Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turning Logs Into Lumber...

2:05 pm - 36 degrees - raining and foggy...

Most people get their lumber from the local lumber store or local big box store, which is what we usually do.  However, Tony wants to build a woodshed and needs larger lumber, which of course costs more.  After crunching the numbers, he saw that it would actually save us some cash to have the lumber milled out versus going and buying it at the store. 

One of the trees that was felled to make lumber.


So a couple weekends ago Tony had a local guy come up with his portable bandsaw mill to mill out some lumber for our woodshed project.  A portable mill is basically a piece of track, called the bed, on which an adjustable band saw rolls back and forth on.  You lay the log on the bed and trim slices off the log with the band saw.

After they got the portable bandsaw mill in place, it was crucial that the bed, which is the reference point for the entire mill, was level and square.  If the bed isn’t level and square, all the lumber that is produced will be slightly off. 

After the mill was all set up, it was time to load one of the 20’ logs on to the bed.  Depending on the size of the log, this can be a bit tricky.  The portable sawmill had a wench that was used to hoist the logs into place, but an excavator was used to the place the larger logs that were just too big for the wench to pull.

Cutting the end off.

The first cuts made on a log produce slabs, which is a piece of wood that has bark on one side and a clean cut on the other.  The next cut is a flitch cut, which is a board with two flat sides, but has bark on one or more edges (this is also known as live edge boards).  For the typical log, it takes about two cuts on each of the four sides – one slab cut and one flitch cut.  In theory, that will result in a large, square piece of wood called a cant.

Making the first cut on the log.

Second cut on the log.

After all four sides have been cut, they start milling the lumber.

Of course not all logs are the same.  Depending on the size of a log, eight cuts (4 slab cuts and 4 flitch cuts) can waste a lot of wood.  However, the edges of the flitch cuts can sometimes be ripped down to make a good board or the can be used at a live edge board.

Out of four 20’ logs, we ended up with four 20’ 6x12 beams, twenty-four 20’ 2x12s, four 20’ 1x12s and a pile of miscellaneous boards and live edge boards.

Left over piles of scrap and live edge boards.

Pile of scrap live edge boards.
I'm sure we can think of something to do with these!

Left over logs.

When milling your own lumber you must also be aware that you can totally ruin everything you have just milled by improper drying.  Softwoods develop fewer defects than hardwoods, partly because the total overall shrinkage is generally less.  Some warp is inevitable and you may want to saw hardwoods a bit larger to be sure you can get the final planed thickness you are wanting.

To properly dry freshly milled lumber, you must be quick and carefully sticker the boards.  Stickers are pieces of wood that provide air gaps in a pile of drying lumber.  Stickers are only ¾ x ¾ inches.  This is a great use for scrap lumber.  Using dry stickers every 16 to 18 inches or, according to some, as close as every 12 inches for hardwood lumber.  The purpose is mainly to separate wet boards and to allow air circulation, but the wood's own weight in the pile helps control warping.  Using stickers at the ends of the piles reduces end checking as well as warping.  Tony also painted the ends of the boards with anchor seal which also helps to prevent end checking.

Turning logs into lumber was definitely a learning experience. 

Tony spent one full day picking out the trees he wanted to use, falling the trees, limbing the logs, and hauling them into place along the driveway.  Another full day was spent milling those logs into lumber.  And yet another full day was spent cleaning up most of the mess and stacking the lumber.  Three days into that project and we still have several piles of unused logs, scraps, slabs and live edge boards and we have to wait until the freshly milled lumber has time to dry a bit.  

In the end, yes it did save us some cash, but it did cost more in time.

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