The Pros and Cons of Milling Your Own Lumber

The Pros and Cons of Milling Your Own Lumber

For a dedicated woodworker, the appeal of milling your own lumber often has little to do with economics. What woodworker doesn’t hate the sight of a healthy tree being fed into a wood chipper on a construction site or watching a pile of good logs being trucked to a landfill? The spirit might be willing, but milling your own lumber is an expensive, time consuming and often frustrating process.

On the other hand, it can be a personally rewarding, potentially profitable endeavor – the logical link between a downed tree and your workshop.

THE PROS:

Cost: If you’ve been to your local lumber yard or home improvement recently, you probably have a good idea of what they charge for a nice, flat, sanded piece of 1 inch thick by 2 inches wide by 4 feet long oak. A lot of logs are free and those that aren’t probably won’t cost you what that small piece of oak did.

Convenience: The lumber you need can be stacked right outside of your workshop – no need to wait for stores to open to take advantage of sales just to stock what you need. Small one- or two-person sawmills allow you the option of milling what you want or need at any given time, whether it’s to be used on your own project or to sell.

You’ll also be able to repurpose old railroad ties, flooring, discarded construction wood or dunnage into custom materials for sale. Thanks to so many free advertising options on social media sites, selling your milled wood online is a great option. If you plan to do your own milling as a side or primary home business, part of your marketing strategy is ready.

Flexibility: Imagine being able to start certain projects you’ve had to put off because your plans were limited by what was available or on sale at the lumberyard. You won’t have to piece together different types of wood to craft a set of end tables unless you plan to do so. A portable sawmill makes every log or tree you harvest or salvage more valuable in every sense of the word.

THE CONS

Storage: It really doesn’t matter how many logs you have, you must store the lumber somewhere. You can’t just throw it in a garage or barn or cover it with plastic. Fresh-cut lumber is very high in moisture, which adds significant weight to the wood. That’s an issue not often considered when deciding how and where to store your freshly-milled lumber, especially if it’s necessary to truck the boards to the storage location. That can quickly become very expensive.

Drying: There are several ways to dry your milled lumber, all of which will work. Some methods just take longer than others.

  • Many woodworkers take a two-step approach drying lumber: he wood is allowed to partially air-dry outside before being moved into the workshop to finish drying naturally. Wood is easier to work when allowed to dry and become acclimatized.
  • Kiln drying obviously demands an up-front investment. Depending on the size and type of kiln and type and condition of the wood, drying can take from a week to several months.
  • Air drying times can vary widely because they depend on the temperature, relative humidity and air movement in their environment. Even after six months of more of air drying, lumber will still only be as dry as the surrounding humidity levels.

Planing: Milling your raw lumber produces rough cut boards that may become cupped or warped during the drying process. Transforming those gnarly planks into some smooth, workable boards is the next step. It can take more than one investment to flatten a steady supply of home-milled wood, because you’ll need a good surface planer, a jointer and a durable table saw.

The bottom line? Sometimes things that look good on paper don’t always pan out in real life. And sometimes the value of milling your own lumber can’t be measured in dollars and cents. This log is in your court.

WoodworkingTalk.com

  1. Tom03-08-2018

    Very nice overview of the custom milling process. Another benefit is that you would have access to lumber with ‘character’ that would never survive the grading standards. Those who purchase ‘commodity’ lumber may not be able to enjoy or practice things like live-edges, book-matching, epoxy fills, spalting, and bowties or Dutchmen. It can be very economical, if you are willing to deal in quantity (you commit to an entire log, not just a couple of boards), time, and culls (not every board in a log will be “select”). Most of my clients who have their first logs milled, can’t wait to do it again.

  2. Stephen Saville03-08-2018

    Nice pros and cons review. I personally feel that an intermediate step is to have a crack at chainsaw milling, as the initial investment is so much less. And if it’s just something the woodworker does on the side to feed their hobby It doesn’t matter that it isn’t as efficient. As you implied, there is something meaningful and priceless about going right from the raw tree through to a finished project. A good video with a load of tips for getting started at chainsaw milling is https://goo.gl/gH8LAZ
    Thanks, Steve,

  3. Sid Mann03-08-2018

    Air drying is enhanced by elevating the stack’s bottom layer 6-8 inches off the ground and keeping vegetation cut, using dry stickers no more than 3′ apart, leaving a 3/8″ gap between adjacent boards, protecting the top course from rain, and adding top weight to reduce cupping. Aluminium paint can be a poor man’s end-sealer to reduce splits. For those with patience, you can put a prized piece of green wood in the bottom of a hay mow for 2 years. I hear it is a very gentle method of drying difficult species, YMMV.

  4. Keith Hutchins03-09-2018

    It seems that everyone has their own opinion about this subject & depends on how much timber you want to supply. I myself only Cut what is required. Getting a solar kiln together, as most of my cutting is hardwood. To have this supplied by a merchant would cost more by far than the cost of milling my own, & one keeps the eyes peeled for the trees that get blown over & retrieve them, or mill them where they fall.

  5. Carson04-01-2018

    Much depends on where you live, be it Rural or Urban. Personally I get a great deal of satisfaction out of re-claiming the “higher value” within these logs that most see only as firewood or mulch and the like. For the “hobby sawyer” and depending on the intentions, a “basic” sawmill” be it band saw or circle saw, can be purchased reasonably. Heck, you can even build your own band saw mill. If you plan on venturing into going portable than indeed you’re going to spend quite a bit more BUT the “pay off” is..getting paid to do what you enjoy doing, seeing the faces of those you cut for when you open the face of that log. Especially if that log came from a tree either they, their Parents or even Grandparents planted.

  6. Glenyse Ford02-20-2019

    I have a large Camphor Laurel tree in Ashwood Victoria, which is going to cut down. I’ve been told Camphor Laurel wood makes lovely furniture. Interested to hear from anyone who might be interested in collecting some wood when it is chopped down. The tree is 25m high so there will be a lot of wood.

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