Cutting and Drying Logs into Boards

ask WWGOA text with a man posing

“I have some red-oak, hickory, cherry, red elm, and spalted maple that I want to cut into boards. I have a band saw mill. Should I cut the boards into 5/4, 11/8, or 1” material?

I also want some 4″ mantel material. Should I let it air dry or have it kiln dried? Should I quarter-saw all the material?”

Submitted by: harmann family

WWGOA Editor Response:

There are many “it depends” you’ll need to think about before cutting your logs. Regarding thickness, what material do you use the most? If you primarily use 3/4″ material, saw your planks to 4/4. It’s nice to have some 8/4 on hand, as well (it can be milled to 1-1/2″ to 1-7/8″) for leg material for furniture projects. If you’d like bowl blanks from any of your logs, cut them even thicker, 12/4 or 16/4.

It’s great to have some quarter sawn, but it’s also a lot more labor intensive to cut. If your logs are small, it may not be worth quarter sawing them, as the resulting boards will be very narrow. I usually cut a mix of quarter and plain sawn, using the larger logs for quarter sawn. Remember that even from your plain sawn logs the planks near the center of the log are similar to quarter sawn, so you can isolate those boards and put them into your quarter sawn pile.

Air drying is certainly the low tech approach to drying wood. It’ll take about one year per inch of material thickness to completely air dry the material, getting it down to about 12% – 14% moisture content. You’ll need a spot to store it where air can move over it, but it doesn’t get direct sun. So, there’s little or no cost involved, but you’ll have a long wait for your material and a moisture content that isn’t that low.

Kiln drying can be completed in 3-6 weeks, depending on the species, and will take your material down to a more stable 6-8% moisture content. The lower the initial moisture content, the more stable your material will be.

For more on kiln drying have a look at our video showing a solar kiln. For more on air drying have a look at this video “Air Drying Fresh Cut Lumber”.

Thank you for your question.

George Vondriska

Managing Editor

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2 Responses to “Cutting and Drying Logs into Boards”

  1. What tools do I need to turn a small log (10in/ 25cm diameter) into 1/4"/6.5mm thick boards?

    […] dry. (8–10% moisture content before planing). This is some good information on how to dry wood; Cutting And Drying Logs Into Boards – Woodworkers guild of […]

  2. Oscar Becerra

    I slicing logs to make place mats that I want to be 1/8 inch wide and would like to know if logs must be dry first. This is my first try with logs and they are freshly cut Any ideas?