Know Your Wood

Get to Know Your Wood

Slab Wood:
As we start sawing, the first four cuts that will be made will be “slabs”. Slabs are the rounded sides of the log that need to be removed to make a square from a circle. When the circle becomes a square that’s a “cant” (big square beams that we’ll either leave big for timber framing projects or cut into smaller dimensions for lumber/decking/sheathing etc…). Slabs are waste wood, but can be burned for fire wood or used for raised garden beds or rustic siding on sheds or other out buildings. There will need to be room around the mill site for slab wood and lumber as it comes off the mill. Our Mobile Mill has board return, with means that after each cut the mill head drags the slab or lumber back as it returns for the next cut. The “returned” wood comes back and is dropped at the Hitch end of the mill, so its helpful if the slab and lumber piles are located close to the hitch end of the mill also. Slabs can be heavy depending on log size and length, another good reason to have extra hands to help.

Finished Lumber:
Finished lumber will need to be “dry stacked” without stickers (1×1’s used to “sticker stack” finished lumber, so it has air flow on all sides of the stack to allow for even drying) as it comes off the mill. There is no time for stickering on milling day, unless you have a lot of extra helpers, but we will mill out stickers at the end of the day for you to use to re-stack the lumber for drying. (We don’t charge for stickers).

Notes on Drying Lumber and Beams:
You can always contract with a lumber yard to get your lumber kiln dried, but if you don’t have the money or equipment for transporting lumber to a kiln, consider air drying. Its been done effectively for thousands of years and if you follow a few rules you’ll have dry, straight, weathered wood in 6 months to a year. Many projects don’t require fully dry lumber to build with, but it doesn’t take very much time set up your finished lumber in a way that will let it air dry as quickly and evenly as possible.

Hardwoods (They aren’t all Hard):
Hardwoods are any deciduous tree, even poplar and basswood which are pretty soft to cut. Some hardwoods including hickory, maple, yellow birch and other “hard” hardwoods tend to split along the end grain, twist and warp during milling and drying and generally always need to be re-sawn after drying. That being said there are some ways you can minimize these things from happening. The best way to begin with hardwoods is to slap some old, thick (oil based is best) paint on the end grain of the logs as soon as you can after they get cut down and bucked up into saw log lengths. After that its up to your sawyer to mill the logs out in a way that accounts for the individual tree. Growth rate, twist, curves, crotch’s, branching, and age all factor into how your sawyer attacks each log to minimize warping and checking during the milling and drying process. At this stage its the same for soft and hardwoods, but its most important to follow all these steps for hardwoods

Soft Woods:
Soft woods are any evergreen tree including tamarack. Softwoods are much easier to cut and dry, but can still warp, twist and cup if not stacked right. The site selection for your “sticker stack” is the most important thing to prevent mold, warping and checking. You want to pick a site where the wind blows frequently but is not in direct sunlight all day long. Shade and wind help your lumber dry out evenly. If your lumber gets all day sun it will dry too fast on the ends and sides of the stack creating ideal conditions for warping, checking, and twisting. Finally, pick a site where you are sure you wont have to move your stack before you need to use it. First, lay down an old plastic tarp or any other vapor barrier, then put down some rails to support the stack and keep it as high off the ground as possible (6″ min). Your gonna want to space your support rails every 4 feet or so and make sure you level them to each other before stacking your lumber. The lumber is then stacked onto the rails, one layer at a time, with an inch of air space between the boards in each layer, and another inch of air between the layers using the stickers. As you’re stacking your layers, place the next row of stickers directly above the ones below so the stack has support all the way down to the rails. If the stack sags when your stacking it, it will dry in that shape and hold that shape. Stack the smallest dimension (1x’s), and/or the longest boards on the bottom of each stack and use the heaviest, thickest and/or shortest boards on top. The thinner and lighter boards are the ones most likely to warp as they dry. So stacking the heavier boards on top of them holds them into their milled shape. Basically, you want to create a cube with as much weight as possible on top. Cover the stack with old roofing tin and weigh it down with rocks, fire wood rounds, or anything heavy so the wind doesn’t carry your tin off. Don’t use tarps or anything that covers the sides or ends of your stacks. Tarps will trap moisture inside and prevent the wind from blowing through to aid in drying. The sides and ends may get wet when it rains or snows but the wood will always be able to breathe and dry evenly.

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