Tree To Table: Make Furniture From Downed Logs

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Few things come with greater satisfaction than going from a dead or dying tree to a nice piece of furniture. After locating a proper fir, spruce or pine tree, cutting it down and cutting it into sections, hauling that tree to where I have set up my Lucas wood mill, and then converting that log into lumber is satisfying.

I have had limited success in using aspen, which we have in abundance, but when I have tried to use it I found it tends to warp and wind. While aspen is a beautiful wood it lacks the ability to air dry as consistently as the conifer species and usable quantity is about half of what is milled.

Air-Drying Milled Wood

After allowing time for the wood to properly air dry and reach equilibrium for our mountainous area, it is available to use that lumber in a future project, whether it be building or making a piece of furniture. A good place for the wood to dry is in the rafters of our woodshed. It is hot and dry thanks to the dark metal roof and the wood seems to dry fairly fast. Colorado is a semi-arid state and that makes air drying freshly cut lumber happen pretty quickly. Since our property is heavily forested finding an appropriate dead tree is never much of a problem. When I mill the logs I try to cut various dimensions not always knowing what will be needed in the future. Then when a project comes up I have a ready supply of available lumber on hand and don’t have to drive to the lumber yard. Any pieces that don’t dry properly are cut up and used for firewood so nothing really is wasted. The culls from milling are also used for firewood.

When we decided we needed a new table to fit between our recliners out came the pencil and paper to draw up a set of table plans. Once we decided on what features we wanted in a table and the size of the table it was then out to the woodshed to find the appropriate lumber. Having carefully selected the proper lumber, it was now time to start the table.

Constructing a Table From Wood Milled On-Site

The first part of the table to make was the top. I supplemented the pine with strips of extra walnut I have had on hand for several years. Next I cut leg blanks and turned them on the lathe. I formulated the design as I turned the legs. Then came the mortis and tendon joints to build the framework of the table. (See photo). I used cut nails which are functional and decorative to lock the mortise and tendon joints together solidly. Finally I made the two drawers and sanded everything to a finished state. I prefer natural looking wood so I used several coats of a clear mini-wax poly finish. At last the top was attached and we then put the piece to use. It makes a nice looking addition to our house and we were able to retire the old table.

Having taken the project from the standing tree to finished table is both satisfying and rewarding. Far more rewarding for me than driving to the lumber yard, sorting through numerous bins of lumber for the right pieces and then having to purchase the lumber to make a project. My total cost to convert the log into lumber was the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Looking at a dead, standing tree and then envisioning it as available lumber adds a totally different perspective from what most people see when they look at a tree dead or dying. When the project is finished I know which tree the lumber came from and the end result is highly satisfying. It is also gratifying to know that I cut and fit every joint and it is built to last us a lifetime.

Milled Wood Seeks Moisture Equilibrium

I have thought several times I would sell my Lucas wood mill and have even advertised it a couple times. It seems each time I do that I find I need more lumber for a project and have to tell prospective buyers that I can’t sell it until I can mill out just a little more lumber. Having a personal wood mill enables me to accomplish all sorts of projects that I would otherwise be reluctant to attempt due to the constantly increasing cost of lumber. Air dried lumber on sight is better in my opinion than kiln dried lumber which may come from a different location. Achieving equilibrium is important because when moving wood to another zone the wood will ultimately seek the moisture level of the local native wood, whether it be higher or lower humidity — especially when the new zone is located at 9,750’ elevation.

We have a cherry table I made before we moved here from a tree provided by a friend. We moved from a far more humid area to our current semi arid location and the wood actually stressed and cracked on the table top. The underside of the table top was left natural and I now finish both sides of the wood to prevent that type occurrence. We also have a cherry chest that I made with hand cut dove tails and it was nice and snug but when we moved to our current dry area the wood shrunk and the dove tails are now loose. .

Having standing lumber on site is the best of all worlds in my opinion. In my years of milling my own lumber I have rarely had a bad outcome unless there were defects within the tree or I was using green blown down trees that contain a high amount of water. Aspen trees are very high in water content which makes them more difficult to dry successfully and use if they are cut while green. We live in a heavily wooded area and with so many trees some are always dying due to drought or old age; therefore we have an abundant resource for future projects.

This project went from the tree to lumber to the table right off of our property. For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living in the mountains go to: