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Milling your own

The article in the current issue on milling your own lumber rang the bell for me. It might not be practical to think about milling wood for a kitchen's worth of cabinets, but it is amazingly satisfying to build from wood you have taken from tree to finished product.

I have done this on several occasions. Around here, there are a lot of walnut trees and oaks. Most of the oaks are California black oak which is not the prettiest wood but can have lots of character. The walnut can be beautiful.

I know a couple of guys who cut and mill local walnut using a chainsaw or portable band saw mill. Some of this stuff is spectacular. I am especially fond of orchard trees which are never allowed to get too big and don't yield a lot of lumber. But most of these trees are grafted and the graft is always at the bottom of the tree where it has the largest diameter. Wood cut from these areas can have some amazing figure.

Some years back, a friend of mine was cutting walnut and I went along to lend a hand. He had located a couple of pretty large trees that were being taken out for a road widening project. The largest trunk was about three feet in diameter and we cut the trunks into inch and a half thick slabs. These were stacked and stickered in his garage and air dried for two years. Then the fun started!

I made several pieces of furniture from this wood and the stuff was gorgeous. I had crotch pieces with huge feathers to work with and these were resawn and book matched. The plainer pieces were used for frames. All in all, the satisfaction of working with wood that I had harvested myself was way beyond what I usually expect.


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Can it pay to mill your own lumber?

They trickle through the mail every few months: glossy brochures for portable saw mills that leave a woodworker wondering. Ironically, the appeal of harvesting one’s own lumber has little to do with economics.