How We Turn Trees into Lumber With an Alaskan Chainsaw Mill

Reader Contribution by Alyssa Craft
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We purchased our off grid property in September of 2015 and one of the first things we wanted to do was see if it was viable to build a home out of trees on our own property using an Alaskan chainsaw mill.

While the idea of it all seemed good, we wanted to test our our theory for ourselves before we were too set on the idea. While we’re still assessing whether or not we should go this route for the full construction of our timber frame barn and home, we’re confident that we can create dimensional lumber out of trees so we thought we’d share how we get the job done somewhat easily.

Click here to watch a fun overview video of us going through this process, or keep on readin’ about it below!

1. Cut down a tree.

It all starts with cutting down a tree. We chose to cut down a fir tree for the structural framework of our test project (a hot tub deck) as well as a pine tree for the decking. We picked trees that we thought we could easily fall and skid into millable positions. Read about our first tree felling experience here.

2. Limb the tree and cut into 8’ sections (or whatever length of sections you desire).

We designed our hot tub deck so that it could be built with 8’ lumber. Also, we didn’t know the limitations of our ATV winch so we wanted to have manageable log sections. Because we couldn’t mill the log sections in place, we wanted them to be light enough that we could winch them were we needed to.

3. Winch the log sections to a safe and practical spot for milling.

For the first tree we fell this was an easy task as all we had to do was winch the trees downhill a ways. They came without a fuss. The second tree we fell on a hillside but couldn’t winch the trees downhill – we had to winch them uphill slightly and then down the other side of the hill. After some trial and error, we were able to do this with our ATV, winch and a snatch block. Click here to see this in action.

4. Hoist the log sections onto bucking stands where they can be milled into slabs.

For smaller log sections, two people could lift the logs onto the bucking stands, but we’re huge promoters of not using one’s back for such a task. Instead, we were able to pick up our 8’ sections with our winch and an overhead snatch block. Then, use your Alaskan chainsaw mill to cut slabs. We chose to mill our slabs at 1.5” which was easy and consistent with our Granberg chainsaw mill.

5. Run a chalk line on one side of the slab as close to the bark as possible.

For our hot tub deck, we chose to get every last ounce of wood we could get rather than milling to specific dimensions, so we made our cuts as close to the bark as possible. Be sure to do this on the more narrow side of the slab, or the side furthest away from the middle of the tree. Use a circular saw to make the cut.

6. Run the second side of the slab through a table saw.

Our table saw can cut up to 11.5” wide so if the finished width is to be 11.5” or less, this is a viable solution. Otherwise, we make the second cut with our circular saw. The width of the bark won’t be consistent down the length of the board, so make sure to mark your measurement at the most narrow width.

7. Go over the edges with a ?” or ¼” router bit.

Depending on what your lumber will be used for, you may wish to go over 2-4 of the edges with a router. This will smooth the edges down just enough so that they aren’t sharp to the touch, and it can also make the lumber less prone to being a tripping hazard in the case of a deck. We skipped this step for any lumber that was to be used for the framework of the deck as sharp edges didn’t matter.

8. Property stack and sticker your lumber until it’s ready for use.

We stacked and stickered our lumber until we were ready to put it to use on our hot tub deck (pictured below). We kept the lumber protected with a tarp to keep the rain off of it. Once on our deck, we quickly got the boards secured closely together as they will likely shrink a bit upon drying.

And there you have it — this is how we’re turning our trees into usable lumber for our property. You may notice that one of the steps was NOT to season the lumber before milling. This is something you can do if you wish but we didn’t and it’s not something we wish to discuss in detail in this particular post. In fact, we plan to build our timber frame barn green and this is the preferred state of wood for many timber framers.

The building of this deck has been huge in learning how to mill our own lumber and has helped us to understand the cost savings compared to buying our lumber retail. As of now, we still plan to use our chainsaw mill when creating the timbers for our barn.

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, including building with reclaimed materials, building an off-grid hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles here!

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