Lessons Learned – Milling Logs
Safety First. You will want to wear good leather gloves, eye protection, and steel toed shoes. If the shoes have a metatarsal guard they will be better. You probably WILL drop at least one board on your toes during the day. Also, I highly recommend wearing a respirator. The mill makes a lot of fine dust, and certain woods can be very irritating. I used a good quality paper respirator and it made a big difference. Don’t wear really loose clothing that can get caught on wood or part of the mill.
Estimating the job. I used the “International ¼ Rule” to estimate how much wood I would get. My 32 logs added up to 2700 bd ft. At the end of two days we came within 5% of that. From that, you can estimate how much mill time you’ll need and how many stacks you’ll need. Assume several stacks will be only half full. For example, we only made a small stack of 8/4 boards.
Paint your log ends in advance. I suggest you paint them as soon as you get the logs cut, and use color coding to identify the species. I used an exterior grade white primer/sealer on all the logs and then came back and re-painted some of the logs, since my inventory was 90% red oak. You can get gallon cans of “oops” from some stores really cheap.
Cut all your logs to the same length. I used 8 ½ feet as my standard and it worked very well. Some will say that milling 10 1/2 foot logs is more efficient, but 8’ boards are a little lighter to handle and can still be FAS graded. The extra 1/2 feet gives you 3” at each end for checking and leaves an 8’ board. Also, I was able to build nice solid 4’ x 8’ bases for my stacks using 4×4 8’ pressure treated boards, a common and cheap size.
Stacks. Make good bases for stacks and have enough material to make several in advance. You may want to sort as you mill and having multiple stacks allows you to cut 4/4, 5/4, and 8/4 from the same log. This gives your miller flexibility to maximize use of each log. I like to make 8’ x 4’ bases using two 8’ 4×4 boards about 3 ½ feet apart and then a layer of 4 4’ 4×4 boards cross-wise on top of that. This gives me 7-8” of free space under the stack so leaves are less likely to get caught. The higher the stack, the less likely it is to become a home for bugs or mice. On my recent job I used 28 8’ PT 4×4’s to make 7 stacks at a cost of $7 per board. ($200)
Location. Plan to mill in a flat area with the logs slightly uphill from the mill. In my area I can rent a skid-steer loader with a fork for about $350 per day (delivered to the job site). That will move all but the heaviest logs. It’s best to line them up in front of the mill so you don’t waste time fetching logs. Have a couple of cant hooks ready to help roll logs.
Labor. You will want plenty of help. I would suggest at least 3 helpers to stack, move logs, and operate the loader. I found it easy to talk people into 1 day for the novelty. The second day is much harder! Take breaks and have plenty of water for folks to drink. This is hard work and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.
Dust removal. We had a couple of stumps that we placed strategically in the stacking area to bang the boards against before stacking – you want to get as much dust off as possible. Extra dust encourages mold growth. You can use a gas-powered blower to blow dust out of the completed stacks when you are done.
Stickers. You’ll want a chain saw handy to cut stickers in half. Your miller will know about making stickers from the sap wood. Since you are making stacks 4’ wide, you’ll want 4’ stickers. Luckily, you are milling 8 ½ foot logs so you can just saw the stickers in half. You will need a LOT of stickers.
Scrap. Set aside an area for slabs and other waste. It needs to be close enough to the mill so you don’t walk far, but far enough so it’s out of the way. This will be a pretty large pile when you are done. You’ll want to think about what to do with it. My plan is to rent a chipper and make wood chips for landscaping.
Efficiency. Keep the mill operating constantly if possible. In this area the going rate seems to be about $65/hour for mill time plus half that for travel, or $500 per day – operating or not. With a good mill you can make about 1500 bd ft in a 7 hour day. That comes to .30 per bd ft.
The mill. When you shop for a miller, get the one with the best mill. A mill like the Woodmizer T40 with full hydraulics will produce at a much higher rate than a T20 because the miller doesn’t stop the mill each time to rotate the cant 90 degrees. The debarker makes blades last longer so you go longer between stops for blade changes. I think we went through 4-5 blades in 2 days – and we didn’t encounter any metal. Also the T40 has a log leveler that allows you to always cut parallel with the pith. That will give you better quality wood. From my experience with both, I would estimate the T20 can only do 1000-1200 bd ft per day. If anyone quotes you higher they are assuming ideal conditions and unlimited labor to make it happen.
-- Some problems are best solved with an optimistic approach. Optimism shines a light on alternatives that are otherwise not visible.