I want to try timber framing with logs I mill from my property. Which timber framing tools should I use, and where should I begin?
One of your most affordable options is a chainsaw mill, or a set of rails that attach to a chainsaw bar to help guide it through wood. Chainsaw mills aren’t the most efficient way to mill lumber, but they are portable, reasonably priced, and require only a chainsaw, which you may already own.
To mill timber, begin by felling a tree, preferably one with few branches or defects, measuring at least 16 inches in diameter. Next, remove the limbs with either an axe or a chainsaw, depending on the limbs’ dimensions. Then, cut — or “buck” — the log 6 inches longer than your desired finished length. Because windblown sand and debris collect in bark and can be exceedingly abrasive on a saw blade, consider first de-barking the log with a bark spud.
Careful bucking is key to creating a precise final product. Use a straightedge to ensure your cuts are uniform. If your mill doesn’t come with a straightedge, you can line a ladder up to the log and secure it with screws by drilling holes into every third rung. (Be sure the screws don’t extend too deep, or the chainsaw’s teeth will hit them.) Use a ripping chain on your mill if possible, as it leaves a smoother finish than a standard chain. Adjust the depth, begin cutting, and you’ll soon have usable lumber. Finally, you’ll want to dry the lumber, though the length of drying time will vary depending on its size and the time of year.
When it’s time to frame, create pegged mortise-and-tenon joints. Because this method of joining logs together doesn’t require glue or nails, be precise when measuring and cutting; the more precise the removal of the wood, the snugger the fit. Mark the timbers with a large “X” where you’ll create the holes and shape the tongues. Using either a circular saw or handsaw, cut into the line on the mortises, but leave the lines visible on the tenons. Chip away unwanted wood with a mallet and chisel. On the mortises, you can use a drill bit to speed up the process of removing excess wood. (You can do it all by hand with chisels, but it’s very laborious.) Because all timbers are different, test mortise-and-tenon pairs as you work, or your final project won’t fit together. When you’re ready to assemble, fit the parts together, bore through the joint, and pin it with a hand-hewn dowel. I use ratchet straps to help position and hold large projects, such as cabins, together. Finally, remember: The sharper your tools, the easier your job.
This article and its accompanying videos are presented by the Wranglerstars, who live on the Wranglerstar Homestead and run a YouTube channel about modern homesteading, and who recently authored Modern Homesteading: Rediscovering the American Dream.
Cody, aka Mr. Wranglerstar, uses a metal detector to double-check for nails before cutting wood with a chainsaw. Photo courtesy The Wranglerstars.