When we started our journey of starting an off grid homestead from scratch, we decided that we were going to take a stab at building our own home using primarily trees from our property. Not only that, but we wanted to do so affordably, and that’s when we discovered the Alaskan chainsaw mill.
Since we arrived on our property in September of 2015, we’ve had a bit of time under our belt perfecting our Alaskan chainsaw milling. We started with a homemade chainsaw mill but quickly realized why that wasn’t something we wanted to continue playing with long-term. We have since upgraded to the Granberg portable chainsaw mill and couldn’t be happier.
In this post, we want to show you a rough outline as to how we make dimensional lumber with our chainsaw mill. While cutting down a tree may seem fairly straightforward (read about our experience felling our trees here!), getting it to the dimensions you need may not be as straightforward, but we want to share what works for us.
Making Lumber: Tools You Will Need
Step 1: Mill slabs out of the tree to your desired thickness using an Alaskan chainsaw mill.
The first step to making lumber is to mill slabs out of the tree. So far, we’ve been doing most of our construction with 2″ thick lumber. As you know, 2″ thick lumber typically means that it’s only 1.5″, but since you’re milling the lumber yourself you can decide what exact dimensions you want to go with!
While we were able to get somewhat accurate measurements with our DIY chainsaw mill, we found that the Granberg was much more precise. Also, our homemade mill was pretty flimsy so milling anything over 2″ would not have been very accurate, where the Granberg is sturdy enough to mill something thicker.
Step 2: Use a chalk line and SKIL saw to cut one edge of your slab.
The first thing we do is make a straight cut on each board (so that we can easily run the other side through a table saw). This is extremely simple to do with a chalk line. Be sure to have plenty of chalk on hand for refills, and you should be good to go for numerous boards!
Once you have your chalk line, simply make a straight cut with a SKIL saw.
TIP: Be sure to inspect both sides of the board and make the chalk line on the side of the board with less lumber (further from the center of the tree, or the widest part of the tree). Make the cut as close as possible to the bark. In all honesty, depending on what we use the boards for, we include a little bit of bark that we can later take off with a draw knife. This does result in a bit of wane in the board, but that is okay depending on what you are using it for. Make your own judgement call.
Step 3: Run the board through a table saw to make the second cut.
Before running the board through the table saw, use a measuring tape to determine what the maximum amount of board width is that you can get out of the slab. Take bark and wane into consideration.
Once you determine the maximum board width, set the table saw width appropriately and run your board through.
For our hot tub deck, we decided to not mill to specific widths because we didn’t want to waste any additional wood. The boards of our decking aren’t even but that’s perfectly okay with us… we got the maximum amount of lumber out of our tree as possible!
If you need to mill to a specific size (as we needed to do for the framework of our hot tub deck), then still do some basic math to see how you can maximize each slab.
TIP: There are lots of ways to use the scraps that result from using both the SKIL saw and the table saw. We chose to turn the scraps of our last batch into sawhorses! Those babies are still going strong today!
Step 4: Bark the lumber.
If you chose to be liberal with your cuts, be sure to de-bark the board using a draw knife, or a saw as we have done. A draw knife will get the job done much more smoothly but sometimes we just have to work with what we have.
Step 5: Use a router on the sharp edges.
At this point, your lumber will have very sharp edges which is okay for some uses, but not the best for all. For our hot tub decking, we decided that sharp edges were not ideal and that it really would be better to smooth them out.
For this, we use a router and a 1/8″ router bit. After installing our decking, we’re happy that we went with the 1/8″ bit rather than a 1/4″ bit. It does the job just enough without stripping off additional wood.
Wrapping it Up
Turning slabs into lumber is extremely straightforward and probably has to be one of our favorite activities on the homestead so far! While cutting down trees and skidding them into a good position for milling is slow and tiring, making lumber goes relatively quickly. It’s also highly rewarding to place each freshly cut board into our “ready to use” pile!
Below is a quick preview of how our hot tub deck is looking. To stay posted on our progress, be sure that you are subscribed to our email newsletter! We also post frequent updates to our Facebook and Instagram channels if you can’t wait for our full blog posts and videos!
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