never gets old.
Why mill your own
Before I get into the how, I want to talk about the why. Why go through all the trouble of finding a tree, preparing it, and having it milled? It comes down to three things: cost, control, and excitement.
Having your lumber milled can save a lot of money because you’re paying only for the actual milling; the wood’s already yours. The cost benefit becomes most apparent when you’re dealing with wide, thick slabs. When I took a 12-ft.-long, 4-ft.-dia. white oak log to be milled, my 14/4 boards cost as much to be milled as thinner ones. But if I had gone to a lumberyard to buy just one of those slabs, I could have paid over a thousand dollars. And you generally won’t have to pay a dime for the actual logs. Plenty of people are eager to have you take care of their pesky downed trees after a storm, for example.
Second, the process affords you the choicest cuts. Think that log will work best quartersawn? Do it. Is that other one a prime candidate for live-edge, flatsawn stock? It’s your call. Is it wiser to do a mix of both for this third log? You’re the boss.Plus, there’s no combination of boards that are better matched than ones that come from the same tree.
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