Mae Elizabeth Stout

Here is the reason I have been a bit absent from my blog the past few months. Now that she is born, I foresee it still being a little slow getting back to the swing of things. Luckily spring is here and the gardening season is on its way!!!

Mae Elizabeth Stout

April 1, 2015; 7 lbs, 4 oz, 19.75″

IMG_6325 IMG_6355 IMG_6389 IMG_6396

Advertisements

Planing Maple Baseboard

As always, things have been pretty busy over here at Stout Grove. Besides being 37 weeks pregnant right now and trying to finish up as much of our house as we can before the wee one is born, my husband and I have committed to milling up, drying, planing, joining, ripping, sanding and routing all of the baseboard and door and window trim for the new house. Its been incredibly time intensive, but will be worth it in the long run seeing all that beautiful maple in the house – maple that we had to cut down to build the house, which makes it even more cool!

Check out this video of us planing down 1 of the baseboards!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgsTrW98m84

 

Photo Jan 04, 3 41 00 PM Photo Jan 04, 4 18 55 PM Photo Jan 04, 4 19 10 PM

Making Your Own Soap

I have a problem. I am addicted to new hobbies. Its time consuming and expensive…..and so much fun! Last spring my husband, some friends of ours and I all went to Asheville, NC to attend the Mother Earth News Fair. We were all like kids in a candy store attending one talk after another ranging from composting, milk production, crop rotation, bee keeping, and my favorite of the weekend, soap making. Robin Bedford of Possum Hollow Farms (located in Perkasie, PA) gave a presentation showing how easy it was to make your own soap in only 30 minutes. 30 MINUTES! She made it look so easy and, as I mentioned before, I am always looking for a new hobby. I fell in love. We all left the Mother Earth News Fair motivated to be the best homesteaders we could be, full of new ideas and knowledge; I was especially motivated to get going on this soap making, hoping for a way to get Stout Grove on the map while we were still waiting for our previously planted blueberries and trees to produce, and to give me something to do in the spare time I don’t really have.

It took another month before I was able to gather all the supplies I needed (mainly sodium hydroxide – AKA lye) and the nerve to tackle this task that Robin had made look so easy. Ultimately I found out that the task is pretty easy in itself; it is the preparation and making sure that you have all of your ducks in a row to ensure that you are mixing your oil and lye solution in the correct ratio and that you won’t ruin any of your kitchen (or your personal self) with lye solution. Needless to say I was a little nervous my first go around. I also fell in love after my first go around and went out to the store to buy more oils so that I could make another batch that afternoon 🙂

The first thing to understand about soap is that there are few ingredients needed to make it, which is scary when you look at the huge laundry list (no pun intended) of ingredients on the back of your typical packaged soap from the store. Soap is essentially: Oil, water and lye. You can choose whatever mixture and ratio of oils you want depending on the different properties you want to come through in your soap. For example, olive oil is often used as the main base because it is cheap, easily available and makes a nice, hard moisturizing soap. I also really like coconut oil because it produces a nice lather and hard bar of soap. Each oil that is used in soap making has its own special properties and changes the make-up of the soap depending on the ratio of it used; it’s a whole science all on its own. Each oil also has its own Saponification value – meaning that you need X amount of lye to saponify (i.e. turn into soap) a certain amount of that oil. Depending on the ratio of different oils in a batch you will need a different amount of lye. If you are not careful and change your recipe a little bit, you can end up with too much lye and some very angry soap users. Luckily there are plenty of inline tools to help you through this.

Basic supplies you will need:

  • Kitchen scale – everything is measured in weight, not fluid ounces
  • A metal whisk
  • Rubber spatula/scraper
  • Thermometer
  • Stick blender – or you can use your whisk, but the stick blender will save you a lot of time and energy
  • 2 large heat resistant containers (1 for your lye/water solution, 1 for your melted oils) – keep these containers as your soap only containers – do not use them for food after
  • Soap mold – make sure you have this all prepared before you start making soap – something as simple as an old yogurt container or milk carton will do for your first time
  • Rubber gloves and clear glasses – SAFETY FIRST!
Get all of your equipment together: Mixing bowls, gloves, scale, lye, etc.

Get all of your equipment together: Mixing bowls, gloves, scale, lye, etc.

Very carefully measure out your lye by weight.

Very carefully measure out your lye by weight.

The mold I am using for this batch; it allows for a 2 color bar of soap with the divider in the middle.

The mold I am using for this batch; it allows for a 2 color bar of soap with the divider in the middle.

One of my favorite recipes to use makes a 45.00 ounce batch (I use a mold that is 3.5” X 2.5” X 14”) – which is a lot of soap. I suggest not starting off too big. That is another one of my problems. I tend to dive into hobbies. Go big or go home right?! For my first batch I took a recipe out of a book and made it. I had no idea how much soap it would make and what size containers I would need. When it came time to pour the soap in the mold I was running around the kitchen frantically trying to find more containers. I have since found conversion tools that help you know how much oil to use based on the dimensions of your mold. But you can’t learn if you don’t make some mistakes right? Below is my favorite recipe downsized a bit:

A 20 ounce batch for a mold that is 3.5” X 2.5” X 6” (or anything that you want to use that has the same volume) will make about 6 bars of soap:

  • 8.4 ounces – Olive oil
  • 5.4 ounces – Coconut oil
  • 5.4 ounces – Palm oil
  • 0.8 ounces – Castor oil
  • 2.8 ounces – Sodium Hydrozide (Lye)
  • 6.6 ounces – filtered water (preferably distilled or rain water)
I also used a dark beer instead of water for this batch, which is why my lye solution is so dark.

I also used a dark beer instead of water for this batch, which is why my lye solution is so dark.

Everything is measured in WEIGHT. This is very important since it allows you to be more accurate and make sure you do not have too high of a lye:oil ratio.

Put all of your measured oils together in 1 of your large containers (*note: Palm oil and coconut oil are solid and need to be melted. Palm oil is not homogeneous, so when you melt your container of it to measure out, you need to melt the entire container to make sure it is thoroughly mixed. Coconut oil, however is homogeneous and can be melted as needed). With your gloves and glasses on, measure your lye and water in separate containers (I use an old tupperware to measure the lye into and the other large heat resistant container for the water). Carefully add the lye to the water – NEVER add water to lye! One method I learned to remember is that “the snow always falls on the lake” meaning your white lye crystals need to fall into the water. Mix the solution together and don’t breathe the vapors (an open window is helpful). You will see the chemical reaction that is occurring – the solution is suddenly producing a lot of heat!

Slowly and carefully add your lye solution to your oils.

Slowly and carefully add your lye solution to your oils.

MIx

MIx

And mix some more until it becomes thick.

And mix some more until it becomes thick.

Ideally, you want both your water/lye solution and your melted oils to be the same temperature as each other and around 120° F. When you get this, slowly add the water/lye solution to the oil mixture while using your stick blender to mix them up. Be careful of splashing! Lye is not something you want to mess around with. You will notice right away that the mixture turns opaque and will quickly start to thicken up. This is called “Trace” when the mixture is thickened up. Ideally, you want a medium trace where the consistency is like pudding. If you want to add any colors or essential oils (make sure they are soap safe) add them now. When you have arrived at medium trace (about 3 minutes of mixing) pour your mixture into a mold and set aside. To help the soap cure, you want to help keep it warm so that it can achieve a “gel phase” during the next 24 hours. Wrap the mold up in an old towel and cover with some old cardboard.

I split this batch in half to make the 2 different colors.

I split this batch in half to make the 2 different colors.

And then added them to each side of the mold - after pouring them, I took out the center divider so it would be 1 bar of soap.

And then added them to each side of the mold – after pouring them, I took out the center divider so it would be 1 bar of soap.

Now comes the fun part of waiting and also cleaning up. Remember, there is a curing time needed for the lye to react with the oils before it is safe. You need to keep your rubber gloves on during the entire cleaning process! Using hot water and dish soap (anyone else see the irony?) wash all of your dishes and equipment thoroughly. As mentioned above, keep all of your soap making equipment separate from your food tools, etc. Also, if you have a septic tank, the lye can be harmful to your system. If this is the case, find another place to wash, or wait until the next day when the saponification reaction has occurred and the lye is neutralized. You can then wash like normal – some people say this is easier since the oils are no longer oily and are soapy instead.

Wrap your mold in an old towel and set aside to keep warm.

Wrap your mold in an old towel and set aside to keep warm.

Wait at least 24 hours before you unmold your soap. When you unmold it, be careful of any potential lye solution that didn’t mix with or react to the oil. Cut your bars into the desired size and let them sit out to cure for at least 4-6 weeks. The longer you wait the harder the bar will get and longer it will last in your shower, or next to your sink.

Enjoy! Let me know if you have any question or need help finding information about oils, figuring out how much oil creates how soap, where to buy products, etc.

Complete bar of 2-tone soap.

Complete bar of 2-tone soap.

Almond Poppy Seed Bread

The holidays are notorious for the guilt free hall pass everyone gets to eat as much sweets and rich food their stomachs, pancreas and gallbladder can handle. Below is one of my favorite go-to recipes. Not only is it simple and quick, it is bound to be a crowd pleaser. Beware however, it will not last long in your kitchen 😉

Photo Dec 22, 6 08 45 PM

Oven: 350° Bake: 45-60 minutes

Dry Ingredients

  • 3 cup flour
  • 2 ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp poppy seeds

Wet Ingredients 

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup milk
  • 1 1/8 cup canola oil
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 ½ tsp butter flavor

Glaze:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 ½ tsp butter flavor

Photo Dec 22, 6 09 01 PM

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Add all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl; then add all of the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well blended – about 2 minutes – with a hand mixer or with a stand mixer. Once all of the ingredients are well blended, pour the batter into 2 greases bread pans. Place in oven and bake 45-60 minutes, or until a toothpick is inserted into the center of the bread and comes out clean.

Photo Dec 22, 6 50 19 PM Photo Dec 22, 6 52 18 PM Photo Dec 22, 6 55 37 PM

When the bread is almost done cooking, start your glaze by adding the glaze ingredients to a small sauce pan. Over medium heat, mix the ingredients until the sugar is dissolved and the glaze becomes clear-ish. Let the glaze cool slightly, along with the bread you just pulled out of the oven. Using a fork, poke a handful of holes into the top of the bread loaves and (using a large spoon) ladle the glaze equally over the 2 loaves of bread. The fork holes will help collect extra glaze. I also like to use a spoon and collect the glaze that has collected in the corners and re-distribute to the top of the loaf. Let the loaves cool and glaze harden before you turn them out of the pans onto a cooling rack. If you can keep yourself from eating it all in 1 sitting, wrap up the loaves in tin foil to keep moist.

Photo Dec 22, 8 05 15 PM

Making Fondant for Your Bees

A new bee colony is like a small child. When it first shows up you are nervous as heck to hold them; you spend a good amount of time feeding them with little thanks; you worry about their safety and well-being and when it comes time to say good-bye to them (for the winter months), you want to make sure they are well fed and going to stay warm. After an entire summer of caring for and checking on your hive, it would be a terrible waste and huge bummer to come back in the spring and find that your bee-kids didn’t have enough food to get them through the winter months and you are left with an empty hive.

But it doesn’t have to come down to that! You don’t have to come back in the spring to find that your bees starved through the winter and didn’t make it. By taking just one final step of caring for them before saying goodbye for the winter, you can help ensure they make it through the cold, barren months. If you started the spring with a brand new colony of bees, you are probably no stranger to feeding them sugar water to get them through the slow start of spring and summer. Unfortunately with cold weather, the less you disturb your colony the better, not to mention that sugar water freezes in the winter! So what is the better winter solution? FONDANT! Not the fancy, expensive stuff you put on your cakes – the homemade kind. What you would expect out of a homesteader J

As I have mentioned in past posts, our queen bee was not doing her job all summer and our hive had barely produced any honey for them to live off of for the winter. Ideally you want to have 2 hive bodies filled with sugar plus a smaller honey super to get them through the winter. Our hive didn’t even have 1 full hive body. Not good at all. While we have had a top feeder on our hive for the last few months providing them with up to 1 ½ gallons of sugar water at a time (so long as it wasn’t cold enough to freeze), there still wasn’t enough stored honey to make us feel comfortable leaving them for the entire winter. Once winter comes around and temperatures are cold, you cannot get into your hive at all. Any extra stress, or blasts of cold air would definitely not help their survival.

Top feeder - where the bees can access 1.5 gallons of sugar water at a time from inside their hive.

Top feeder – where the bees can access 1.5 gallons of sugar water at a time from inside their hive.

In the end I referenced a few different sites, taking bits of information from each of them to create my recipe.

http://www.bamboohollow.com/fondant-recipe.php

http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-to-make-fondant-from-table-sugar/

http://www.wolfcreekbees.com/bee_candy.pdf

http://www.colonialbeekeepers.com/index.php/faqs-mainmenu-25/76-how-to-make-fondant

The basic recipe is:

  • 4 parts sugar:1part water
  • ¼ tsp vinegar for each pound of sugar
  • Honey B Healthy

You will also need:

  • A large pot (we used a large turkey fryer pot)
  • A long handled spoon to stir with (splattering boiling liquid sugar on your hands is not a good time)
  • Accurate thermometer (this has always been the most frustrating thing for me. I have 4 different thermometers in my house and they all read different)
  • Hand mixer – a paint stirrer that attaches to a drill is ideal
  • Some time – depending on the size of your batch it may take a while for everything to come to temperature
  • Necessary ingredients: Sugar, vinegar, large pot and Honey B Healthy.

    Necessary ingredients: Sugar, vinegar, large pot and Honey B Healthy.

Some good tidbits of information:

  • 1 quart of water weighs approximately 2 pounds
  • The mixture should come to an initial boil at approximately 220 degrees

Since we needed so much fondant for our hive, we filled out top inner cover and 1-side of 6 super frames. For this we used 16 lbs of sugar and 2 quarts of water. We also used a turkey fryer outside in our barn to help keep down on extra steam in the kitchen…plus we just happened to be out there working anyway.

Directions:

  • Add the water to the pot and slowly add the sugar while stirring (the heat can be on at this point).
Slowly add the sugar to the water while mixing.

Slowly add the sugar to the water while mixing.

  • Add 1/4 tsp of vinegar/pound of sugar. This helps the sugar not crystallize too much and stay smooth. It also helps convert the sugar from sucrose into a glucose structure which is better for the bees.

Photo Dec 13, 1 13 36 PM

  • Bring to a boil while stirring often to make sure it doesnt stick and burn – this took us a little bit of time (but we were also using our turkey fryer with a really low tank of propane)
  • It should start to boil at around 220 degrees and turn clear.
Once the mixture comes to a boil it should turn clear.

Once the mixture comes to a boil it should turn clear.

  • Keep boiling until the water evaporates off and the temperature is 234 degrees (remember back to high school chemistry: Water with a higher concentration of particles in it (eg – sugar) has a higher boiling point and lower freezing point).
  • Cool the mixture down to 200 degrees – luckily we had a bunch of buckets outside collecting water which were half frozen – we dumped that water into a wheelbarrow and placed the metal pot in the water and it took no time to cool our mixture down. Keep stirring as the mixture is cooling down as it will begin to thicken.
  • Add the Honey B Healthy. I didnt know how much to add. There was only 1 site that mentioned using it and it said 1 cup/5 lbs of sugar which seems a little over the top considering you only use ½ tsp per gallon of sugar water in the spring and fall. Overall I added about 2 tsp for my entire batch.
  • Use the hand mixer or paint stirrer to whip the mixture. It will turn white and get thicker – it will also be cooling down as you do this.
Whip it.

Whip it.

Whip it good!

Whip it good!

  • Whip it until it is relatively thick. You want to be able to pour it but don’t want it slopping all over the place. It will cool pretty quickly once you start to pour it out. By the end my husband and I were using our hands to scoop it out and mold it into the last few frames.
Finished fondant on the inner cover and 2 frames.

Finished fondant on the inner cover and 2 frames.

  • Let the fondant cool and place in your hive when the weather is good.
The bees are already testing out the fondant on the inner cover.

The bees are already testing out the fondant on the inner cover.

The whole process is not too hard, just sort of time consuming while bringing it up to boil. We made sure that the frames were on top of wax paper so it didn’t make a mess, but the mixture was so thick we didn’t have too much leak out the cracks. Also make sure that you put some tape over the back side of the inner cover hole until the mixture cools, then you can punch out the hole so the bees can still crawl through and to help with ventilation. As another measure of precaution, we left our top feeder on the hive as well. While the sugar water in it may freeze over the winter, if there are warm days, it will melt and provide extra food for them. The top feeder is also nice because less cold air can get into the hive if you lift off the cover to fill the feeder quick.

And so now our waiting game starts. It won’t be until sometime in the spring that we are able to get into our hive and see if they survived through the winter; but at least if they don’t it wasn’t for lack of trying on our part.

 

Growing Things on the Farm

My, oh my, has it been a while. I swear it is for good reason. For the last 19 weeks I have been growing a human. Within the first few weeks exhaustion hit and all motivation went out the window. What little energy I had went to working my regular 45+ hours a week and the rest  to any little help I could be at the property with barn building, house building preparations, chicken and bee tending, garden growing, and entertaining any people that stopped through town to visit this amazing region we call home. I had also just started the adventure of making soap in hopes to create a new business venture. My ultimate goal was to get enough made for Christmas season. Unfortunately, the last batch I made, and Almond Poppy Seed soap, which everyone tells me smells amazing, makes me want to gag even thinking about it. Not the best way to run a business. Luckily the energy is slowly coming back and the nose, while still in supersonic working condition, isn’t quite as repelled by a lot of smells (although as I write this I keep getting whiffs of some perfumey scent from down the hall that is making my nose burn and stomach churn slightly).

First batches of soap.

First batches of soap.

IMG_4024 IMG_4023

But enough with the complaining! There has been a lot of things happening at Stout Grove since July. The biggest, and most recent development (besides getting pregnant) is that we finally have started to build our house! Hopefully by the end of the winter we will no longer have to call Stout Grove “The Property” but instead can call it “Home”. With the exception of the looming mortgage in our future, this has been such a huge relief to have it finally under way. It is amazing how quickly a small crew of experienced people can build walls and get a structure built!

We have a house!!

We have a house!!

We have lost our queen bee, which is not to say a bad thing necessarily. We had been debating if it would be best to get rid of her and buy a new queen bee since she was not doing a very good job making the rest of the hive work hard and get enough food stores for the winter. There are 2 main schools of thought on this matter: One of, pinch her head off and get rid of her! The other being that the bees know what is best for them. If the queen isn’t performing they will eventually realize and get rid of her themselves and “grow” a new queen. Out of lack of knowing which was the best route, and sheer forgetfulness, the bees took care of the situation for us. What exactly happened is still a mystery to us however. It sort of appears that the old queen died and then the worker bees built an Emergency Queen Cell to quickly replace her (More information about this in a later post – I don’t want to get too rambly right now).

New Queen Bee cell.

New Queen Bee cell.

The vegetable garden has slowly dwindled down, although we still have some carrots and potatoes in the ground waiting to be picked. Since this is the first year the garden has been in this location and the soil has not been amended at all, and since we don’t currently live there and are busy as heck, we started this season knowing that the garden probably wouldn’t perform optimally. In some aspects we were wrong, but it others, we were dead on. After a heavy rain storm in mid-July all of our tomatoes got what appeared to be late blight. Within 3 days they were deader than dead, all the fruit rotting off the vine and pretty much unsalvageable. From everyone else that we talked to in the area, this was a common occurrence. Our beans also got bean beetles, a creature I never knew existed until they were covering our plants with their unique pointy larva. The corn we planted never got very tall. When we finally checked some of the ears to see how they were doing on their miniature stalks, we noticed that the kernels were way too large to be tasty. Apparently all the energy that wasn’t going into stalk growth was going into ear growth and we never realized it until it was too late. Yet another lesson learned. On a positive note, our okra went wild. I had never grown okra before and had no idea that their production and growth was so high. There is a lot of frozen okra in our freezer for the winter. Our potatoes did pretty well too. We definitely don’t have enough for the whole winter but for the next few months we will be enjoying good, homegrown taters with our meals. The squash also went crazy. I don’t know how many spaghetti squash we have. More than enough, that is for sure. The pumpkins didn’t produce a ton, but we will have enough for a good number of tasty desserts, that is for sure. Overall we are pretty pleased with the garden this year. We wish that we could have devoted a little more time to it and not ignored it as much as we did, but there is next year. It will be hard to ignore when it is steps from our front door.

Bountiful harvest!

Bountiful harvest!

Another exciting thing to happen over the last few months is that our chicks are now chickens and laying eggs. The months of feeding them with no return on investment is done. Now we are swimming in eggs and giving them to anyone who wants them. Out of the original 17 chicks we got, 1 died in the first week, we gave 4 to a friend, 1 ended up being a rooster, and the other day another unexpectedly passed away. So all in all, there are 10 laying hens producing eggs of all different sizes, shapes and colors. We will no longer have to buy eggs from the store and are one step closer to self-sufficiency.

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Double yolk!

Double yolk!

So for now, the garden has slowed down, the bees are hunkering down for the winter and the chickens are laying eggs like crazy. Winter has finally made an appearance this last week with a fresh cover of snow and daylight savings time has turned our day-lit work days a little shorter. Life is good. I can’t really say that it has slowed down to a standstill, but there is definitely more time spent relaxing on the couch at night when it is too dark and cold to be working outside, and I am not complaining about that. However, the addition of electricity and a wood burning stove to the barn has been a tremendous help in getting last minute projects done when we can. In the meantime, I will let my husband pick up my slack while I keep busy growing a child and helping here and there where I can. . . . and I promise to not be such a stranger again.

 

Turning Logs into Lumber – Part II

So, after my last post about stacking saw milled lumber, you should all be experts in the first steps of getting ready to crank up that sawmill and get to work! When my husband and I realized that we would need to cut down a dozen trees where we planned to build our house, a friend mentioned having someone with a sawmill come in and cut them up into lumber for future building endeavors. As this idea started to morph and become its own beast, we suddenly became the proud new owners of a Wood Mizer LT15 sawmill. Why pay someone to do your dirty work when you can slave and sweat over it all summer long yourself? 😉 And so the story began where every spare moment was spent cutting down trees, cleaning up their tops, having huge bonfires, stacking loads of firewood and cutting lumber out of the wide bottom trunks.

The sawmill we own is a hand cranked and manually adjusted model where the log lies stationary on the mill and the human pushes along the gasoline powered ban saw blade, taking off slices of wood one by one, picking them up and moving them to the side. While not extremely hard, it was a loud and dirty process. I got more sawdust in my eyes that summer than I ever hope to get in there for the rest of my life combined. When we first started we also ran into the problem of how to get a round log into a bunch of rectangular pieces with the least amount of waste. On top of that, with a motor running and earmuffs protecting our hearing, it was pretty difficult to discuss with each other the best plan of attack for each log. Eventually we figured out a good system, and learned a new silent language we devised, composed of pointed, head nods and facial expressions.  We were on a roll.

Ready to go. Make sure your mill is on a level surface.

Ready to go. Make sure your mill is on a level surface.

The first thing you need is a plan for what dimension lumber you want cut. Without that already in your brain it makes it the whole process much more difficult. Coming into the process all willy-nilly just doesn’t cut it. Since we were building a barn with all of our wood, we needed wood in all shapes, sizes and lengths. Hmmm, lengths: that brings up another point I forgot to mention before. When you cut the length of your log, it is best to make it at least a foot longer than the lumber you need. For example, if you need 8’ long boards, you should cut your log to at least 9’ in length. This is in case the ends of the boards split while drying. Painting the ends of the logs before milling will also help keep the boards from splitting since rapid moisture loss (the main culprit in board splitting) is stopped with the paint barrier at the end.

Get the most out of your log.

Get the most out of your log.

The single most important tool you will need is a “cant hook”. A cant is the term for your log once the rounded edges are cut off and it is more square in shape. A cant hook is a simple tool with a hinged hook on one end that digs into the log while you use mechanical leverage to help roll the log. It’s pretty amazing and makes you feel super strong when you are able to move a humongous log by yourself.

A simple Cant hook

A simple Cant hook

So right now, you have your drying racks set up, know what dimension lumber you want, have cut the length of your log longer than necessary and have both ends painted, and you have your handy cant hook in hand. You are ready. Using your cant hook and some ramps (or the forks of a tractor if you are that lucky) get your log up and onto the sawmill! Ideally you want to have the narrower end of the log at the beginning of sawmill track; this allows you to have an idea of just how much the logs needs to get whittled down when you start the blade up.

Always wear your ear protection!

Always wear your ear protection!

This is how we went about making our round log into rectangular pieces with the least amount of waste:

The first cut you make should be shallow. Since the log is tapered and wider at the end of the log, starting with a ½” cut could still result in a 4” thick slab at the end, which can be pretty heavy and awkward to move.

Start making your cuts.

Start making your cuts.

After you make the first cut, you need to think: Do you need to make a second cut on this same side again? Remember that ideally you will end up with a square(ish) log with little bark remaining on it. Most likely you will need a second cut. Cut thickness can go in any increment that you want. If you are interested in cutting a bunch of 2” thick boards, then maybe your next cut should be 2” thick. It will take a lot off of your log, but the scrap could be set aside and trimmed into a board in the end.

A second cut to get enough bark off may be a good idea.

A second cut to get enough bark off may be a good idea.

Once you are satisfied with your top cut(s), get out your trusty cant hook and roll the log 90° so that you can trim off another side. Just like before, take a thin slice at first and then decide how much to take on a second cut. Continue this all the way around the log. When you get to the last side, remember what dimension lumber you want in the end.

You got to love leverage!

You got to love leverage!

Make that last cut to get your square cant.

Make that last cut to get your square cant.

Most likely there will be one or two sides of the log which will have more bark on it than the other sides. What size do you want your cant to be before you start taking slices off of it for your boards? Are you cutting 2”X6” boards? Then you should aim for a cant that is 12” in at least 1 of its dimensions since that will allow you to get 2- 6” boards. Are you looking for 1”X5” boards? Aim to have 1 side of your cant 10” so you can get 2- 5” boards out of each slice. Sometimes it is not that easy and you may have to mix and match your dimensions you end up with. Maybe a few 2”X6” boards and some 2”X4” boards if your log is only big enough for a 10” cant and not 12”. Remember to save any worthy trim pieces that could get trimmed into lumber at the end.

Make any last cuts to get your cant the right dimension and get rid of any last bark you don't want. Remember to save these trim pieces for the end!

Make any last cuts to get your cant the right dimension and get rid of any last bark you don’t want. Remember to save these trim pieces for the end!

Perfect 12"X12" cant.

Perfect 12″X12″ cant.

Once you have your cant to the right size, you will want to start double flipping your log after each cut. Since the tree you are cutting has been growing for decades under all sorts of conditions, it is likely that there will be a lot of tension in the heart of the tree. You will be able to notice this tension being released (much more in some logs than others) when you take your slices off and the board bows up. By flipping the log twice after each cut, you are alternating cutting from the top and bottom of the cant, releasing the tension in the log equally from both sides and hopefully cutting down on how much bow you have in your boards. As you cut your slices off each side, set them aside if they need to be cut in half again.

Taking a slice off 1 by 1.

Taking slices off 1 by 1.

Congratulations. You now have a stack of lumber! Do you still need to trim them up a little more to get your desired dimensions? Maybe you wanted a stack of 2”X6” boards but you currently only have 2”X12” boards. Don’t turn that sawmill off quite yet! Bring a few of the 2”X12” boards back over to the sawmill and lay them on their 2” sides stacked next to each other. Clamp them in place and set the sawmill blade at 6”. Now you have a bunch of 2”X6” boards. Remember all of the trim pieces that I told you to save? You can do the same thing with them too. Lay them on their sides and trim off the remaining bark to get usable lumber. Viola!

Lay the slices on their side and cut to the desired width.

Lay the slices on their side and cut to the desired width.

17

Lastly comes my least favorite part: stacking the wood on those beautiful drying racks you already made and covering them with sheet metal and a weight to help them dry straight (I don’t know why but I really dislike stacking the wood. I think it is because when the sawmill gets turned off I think I am done for the day, only to realize there is still more work waiting). Wait a few months for them to dry. You can buy a moisture meter for pretty cheap to see how much water content is still in your boards. 10% is pretty darn good for air dried lumber. Now get to building something!

18 19

*Another thing that we ended up doing was buy an hour meter for our mill. This helps keep track of how long your machine is running which is good for maintenance and resale purposes.