In the above video I share my experience of hiring a local mobile bandsaw miller, named Todd Horne, to help me transform a fallen 155 year old white oak tree into gorgeous quartersawn white oak boards. He shares great advice for helping you turn your trees into great custom-cut, reasonably priced lumber.

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This is how I found my behemoth white oak tree: My friend Jeremy invited me to scavenge free white oak firewood from a “big” tree that had fallen across his friend’s driveway in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. When I arrived at the site I wasn’t looking at the twisted 2-foot wide firewood branches that Jeremy had started cutting, but at the lovely, mostly straight base of the tree. I measured the base and my eyes almost popped out of their sockets. Four feet wide! I just knew that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get a bunch of very wide quartersawn white oak lumber. So I called my friend Todd! In the video Todd shares some questions that you can ask the bandsaw millers in your area. If you want to drive your logs to Ruckersville, Virginia or you live within 2 hours, you can contact Todd here.

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Milling your own lumber (rather than buying it from a lumber yard) has several advantages:

  1. You get to feel really manly & tough (this is definitely #1).
  2. You save a lot of money per board foot and get a lot of wood air-drying your own lumber.
  3. Kiln dried wood is usually more brittle and prone to chipping than air-dried lumber when being worked with hand tools or power tools. In my opinion the lumber industry has tried to make furniture makers believe that their kiln-dried wood is superior. Bull. Historically all wood was air-dried. Most of the best wooden furniture ever made was built with air-dried lumber. So don’t let anyone convince you that air-dried lumber is inferior in quality. Even Will Myers air dries his Moravian workbench tops for one year prior to kiln drying them.
  4. Air drying lumber preserves more color than kiln drying.

And here’s a couple disadvantages of milling & drying your own lumber:

  1. You’ve got to wait to use it. The rule of thumb is to dry most lumber at least 1 year per 1″ of thickness. Sigh.
  2. It takes a bit of work to move logs and lumber (but isn’t hard work satisfying?).
  3. If you just need a little bit of lumber for a project, it’s cheaper to simply buy lumber.

 

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In preparation for Todd’s arrival, I decided to cut out the 10-foot section at the base. My old $75 Craigslist Husqvarna chainsaw decided that it was time to permanently lay down in its grave when it met Big Bertha’s branches. So I returned with a much better new Echo chainsaw (here’s the Timber Wolf model) that turned out to be a formidable foe against Big Bertha’s wide trunk. (Tool advice: this Echo chainsaw model is the highest you can go in the consumer category, but it has the pro chainsaw engine, along with the best warranty…5 years…that’s what sold me. Months later and it’s still working great at felling & cutting up large trees on my farm).

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It was funny that the most challenging part wasn’t cutting this 36-inch wide relief section with the chainsaw, but getting it unstuck! Jeremy and I finally got half of my 10-foot long log free, then Todd and I worked together on finishing the 4-foot trunk. Once the final cut was made, the 10,000 pound log thudded to the ground, and the trunk & roots shot straight up! Getting the huge log down the hill was no easy feat for Todd and I, so I don’t have any photos (there is some video footage above), but just trust me…it was very difficult and time-consuming. However, it was amazing seeing how powerful leverage can be in moving something so large.

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It was a beautiful site to see the 10-foot log gone from the driveway

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Can you believe that this tree started growing the first year of the American Civil War? It’s very likely that the Confederate & Union soldiers marched very near this tree when it was just a sapling.

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We eventually got the log loaded onto the bandsaw mill using skids and leverage. At some spots the log was too wide to fit through the mill, so Todd had to do some more trimming:

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Man, I sure wish I had some awesome photos like this of myself!

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FYI: all this effort isn’t typical of bandsaw milling. If you have smaller logs that are stacked in a more easily accessible location the process is actually quite fast. Most of our time was spent dealing with a 3-4 foot x 10′ log. Be smarter than me.

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Because of all the chainsaw trimming, the first side took the longest.

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But this top slab eventually became a thick workbench top, so it was worth it!

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Once the first edge was removed, Todd used the hydraulic controls to flip the cut edge downward. All the other cuts will be squared up based on this first cut.

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I got some nice flatsawn pieces off the other three sides, while turning the log into a square billet in preparation for the quartersawing process:

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Once the log was squared up, Todd cut it into halves then into quarters.

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Once we got the log quartered we loaded the very heavy pieces in Todd’s truck and milled them up several weeks later into highly-figured quartersawn white oak boards:

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The above photo is a thin leftover veneer piece…the actual boards don’t have big holes. We cut most of the wood into lovely 12-inch wide x 1-inch thick quartersawn boards. I also got some 2 and 3-inch thick boards, 4×6 posts (for workbench legs) and even a 5-inch thick workbench top!

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Here’s what I did when I got the two truckloads of lumber home to prepare for air drying:

  • I used cinder blocks as a base, underneath my covered front porch. If you don’t have a covered space like this you can cover your stack of lumber with scrap lumber or some sort of metal or plastic roofing…just something to keep rain from pouring directly on it.
  • I placed “stickers” (i.e. spacers) on the cinder blocks and in between each layer of lumber. Most of these stickers were scrap cutoffs from the wall battens of my workshop remodel (see the remodel here).
  • I painted the ends with an end-grain sealer to prevent checking (or cracking) of the boards. This Anchorseal 2 stuff is what most woodworkers that I know use (click here). I probably used 1/8 of a gallon for my entire stack of lumber.
  • Finally I placed some weight on the top pieces (not pictured below):

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I can’t wait to make a long dining trestle table out of this stuff next year!

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