Turning Logs into Lumber – Part I

In past posts I have alluded to a sawmill that my husband and I bought last spring; one which took over our summer last year and resulted in us building a barn in the fall. With the exception of a few small sessions using it to trim up some boards, the sawmill hasn’t really been fired up since this winter when we cut wood for our chicken coop (remember when I wrote a post about how cold days and sawmills don’t work? Funny enough, a week after that post we cut most of the wood for our chicken coop….in the snow). The newest task which my husband and I have taken on is committing to cut all of the window and door trim as well as the baseboard for our house that we should be breaking ground on at the end of this month. Unfortunately, the sawmilling isn’t really the ambitious part of the project. All in all it took us 2 days to cut the 1,500+ linear feet of wood we need. What worries us is that in a few months, once this wood is dry, we need to send it through a planer, joiner and router to make them house-worthy trim. And to make matters even worse, we just realized yesterday that while we are plaining, joining and routering all of this wood, we will most likely be doing it in our barn….and if all goes well, by then we will have sold the house we currently live in and we will be living in the barn. See where I am going with this? Look for future posts discussing the trials and tribulations of that!

Wood, wood and some more wood.

Wood, wood and some more wood.

But really, how does one take a big ol’ log and turn it into usable lumber? The process is not really that difficult. It took us a little bit of time to figure it all out, become efficient and waste the least amount of wood as scraps, but after cutting enough wood for a barn we have gotten pretty good at it. It also took a few attempts to figure out the best method for stacking all the cut lumber; trial and error and re-stacking lots and lots of wood. And while we may not have been rock climbing as much all summer while we were stuck working, we still managed to stay in shape and “farm strong” from lifting so many boards.

Stacking Lumber

We had read many places the proper way to stack lumber: Make a level surface above the ground, place 1 layer of pieces of lumber on the surface with approximately 1” spaces in between the boards, place 1”x1” pieces of wood (AKA Sticker) on top of that layer perpendicular to the lumber to keep airflow, add another layer of lumber, repeat.  We created the stacks by using 6 cinder blocks (1 at each corner, and 2 at the center edges) and laying 2”x6” boards on their side (they are stronger that way) width wise on top of them. Make sure that the 2”x6”s are level, and that they are all the same elevation – these are what the lumber will lay on for the remainder of the time drying. See the illustration below.

Stacking Wood Diagram

What wasn’t specified strongly enough in everything that we read, some of which caused us great difficulties later, were a few things:

1)      Make sure your initial level surface above the ground is a few feet above ground to increase the amount of airflow moving through the pile of lumber from the bottom.

2)      Keep all lengths of lumber on the same stack. Since you will only have 3-4 bottom supports (i.e. the 2”X6” on the cinder blocks), it makes it difficult to put lumber that is shorter or longer than the stack on the pile. If you do, the end(s) of the lumber won’t be supported and will end up drying crooked.


Stacked maple. Note the stickers between each layer and evenly spaced.

Stacked maple. Note the stickers between each layer and evenly spaced.

3)      Keep all the same width boards on one stack, or if you really need to mix and match on a single stack of wood (e.g. having both 2”x4” and 2”x6” pieces), stack the same size wood vertically on top of each other. This will keep airflow moving vertically through your pile of wood. Ideally, you want to be able to see down to the ground between each piece of wood you stack. This is major thing that we did not do right and ended up forcing us to re-stack almost all of our wood after we noticed some had some black staining on it because it was not drying quickly enough.

4)      On the same note, keep boards of all the same thickness within the same stack row. The 1”x1” stickers used in between each row of stacked lumber not only help keep horizontal airflow, but they also keep weight from the rows above them on the stacked lumber to help them dry straight.  For example, you don’t want to have 1” thick boards stacked in the same row as 2” thick boards. The stickers will not be able to put any weight on the 1” thick boards and they will most likely warp when they are drying.

Photo Jul 13, 12 28 39 PM

Vertical and horizontal air movement is necessary for quick drying.

Vertical and horizontal air movement is necessary for quick drying.

5)      Have a heavy duty tarp, or better yet, sheet metal on hand to cover the wood. Rain on drying wood will not do it any good! Make sure that you have sufficient overhang on all 4 sides of your lumber stack and keep weight on top of it all to 1) keep the metal on the stack, and 2) to keep the boards from warping while they dry.

6)      Also, having your stacks of wood in a sunny, well ventilated place is good. Our stacks were under trees, but at the edge of the tree line so we still had a lot of good air flow to help dry them out quickly.

Always make sure to keep you wood covered too!

Always make sure to keep you wood covered too!

Once you have all of your drying areas set up it is time to start milling!! Stay tuned for the next post about the art of milling up your lumber.


3 responses to “Turning Logs into Lumber – Part I

  1. Hey Jess, Your new post isn’t showing on the blog. I followed this link and it said “page not found”

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Pingback: Summer At Stout Grove | Homestead Visit - Life Appalachia

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