How We Make Lumber With Our Alaskan Chainsaw Mill

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.

making lumber portable chainsaw mill
Sitting on our freshly-milled slabs that will be used for decking… see our hot tub deck in the background, built with lumber milled ourselves using this exact method!

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

First thing’s first… the tools you will need! In short, these are the tools in our homesteading tool kit that we use to get this job done in addition to our STIHL MS660 Chainsaw.

Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
IRWIN Tools STRAIT-LINE 64499 Aluminum Refillable Chalk Line Reel with 4-Ounce Chalk
SKIL 5280-01 Circular Saw with Single Beam Laser Guide, 15 Amp/7-1/4″
Craftsman 10″ Table Saw with Laser Trac 21807
Makita RP0900K 1-1/4 Horsepower Plunge Router
Timber Tuff TMB-10S 10-Inch Straight Draw Shave
Stanley 33-425 Powerlock 25-Foot by 1-Inch Measuring Tape – Original
Ear Protection
Safety Glasses

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!

Milling lumber with our Alaskan chainsaw mill to 1.5" thick.
Milling lumber with our Alaskan chainsaw mill to 1.5″ thick.

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.

lumber-chalkline

skilsaw-lumber

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.

tablesaw-lumber

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!

tablesaw

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.

bark-lumber

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.

router-edges-lumber

Wrapping it Up

how-to-make-lumberTurning 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!

IMG_7183

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Peter Leisen says

    Awesome Job! Question and preface, Today I was mapping out the pricing of Alaskan Mill vs. Portable Mill vs. Going to a neighboring mill, to make live edge siding and live edge cupboard tops out of our trees. I can’t find how long it takes to rip a board with the Alaskan Mill. I know it varies but, what was your experience?

    • says

      Hey Petar! We’ve done a bit of fine tuning, but we have it down to under 5 minutes for an 18″ diameter log. When we were using a cross cut ripping chain (vs a proper ripping chain from Granberg), it was much higher than that. That’s just to cut the slab out of the tree, and using a circular saw and table saw for the two sides is a predictable time if you’re familiar with the tools. Hope this is helpful!

      • Peter says

        Wow, up late! (I’m seeing a time stamp of 11:48 pm) Thanks for the reply! Yes very helpful. I am able to do the rest of the match for our situation here on the Eastern side. Looks like you have tons of resources for information now but, if there is ever anything I can inform you on just let me know. Congratulations on everything!

  2. Ronnie S. says

    Nice job to the both of you. I see you are sitting on a stack with the spacers in it for airflow. My question is how long do you plan on drying the wood before using it? I had read somewhere that it’s good to let it air dry for around 1 year per inch thickness of board. That sort of sounds like a long time.

    • Jesse says

      Great question Ronnie. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation floating around out there about whether wood should be dried before us, how long, what moisture content is ideal etc. I’ll make this comment short as we have a video and blog post planned to go into this in detail as it’s probably one of the most common questions people ask.

      We don’t put any emphasis on drying the wood. Once the log is slabbed we sticker the slabs, this keeps them from warping and allows airflow. Depending on weather you’ll get some atmospheric drying. Warmer days can dry a lot, colder less so. Getting the wood from tree to installation quickly actually reduces the potential for many of the problems people fear such as warping, twisting and crowning. Drying wood too fast causes checking, so keeping it tarped and cutting on cool days is ideal. Keep direct sunlight to a minimum.

      As for shrinkage this should always be expected and be part of the design. Though the shrinkage is not severe by any means. For example we left all boards at 8’2+ long. This will allow for linear shrinkage. All boards were installed tight to each other allowing for cross shrinkage.

      Probably the most common misconception is that drying prevents a lot of things. In fact drying causes most of the problems you know about. A green board is rarely warped, twisted or checked. It’s the drying that causes these things. I always say, if you think dried lumber doesn’t have problems, go to Home Depot and look at their dried lumber. It’s like a pile of noodles.

      The reasons we dry LUMBER (this is key) are very simple and this isn’t exhaustive, but the nuts and bolts.

      1) Shipping. Yes most wood now is shipped hundreds of miles. Water is heavy. We want the max lumber on a truck so we dry it.

      2) Interior walls. Moisture inside a wall isn’t ideal. Dry wood is best for framing. Less potential for mildew or mold growth.

      3) Appearance. Green wood can have some fungal growth which makes it look ugly. It’s fine, but people don’t want to buy wood covered in fungus. If you’ve ever been to a sawmill with a lot of green lumber or veneer, the wood is covered in fungus. It’s pretty to look at, but uneducated consumers thing it’s gross.

      RE: Timber framing. Truth is very few timber frames are ever dried before building. Dry wood is impossible to work properly with a chisel. Also when timberframing was the go-to method for construction, few people had 2-3 years to wait for a log to dry prior to making beams and building. They built with green wood. They had to. There is a way to make every single joint in timberframing to allow for building green. It is often more complicated, but by no means impossible.

      Ironically one of the biggest risks with timberframing is that you force the beams to dry too fast. For example you move into your new home, fire up the wood stove and cook the beams. This will exaggerate all the ill effects of drying. Therefore it’s recommended not to heat your home with a timberframe too much during the first year to allow for slower drying reducing the checking, twisting etc.

      I’m sure you’re well informed on the subject, but perhaps there’s something here that was new info for you. We’re planning on going more in depth on this soon as it seems to be one of the mass mis-information pieces that keeps a lot of people from taking action.

      • Ronnie S. says

        Thank you for the reply. I’m not informed on this at all, and I find it all really interesting. Looking forward to more videos from you both!

      • Eric says

        Jesse,
        Your post here (March 22, 2016 at 2:13 pm) is a real gem for sure regarding processing timber. Such great information!!! I’m not homesteading but am looking how to turn timber on my property to usable lumber and I stumbled upon your site referencing the Granberb. It looks like a great mill and good for what I’m looking to do. I’m also very intrigued by your site and what you and Alyssa have done….doing….Bravo! it looks incredible, fun, and rewarding, but a lot of work I’m sure. Keep it up. I look forward to perusing your site more. Thanks. Eric.

  3. Dustin Horn says

    I had 3 trees (hard maple, mulberry, Blk Locust) milled and kiln dried for about $200 and acquired ~200 board feet of 5/4 Lumber. You need special tools to do this kind of work. If you are going to do a bunch of Trees it is best to have the mill come to you.
    Moving around 500-1000# Trunks is no easy task, but a Bobcat makes quick easy work of it.
    Helping man the Woodmizer saw is fun. You get to see your new lumber come out of a tree trunk. To get this wood to furniture grade (not timber frame) you need special tools like Lg belt sanders, planers or band saws, table saw, router, jointer, band saw…You get the idea $$$.

    You could put a barrel style sauna under that deck with not a lot of work. I’m sure you have the capability to mill the lumber.

    • Jesse says

      Nice Dustin! I imagine the satisfaction of helping the Woodmizer is awesome. My dad always says “Speed cost money, how fast do you want to go?”. Our forefathers did this work with a team of horses. It wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t expensive either. Not being in a hurry makes things much cheaper and much more satisfying. As much as we all complain the millennials want everything now, now, now. It’s really a characteristic of modern society. We’re always on the lookout for tools and we’re blessed to have many hand-me-downs from my father and grandfather. It’s helping ease the tooling cost. One can never have too many tools!

  4. Eliza says

    You are a great teaching team that has accomplished a great deal in the short time that you have been homesteaders. To all of us homesteader wannabees, you are a great inspiration. You both have great stamina and determination. We are enjoying your videos because it looks as though you are having a great time while you are building your future together. I watched the video twice. The second time I saw the deer way in the background toward the very end of the video. It was in the woods above Alyssa’s head.

    Take care and be careful.
    Eliza

    • Jesse says

      Thank you for the kind words Eliza! We find it truly amazing what we are able to accomplish once we gained control over our time and energy. We still work 12-16 hours a day, but it’s all our time. We don’t work for anyone else and it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you work on your own stuff. Nice eye on the deer. We didn’t even see it till everyone pointed it out! Haha!

  5. Greg Smith says

    Great job on the deck. Are you worried about any wood shrinkage or did the wood dry enough over the winter? I love following you guys as I hope to start my homestead journey this fall. I really liked the deer in the back ground (7:07), he came out right on que. Keep up the good work.

  6. says

    I’m glad to see you got through the winter ok, and hope you both have a great spring and summer season and get heaps done. Do you have to treat your timber with anything to stop rot and insect invasion?

    • Jesse says

      With the lumber we won’t be treating it until it has time to dry a bit. It’s green now so within a month or so, before summer arrives, we should be able to get some oil on it. For the beams and timbers we’ll be using bee’s wax to seal the ends and oil to protect the wood.

  7. says

    Just a quick feedback. I use a draw blade (like a knife with 2 handles) to clean the bark from the trees. It’s a dedicated tool :)

    Regards,
    Len

  8. Kelsie says

    What a cool post! I started following your blog because my fiance I have been considering taking the steps to create a homestead (although we probably won’t try for completely off grid, just very efficient) and I love how informative and realistic that your posts are! Thank you!

    • says

      Glad you found our blog Kelsie! I don’t think homesteading and self-sufficiency has to be an all or nothing type of thing, but it’s simply about making baby steps towards your goals and doing what you’re comfortable with. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Best of luck to you and your fiance, and feel free to get involved in the conversation on our Facebook page if you don’t follow it already!

  9. Reuben (Sydney Australia) says

    Hi Guys.

    I’m a newbie to your blog so I have some catching up to do. A simple question, why did you decide to build a hot tub and deck for same before you started on building your house?

    Reuben
    Sydney Australia

    • says

      Great question! We are planning on doing an elaborate video and post on this subject as many have the same question. Hope to share some good insight on what seems to be a mix-up of priorities. Stay tuned!

  10. Ty Tower says

    The Granberg alaskan has most nuts of the joiner/extender type but nothing joins to them . Any idea what they are used for ?

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