# Good Wood, Direct from the Mill

Local, low-cost lumber is an eco-friendly option for do-it-yourself projects.

| August 7, 2008

• Slicing through a tree lengthwise produces āflitch-cutā lumber with bark on two edges.
STEVE MAXWELL

When I began working with wood 25 years ago, I bought lumber in the same places most people do — building supply yards. But it didn't take long for the high prices to bug me. I started thinking of all the middlemen between the forest and my workbench, and how I might cut them out of the deal and save money buying from small sawmills.

Most small mills are one- or two-person rural operations that you can’t see from the road. Some mills also are portable, traveling to wherever there are cut logs to saw. Start your quest by visiting rural hardware stores, farm co-ops and small-town building outlets. Everyone knows what his or her neighbors are up to when you get out of the city, and it won’t be long before you find what you’re looking for.

### Talk Like a Lumberjack

Next, learn to speak the language of the lumber trade. Operators talk in terms of “feet” of lumber. This is verbal shorthand meaning “board-feet” (bd. ft.) — a unit of wood volume equivalent to a piece of wood 12 inches wide by 12 inches long by 1 inch thick. In practice, the amount of wood can be made of any length, width or thickness, though the volume of a board foot remains constant at 144 cubic inches. Here’s a shortcut for calculating board feet of a piece of lumber: thickness (in inches) multiplied by width (in inches) multiplied by length (in feet), all divided by 12.

You’ll enjoy the most creative control over fine furniture projects if you have your lumber sawn “through and through.” Also called flitch cut, this term refers to sawing each log right through from one side to another, leaving bark on each edge. The grain from a neighboring piece can be matched this way, for better final project appearance.

Some people will tell you it’s necessary to artificially dry lumber in a kiln if you intend to use it for furniture. This isn’t true, as I’ve proven with more than 20 years of successful air-dried furniture projects. In fact, air-dried lumber is less brittle, more colorful and includes fewer hidden energy inputs.

### Dry it, you’ll like it

The trick to turning your sopping wet sawmill purchases into great air-dried lumber is a two-part handling process. Because the moisture content of fresh-cut lumber can be as high as 30 percent, it’s necessary to stack it outdoors, with small strips of wood (called “stickers”) between layers for ventilation. The lack of air movement in an indoor setting causes wet wood to grow mold — a lesson I learned the hard way. Any sawmill will have thousands of board feet of lumber “stickered” like this in their yard. Much of it will be ready for the second phase of drying in your workshop. If it comes right off the mill, sticker wood in your backyard for four to six weeks.

tim_3
8/17/2008 5:36:02 PM

I am writing in about the wood drying article you featured. I would like to know how long does wood need to be dried before it can be used for the framing and siding on a house

SteveR
8/14/2008 7:21:00 AM

chazrull
8/14/2008 7:01:12 AM

I read a lot about drying wood. I wonder, did woodworkers throughout history really wait all that time for wood to dry before building what they needed? I somehow doubt it.

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