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Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

How To Convert Standing Dead Trees To Lumber, Final Story

Freshly Milled Lumber

Is a portable wood mill right for you? Everyone has to answer that question for themselves depending on their individual circumstances but we have determined that for our homesteading needs it is worth while to have one, even when we only set it up once a year. Being able to mill our own lumber is a distinct bonus for a homesteader who is faced with ongoing projects. We have several acres of heavily wooded mountain property and that means plenty of standing dead trees to choose from. We heat with a woodstove in the winter so we use the aspen for our firewood and the pine and fir for lumber once they die.

It took us eight hours plus ten logs and the end result was 83 boards (1X6X8’) cut to perfection. I priced the cost at a lumber yard and to purchase these 83 boards I would have paid close to $1,400.00. Of course kiln dried lumber would be ready to use direct from the lumber yard and ours has to air dry for a few weeks and then I will have to plane it down and trim the edges myself. Our lumber cost was $5.40 in gas to run the wood mill which is the total extent of my cost. I therefore saved $1,394.60 so to me it is worth the time to mill out my own lumber. Our particular wood mill has a 13 HP Honda engine which is very efficient and provides us with a lot of lumber for the amount of gas used. Regarding cost it is also important to factor in the pay back cost of the wood mill. I have milled enough lumber with mine that it has paid for itself several years ago so I don’t need to factor that cost in any longer.

Properly Curing Freshly Cut Lumber

The photo depicts the lumber stacked with stickers between boards so it will dry uniformly and slowly. I have yet to have boards check, warp or wind in the many boards I have cut and cured. Having a kiln makes the lumber ready to use much faster but I am not in a hurry so putting 1” by 1” sticks (stickers) between the pieces of lumber helps them reach equilibrium moisture content in a few weeks. There are some things that transcend buying lumber. Putting the labor into doing it exactly the way you want it, the pleasant smell of fresh lumber and looking at a stack of finished lumber knowing that you cut the dead tree down and milled the logs into boards are only a few benefits. That smell of freshly cut lumber is priceless it smells so fragrant and wonderful.

From the 10 logs I milled out I ended up with multiple other boards between 2 inches wide and 5 inches wide. 83 boards that were 6 inches wide and up to 10 feet long. Six 2 inch by 6 inch boards 10 feet long. The key in the air dry process is not to rush it. Boards that slowly dry take time but if patience is exercised all will end well and much usable lumber will be available for projects.

Choosing the Right Trees

One of the trees I milled out has been a dead leaning tree for at least 16 years. It was a pine that I have been intending to mill out but never was able to get to earlier. I finally milled it out and the boards were more beautiful than I could have ever hoped for. We have Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, Spruce and Limber Pine trees to name a few. All of these trees produce beautiful lumber which has beautiful grain and texture. Trees at our elevation grow very slowly; therefore the boards have a nice tight grain making them suitable for many uses. They are easy to work with and make very attractive furniture plus other projects. As I look around our homestead I see multiple projects that have come from the dead trees on our property. These current boards will make two stand up closets since having enough closet space is hard to find in an A-Frame house. We also plan to make two interior doors and one solid wood front door with these boards.

Our Choice for a Wood Mill

We have owned three different wood mills over the past 25 years including a band saw mill, a steel frame chainsaw wood mill and our current blade type mill. I have found our current wood mill that cantilevers the head stock both ways meets most of our needs. One pass down the log and one pass back and I have a finished board. Our current mill is limited to six inch wide boards unless we turn the head stock around which is a real pain for the two of us. Our mill has carbide cutting tips and takes a ¼ inch kerf so for every four cuts in the log I lose a one inch board. I am willing to accept this loss because this mill makes a much more precise cut providing me with a truer board. I have found each mill has its pros and cons so it depends on what you plan to produce with the wood mill. Our current mill satisfies most of our needs because we don‘t need boards wider than 6 inches and we can produce more boards faster.

In the final analysis it depends on how many trees are available, what type/size lumber you plan to mill, not objecting to a little hard work plus being willing to wait until your lumber has dried properly. Most personal wood mills are portable with some being more portable than others. Ours is not as portable as most but we don’t plan to take it to other locations. If you have plenty of projects requiring lumber owning your own wood mill may work for you. If you don’t choose to own a wood mill or maintain one but have available trees to mill possibly hiring a person with a wood mill may be a good economical solution.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their back to earth lifestyle go to: