We are absolutely thrilled to have added the Woodland Mills HM130 MAX sawmill to the homestead. Being able to mill our own lumber opens a world of possibilities. Our 68-acre property is approximately 80% wooded, so we have an abundance of raw material to work with. Harvesting timber from the property is part of healthy land management practices. Harvesting mature trees will open the area and allow immature trees the space they need to grow into healthy trees. Let’s learn about the process of milling lumber with a sawmill.
From Forest to Lumber Yard
The process of cutting your own lumber is extensive. In our case, we will harvest the trees right here on Kowalski Mountain. The trees will be felled, limbed and then cut into manageable lengths that we can haul out of the woods. Depending on where that is within the property makes a big difference in the difficulty level. While Philip has developed a pretty straight trail system within the property, navigating the lengths of long trees on the turns in the trails can be quite challenging.
Once the trees are felled, the most recommended practice is milling the lumber on the sawmill while the log is still green. Once cut, the lumber will need to be dried before use. If it is not possible to mill the lumber on the sawmill right away, the logs should be debarked to be dried. A moisture meter is used to tell us the moisture rating of the dried logs or lumber. The moisture level of the dried logs is highly dependent on your local humidity levels.
Currently the logs we have on the drying racks from last year are not debarked mostly due to time. We wanted to get the logs drying as soon as we could, as the plan was to use these logs for the guest cabin. In the past we have done debarking with a draw knife, however it was much too hard to do by hand after allowing the wood to begin drying. There is a chainsaw attachment that will debark logs that we need to purchase to finish this job.
Some people like the look of lumber with the bark on it, or they might be doing a specific project that they prefer that raw, live edge cut. Should the sawyer opt to store the logs for a period of time before processing, there are several reasons that debarking the logs is a worthwhile and necessary step in the process. The bark is naturally a means of protecting the tree. It creates a barrier that will hold moisture, making the logs dry more slowly and can lead to rot. For outdoor projects, lumber needs to be dried to 12 to 20% moisture content, depending on your area. Lumber being cut for indoor purposes should be dried to 6 to 8% moisture content.
The bark also is a natural habitat for insects. Since insects are a big part of the process of breaking down material into compost, removing the environment that the bugs prefer to live in is an important step. Since our logs are not debarked, we have sprayed them with an insecticide spray to help combat that issue.
The third reason to debark logs, is that that the bark is a place that traps dirt and debris. Since we haul our logs out of the woods, there will be a build up of dirt on certain parts of the logs that are dragged. This dirt is not good for the equipment used to process the logs, chainsaws, axe and saw blade will all be dulled by dirt left on the logs. This was a helpful resource.
Drying the Lumber
Drying the logs can be done a couple of ways. The logs can be cut, debarked, and have the ends sealed and allowed to dry. In the case of building a log cabin, this is certainly the method we will use. Logs can also be cut into lumber as green wood and allowed to dry as lumber. All the resources I read, indicate that cutting green and allowing the lumber to dry is the best method for use. Cut lumber will dry faster than a log. Also, the band saw blade of a sawmill will waste less wood than a chainsaw blade. In general, it takes 2 to 12 months of drying time for cut lumber, dependent on the moisture of your area and the final use of the wood.
The sawyer should cut the lumber a little larger than expected. As the wood dries, it will shrink. If the green wood is cut as a 2 X 4 exactly. The dried wood will measure slightly smaller. Most resources indicate the sawyer should expect about 1/2″ shrinkage each the width and depth of the lumber. The boards can also split length wise, so the sawyer will want to cut boards longer than they need for use.
Our first project that we will be using our milled lumber for is doing the board and batten siding of the bathhouse. We wanted to get a jump on the drying of the wood. so we opted to use the logs that have been cut for a year. Although these logs were cut for another purpose, we opted to go ahead and use these for the lumber we need for this immediate project.
Hauling the Logs to the Sawmill
When cutting lumber, hauling the logs to the sawmill is most easily handled using heavy equipment. A tractor or in our case the bobcat makes it easy to move the logs to the sawmill area. Once hauled to the mill, the logs are hoisted onto the sawmill.
Philip opted to purchase the winch kit that attached directly to the sawmill as well as the log ramps. This allows a rope to be wrapped around the log and by turning the winch, the log will be hauled from the ground up the ramp onto the sawmill. Once on the sawmill, he uses a cant hook to get the log into position. A cant hook is the simplest type of lever. It has a long handle with a hook at the bottom that opens and grips the log. Once gripped, the lever allows the user to multiply their own force and more easily maneuver the log.
Secure the Log on the Sawmill
Once in position, the sawmill has two separate places that the logs are secured into place. The first is log supports. The Woodland Mills HM 130 MAX comes with 2 steel log supports. These log supports are on the side of the sawmill and provide a still rest to push the log up against. The sawyer must be very careful that these log supports are set lower than the cutting line. The steel log supports will break a sawblade and can cause damage to the sawmill. Philip recently read that some sawyers cut log supports out of wood and use them instead of the steel supports. If the sawyer makes a mistake and misjudges the height of the blade, the support will simply be cut off, not causing any damage to the sawmill.
The second step in securing the log is to use the log clamp. The sawmill comes with two log clamps. Unlike the log supports, the log clamps are movable to accommodate logs of all sizes. Our sawmill can cut a log 30” in diameter! Philip uses the clamps to tighten and secure the logs so that the log will not move during cutting. Philip likes to adjust the log clamp from the back side rather than in the front. He feels like it’s easier to operate the log clamps from this angle.
Milling Lumber with a Sawmill: The Cuts
Once the log is securely in place, it’s time to begin milling the lumber with a sawmill. The sawyer will adjust the height of the blade to make the cut. They must be watching that the log is securely fastened and be sure the log supports are lower than the cut line. The sawmill has a lever to start the sawblade. This lever must be compressed to operate. It keeps the sawyer in a safe position free from the danger of the cutting blade. Slowly and carefully the sawyer makes the cut. Once finished, the blade is taken back to the starting point and the sawyer readjusts the log and or the blade to make the next cut. A good sawyer can map out their cuts to get the most use out of every log. It is a learned skill that will take time to master.
Philip has learned that the blades skip over knots, so he has to be extra careful when approaching a knot created where a limb once extended out of the tree. He makes the cut through the knot slowly to keep the cut level.
Final Drying of the Lumber
Once cut, the lumber needs to be neatly stacked and set to dry. Philp puts spacers in between each board to allow for air circulation. He also uses straps to strap the wood together to keep it straight. Since this is a long process, Philip needs to create his own lumber yard that he can pull lumber from when he needs it. As wonderful as the sawmill is and it will save us a ton of money over time, it’s also another task that must be completed. Building our own lumber yard will certainly take time to develop and will constantly need to be replenished to keep enough dried wood in stock.
Watch Philip Milling the First Log into Lumber on the Sawmill
Be sure to check out the video all about milling lumber with a sawmill. The sawmill is a dream come true!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.