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