One day last fall my friend Brent called. I just cut down 40 pine trees. Do you want them? I hesitated a little, then said yes. Pretty soon he was dumping logs in my front yard. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with them, but the price was right. They sat through the winter while I tried to figure out the best use for this volume of lumber. Then it struck me. Wood flooring for the house. We’d love to have wood floor everywhere (except the bathrooms) and this might be a way to make it happen without breaking the bank. I started checking prices, which meant talking to a sawyer, a kiln operator, and a millwork shop. It all started coming together, and looked doable. The goal? Turn this pile of logs into 2,000 square feet, or more, of tongue and groove flooring. The millwork shop said I’d need half again more lumber than the amount of flooring I wanted. So 2,000 square feet of floor meant 3,000 board feet of lumber. I scaled the logs, and calculated I had about 3,500 board feet in the logs. The first step, getting the logs milled.
I hired a sawyer with a portable mill. It was MUCH easier to bring the mill to the logs than the logs to the mill. Tim was ready to cut wood about 15 minutes after he pulled in.
Now there’s a bandsaw blade! 1-1/2″ wide. The sawyer brought 20 of them. Hit a nail, I buy the blade, $30 a throw. The first 20 minutes of cutting killed me as we hit three nails and I bought three blades, plus lost the time required to change blades (only a few minutes, but it felt longer). $$$! Luckily that first log was our worst, and things got much better after that.
This was one of the better saw logs, 24″ diameter, 12′ long. It should make 310 board feet of wood.
I used a skidsteer to move the logs and get them to the hydraulic lift arms on the mill. Trees with a lot of branches needed a trim before going on the mill. The idea is to cut the branch as close as possible to the log, getting the log as close to round as you can. Not many of my logs looked like this one.
This mill was pretty well equipped. After the lift arms get the log onto the platform, another set of hydraulics position the log for the first cut.
One slab is cut off the top of the log. That piece’s bark face makes it firewood. The second cut will produce a piece that has two good faces, but bark on two edges. That piece is a keeper. You can either pile those pieces off to the side and return them to the mill later to cut the bark off, or deal with the bark as part of the milling process. I left the bark on. We’ll cut it off when we turn the planks into flooring. The mill is indexed to lower the correct amount between cuts to make planks slightly over 1″ thick. Drying will cause the boards to shrink, resulting in 1″ thick boards.
The log is rolled (by hydraulics, not arm strong) and the process is repeated. The goal is to cut the log into a beam.
Now we’re makin’ wood. The sawyer works his way down through the log.
We cut a 2″ slab out of the center of the log and set this aside. The pith of the tree tends to be unstable, and not good for flooring. I’ll air dry these pieces and find another use for them.
About 8 hours later we had this pile of lumber, which totaled nearly 4,500 board feet. Actual running time on the mill was about 6 hours.
Moisture content averaged 29%, with some pieces higher. That’s no good for flooring (we want it at 6%) so off to the kiln next.
Final Analysis. I’m THRILLED with how this went for me. Once we got rolling (and past that first demon log) we were cooking pretty good. A few things you should know if you’re considering this process for yourself.
I found the sawyer through word of mouth. If you’re interested in doing this, ask woodworkers and/or tree services in your area for recommendations. Tim charged a trip fee and by the hour once he was here. So my fixed cost was the trip charge, and the more I had to cut the more I spread out that fee. We cut about 35 logs, but even if I had only a couple logs to cut I wouldn’t hesitate to book a sawyer.
In getting ready for this I carefully moved the logs by lifting them, not dragging them. You want as little junk as possible embedded in the bark, since junk (stones, sand, dirt) dulls blades. Power washing would be a good idea. The mill has a scoring blade built in that leads the cut, shown here, which eliminates a lot of junk from the bark, but clean trees are better.
Logs are heavy. Really heavy. You’ll need a way to move them. You can’t beat a skidsteer for this. If you have to rent one for a day, add another $250 or so to the cost of the milling process. (Little George didn’t really drive the skidsteer, just sat in it.)
The mill is fairly noisy, and makes a mess. Neighbors adverse to noise might not be thrilled about a day of milling.
Get help! Did I mention you’re gonna need help? I planned on handling this with just the skidsteer and me. Luckily I was warned by the sawyer and my friend Adam that I couldn’t possibly keep up. They were right. I had six high school boys there, which was probably two more than I needed. But at times it was all they could do to get back to the mill to catch the next plank. You can see from the boys in the background what a grind this work was for them.
In addition to the wood you want, there are other by products of the saw mill process; slab wood and sawdust. This pile of slabs is a little more than half of what we produced, since some had already been cut into firewood when this picture was taken.
More recycling will happen with the remaining slabs, as a friend wants them to face a bar, creating a rustic look. The sawdust will go into our horse stalls.
Get ready for some cool wood. If wet pine sits a while it can develop blue stain. Love it! In fact the kiln operator is letting my lumber sit in piles a couple weeks instead of stickering it right away to encourage more blue stain. It’ll look great in the floor.
If the wood is going to a kiln, you’ll need a heavy duty trailer to haul it. This is just under half of what we cut. Wet pine weighs about four pounds per board foot, so I’ve got 18,000 pounds of wood to haul. It took me two trips.
So far including the sawyer, high school kids, and pizza for lunch I’m in at .20/board foot. Amazing! If you’re air drying the wood, that could be your final expense. To be fair I’m only figuring cash out of pocket. I’ve got my own labor invested in this, too. And I’ll still be paying for drying and milling, but my per square foot price is looking good. Watch for future stories covering the next processes.
I’d do this again in a heart beat.
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