Sunday, January 2, 2011

Finding Wood for Woodworking projects

A Different source for lumber and wood crafting

Many, if not most, people think that wood comes from the great wooded areas. Logged by loggers, and carted to hugh sawmills then distributed to retail lumber-yards or big box stores. While this is true for most construction lumber, much of the lumber used in production furniture, and most all of the products sold in sheets like plywood. There are small producers with private woodlots that cut, mill and kiln-dry hardwood for hobby and small furniture makers scattered about, but for the most part only woodworkers really search for these sources of wood and they can be rather expensive. There is however an alternate source - one which we use - and it is nearby to most of us. The roadsides, back yards, and farms all have trees (many are hardwoods) that for whatever reason are not wanted where they are, some may be vitims of desease or insects. Some are just not in the place where they should be, or have outgrown the place they are in. Getting this wood home to use involves some simple techniques and a couple of pieces of special equipment. Though depending on what you plan on making you may not need all of them.

The first step is to identify where it is OK to get this wood from. Public Rights of way, the edges of roads and navigable waters, and in certain places public state woodlands and etc. are the primary sources. To determine which are leagally OK to pick from in your area talk to your Natrual Resources department or state park employees and local ordinance enforcement or the road crews themselves if you are lucky enough to spot them doing easement clearing in your area. We also offer services to land-owners to remove unwanted, dangerous, or dying trees. Part of the service involves milling the wood or removing it for the customer....this is certainly a great source of "found wood".

OK, you have a tree or two laying on the ground - now what?

To get the wood home your going to need a way to either move it as is, or make it small enough to move it by what ever means you have. This brings us to our first and likely the most required piece of equipment. A really good chain-saw. Many homeowners have, and might even have used, a small chainsaw in the 20-40 cc engine size with a 12-18" in long bar and chain combo. While this might work for getting a few blocks or bits for is not likely going to keep you in the game for getting larger thicker trees carved up for moving, and will not provide you the ability to run our next tool - the mill. We have several chain-saws in the 50-100 cc range. These will run bar/chains of 22-48" and will also power the mill for making slabs and lumber. I will add that if you have very little experiance running chainsaws this is the time to seek some advice and do a little reading. These larger pro-grade saws possess the power to do serious cutting.....wood or you, and they have no particular feelings in regard to not cutting you. Kick-back and other dangers are magnified by the power of these saws. Read - get aquainted with the correct usage and safety equipment before you start using any power equipment. We use Stihl, Efco, and Poulan Pro saws.

To move and mill larger pieces you will need a couple of other things. There are many flavors of portable sawmill from hand carried minimalist rigs, to full on trailer mounted gas powered monster rigs that load the log using hydrolic lifting arms and log tuning equipment. Logistics may not mean much to you at this point - but they will when you are standing 50 feet away from your truck, and the log you are looking at is larger then anything you can lift. Choose your tools based on the production quantity that you will actually foresee using. The larger production mills will require the addition of support equipment to get those logs to the lifters on the side of the trailer. The smaller mills require much greater manual labor to set-up and use, but offer the ability to take the equipment to the log. Mill information is available from Granberg International, Logosol, and for larger mills.. Woodmizer, and Norwood as well as a host of others have sites where you can see the equipment in use and compare as well as learn about milling.

You will also need a trailer to bring home the logs -chunks - or slabs of timber you have cut. This is personal preference but the trailer needs to be at minimum long enough to carry your longest anticipated length safely.

We go with a lighter approach because huge production is not as important to us as getting the perfect log, and not doing damage a home owners lawn while assisting with tree removal. A portable mill that has a rather substantial rig to maintain a flat and consistant slab, large saw motors to power the milling bar are essential as pulling a 48 in bar chain takes a little horse power. I use an minimum of 87 cc (7 Hp) power head for this purpose. I learned the hard way that the saw will need to be run rich as milling requires longer periods of high RPM and will heat up and kill a saw that is running lean. (Most newer saws are set a little lean from the factory per EPA regulations). You will only need to seize the piston in the head once to learn this. The total weight of the milling rig is around #50 lbs. I can easily carry the rig myself to as far from the trailer as is necessary to get to the log and leave nothing but footprints behind. The lumber is much easier to move back to the trailer then large logs, and requires less investment in support equipment to move. There are few trees that are large enough to exceed our maximum cutting width of 36 inches and those that do can be trimmed with the standard bar and chain to fit.

To get it all home I have a 16ft landscape trailer with a few custom modifications. A cutting platform (check my bio page - my son and I are milling on top of the platform) was constructed on one side of the trailer. It is removable and can be transported to a cutting location remote from the trailer. A large truck tool box was added to the front of the trailer to keep all of the tools necessary to support the saws, sharpen chain, and repair or build things we might need. On occasion we find whole trunks that have blown over or been felled by the county road crews as a safety precaution. The logs need to be collected quickly (sometimes requiring blocking traffic) so there is a battery powered 4000 lb winch mounted on the trailer. We pay out the winch line to rope secured to the tree trunk and pull the entire log abord the trailer.

There are a lot more concerns to making use of this currently highly under-utilized wood resource. I will cover some of these in a later posting. If you have questions, or want to see things made from the wood we have "found" please see our store at

The contact artisan link will allow us to communicate by e-mail.

A trestle bench made from "found wood" Oak

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