This is the second step in building my furniture – hauling the logs to my mill. The first step is cutting the tree. This is a nice maple that died in our sugar bush. Cutting it made room for some others to grow in and perhaps remove any contagions from the forest. While I try to leave plenty of standing deadwood for the flying squirrels, this is too big and nice to let rot. Building something useful with it also keeps a lifetime of carbon sequestered in the wood, rather than slowly releasing it back into the atmosphere.
But now what? I need to decide how to cut it into boards. What thickness? Squared edge or live-edge? If there is figure in the grain, I must decide what angle to cut it to maximize the figure. Quarter-sawing yields narrower boards, but it will be more stable through the seasons.
I do not seek out FSC or other certified lumber, although I support the idea of careful forestry and resource management. The fact is, I don’t need to buy much lumber. I generally use what I harvest from my own land (usually dead trees) or neighboring properties. I need to go a little farther for some species. Maple, hickory, beech, hornbeam and apple grow well on our land. Neighbors have cherry, oak and birch. Occasionally I find an unusual log, like the mulberry I have waiting to be milled into lumber for a small table and perhaps chair. This log and the sumac I used for the “Green Cabinet” came from my neighbor Doug.
Sometimes a customer has a log or tree that needed to come down (before, during or after a storm.) I will mill to my own specifications to get what I need to make the piece(s) they desire.
Here is what I see as I set up the cut on the mill. One face of this pine log has been cut and a board or two taken off. Then I rotated it and am preparing to cut the next face. The saw blade is barely visible about 2″ down from the top of the log. In this case I’m making a timber for a building frame. If I want pine lumber, I usually saw through-and-through – I don’t rotate the log, just cut boards. This gives me boards that are wider on one end than the other. This would be annoying if I was laying a floor or sheathing a roof, but I’m not. I use three or four foot long pieces most of the time, so that board that tapers from 18″ down to 14″ could give me the side for a 16″ high chest, with the remaining 14″ board for moldings or feet, perhaps a bottom board. If I cut everything square, I’d have a 14″ wide board – no blanket chest! So I can get maximum efficiency if I know what I’m doing with that piece of wood. The design starts at the mill.
Next I’ll stack all the lumber with stickers – small, square pine pieces – separating the layers. They will dry for at least a year, depending on the thickness. Then I’ll bring them into the shop in the month before I need them. The time in the shop helps to dry them further in hopes they will reach equilibrium with the moisture content in the room. If I don’t do this they warp as I work with them, or should I say, “as I work against them.”
I do not kiln dry my lumber. It does not need it. Air dried lumber may be more prone to twist and cruck while drying, but once it is done it can be worked without fear of it changing its shape. I also find that air dried lumber has better color and working properties. It slices before the sharp edge of the chisel. Kiln dried lumber, especially cherry, tends to crack and splinter or turn to dust. What is easier to cut, butter at room temperature or a very old, dry baguette?
All this goes into furniture making. Mostly it happens by someone other than the maker. I try to do it all, and enjoy the work. I like getting out of the shop to work on my land. My family works with me. Jonas already helps where he can. Margaret is learning to lead the horse and soon they can both start driving.
Here’s some of the unthought of steps in building with wood. I’ll write more in time.