DIY cutting a downed tree into boards?

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Forum topic by dpoisson posted 08-02-2010 05:21 AM 11150 views 0 times favorited 43 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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190 posts in 3889 days

08-02-2010 05:21 AM

Topic tags/keywords: milling

howdy! I was taking a stroll with my little boy the other day and noticed a sort of “wood dump” near where I live. It’s on public land, but it was used to access the town’s old water reserve, so there are concrete blocks blocking the gravel road. A lot of normal sized trees have been sent there after being cut, however I noticed one that was HUGE and that it didn’t seem to have any rot in the middle. It was about 2ft (maybe a tad more even) wide at it’s widest. Now, it’s in 2 sections: One that’s about 5-6’ long and another one that has to be at least 10-12 long. I thought it was quite the find!

However, there’s the problem of getting it out of there! I could get a trailer to within about 100ft of where the pieces are. The road to get to the wood trunks is rather nice, but there’s a part where the road is blocked to vehicles with concrete blocks. I could get a wheel barrel or something of the sort in, but I couldn’t get my car/trailer to the wood. If there was a way to cut the wood nicely with a chainsaw (which I already have), then I could potentially get each board out one by one…which would be much less heavy. But, the potential to screw it up would be quite big. I was thinking of doing thick boards (like 3” thick) and planning them to 2” eventually and making a kitchen table with the wood (I don’t even know which essence it is!). If I really do it with the chainsaw, I’d mark the cuts on both sides with chalk lines and have a “spotter” on the other side of the log to guide me. I’m guessing there would be a bit of chain oil on the wood after the cutting, which isn’t a good thing and which is why I’d want to bring it out and have it cut at a place that does this kind of stuff (a mill, right?).

So, how would one go about getting those pieces out: Safely and cheaply?

Cheers for your comments!



43 replies so far

View Ole's profile


67 posts in 4051 days

#1 posted 08-02-2010 05:56 AM

Try searching online for chainsaw mills . I believe they are called alaska mills or something like that. Seems like it would be somewhat of an investment though. Good luck and keep us updated!

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3855 days

#2 posted 08-02-2010 06:50 AM

Cutting a trunk that size with a chainsaw sounds like a very soar back and arms. I have seen some homemade jigs that you cut put your chain saw on and cut through trunks like that. Even then you would probably need a really good saw with a long enough blade. You would probably have to sharpen the blade on site as well. I personally wouldn’t even try unless it was a really valuable wood.

Your best bet would probably be calling around to the lumber yards and or mills that are within your area. Ask them if they have or know anyone with a bandsaw mill. I did this a while back and after a lot of calls I finally had a lumber yard that knew someone with one. Its a portable mill and they can come out and cut it on site. With what you said about the road being blocked I don’t know how far back they could get. Also don’t know how far the trunk is from the blocked road. The guys I have seen with a portable mill usually charge so much per hour. To cut up one trunk like that it shouldn’t take them that long at all. The price would be far worth it compared to doing yourself with chainsaw.

As far as having to move the trunk, wedge it up onto some smaller straight logs and roll it to where you need to…. Kind of makes you wonder how they built the pyramids..

Good luck!

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20048 posts in 4650 days

#3 posted 08-02-2010 06:54 AM

I do it just like you describe. Cut the pieces 2” thick. They aren’t prefect, but as long as you have a good sharp chain that cuts straight, it is pretty easy to slab up pieces that are 3 to 6 feet long. I split the log as close as I can down the pith; quarter it, then quater saw the boards. You have to get the pith out or on an edge, the wood wil split there if you don’t. I just finished “milling” some spalted cherry about 3 hours ago :-) I’ll post some pictures on of these days.

BTW, I find it easiest to cut straight standing the log on end. I use a brace or two to hold it up. Cut off the end of one of my 16d brace nails today:-(( Suprisingly, didn’t hurt the chain much, but I touched it up with a file anyway. Could only see damage on 3 teeth. :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20048 posts in 4650 days

#4 posted 08-02-2010 07:05 AM

BTW, I found chalk lines to not be very durable. I now go over them with a black marker or mostly just lay teh 2” blade of my framing square on the edge and mark it. I make a mark on the end to get strated square. It is really easier than I thought it would be.

I use a marker called Ideal Marks A Lot. It is full of ink and renews when you press the tip. Probably fiind them in industrial suipply houses, not teh office store ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4049 days

#5 posted 08-02-2010 02:28 PM

I have no good advise to offer but I have a question. I always think of chainsaws doing a cross cut. I would expect the teeth on the chain are designed primarily for cross cuts.

Do they cut equally well on a rip cut or do you switch to a different chain?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20048 posts in 4650 days

#6 posted 08-02-2010 02:51 PM

I have just started doing this. Sharp new chain cuts really well for a little while in green maple. After slabbing half a 24 inch log 10 feet long, all of a sudden you can feel a great difference. There have been discussion on another thread here telling me that is normal but I don’t have the source right off the top of my head. You could probably search it.

Today, I was ripping some seasoned cherry, it cut very well. Never noticed any difference even when I cut into the dirt and hit a piece of gravel going a bit too low once. Shortly after that, I cut off the end of one of 16d nails holding my brace to keep it vertical. I stopped and touched up the chain, You need to be very careful filing chains to not change the angles. They will cut circles doing cross cuts if they are off very much; I have seen that :-(( I can’t imagine how bad it would get ripping logs.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View tnwood's profile


270 posts in 4061 days

#7 posted 08-02-2010 02:54 PM

A chainsaw mill in itself is not very expensive but then you need a chainsaw and it has to be a fairly powerful one so several hundred dollars and then you need ripping chain, etc. While this is a task worth doing, given the difficulty of getting to the log and getting it out, you are probably better off buying wood unless you want to make a hobby of this. By the way, I started this way also and ended up with several thousand dollars in equipment. It was great fun and took up all my spare time. Just think it through all the way first.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20048 posts in 4650 days

#8 posted 08-02-2010 03:08 PM

I should say I am not planning on doing this on a large scale. I am a curious little devil and have to try everything including making lumber:-)) The boards are not anything like cut with a mill. When stickering, you need to have a few shims handy to keep you pile as square and supported as possible; other wise, I anticipate that it will introduce a lot of stressing into the stack. They are pretty good, but not perfectly flat. There is going to be some of loss getting one side flat. It is flatter than I would start to flatten with a hatchet; maybe an adze would be appropriate for some of it and some can be started with a plane.

Using tools you already have for inaccessible finds, go for it! Nothing to loose except a little time and some gas and oil. I don’t worry about any bar oil, because it will be planed away long before I reach usable wood:-))

You might try riving to get it ripped. I tried that on a maple log, but it twisted about 90 degrees in the length of 8 or 10 foot log.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 4880 days

#9 posted 08-02-2010 03:11 PM

They got there somehow. If I understand the situation it’s just like the dump pile at my citys water treatment plant…slip a city guy a 12 pack and he will load them on your trailer with whatever equipment put them there in the first place (city backhoe in my case). Then take the logs to a local mill. Much less work/more lumber for pennies a bft.

I highly doubt for insurance purposes you would be allowed to “mill ” on site with a chainsaw.

View dpoisson's profile


190 posts in 3889 days

#10 posted 08-02-2010 04:47 PM

Wow guys! Thanks for all the replies. I’ll try to reply to everyone in a single post…

Unfortuntaly, an investment at this point is out of the question (well, I wouldn’t mind dishing out a few hundred dollars for a husky chainsaw, I doubt the missus will agree ;-). FYI, my chainsaw is a craftsman 16” that my grand-father gave me…not exactly forestry oriented gear alas. So, I would have to do 2 cuts for each slab (one of left side and another on right side). I had planned on having several shims handy as well.

Daren, there’s no one on site to buy beer to….so that wouldn’t work unfortunately. BUT, there is a lot of construction going on near there (a fresh new phase of our development is starting right near where the concrete blocks are), I could probably offer a couple of $$ to the next guy that comes around that digs the foundation for a house and ask if he could move a concrete block.

They’re forecasting rain for the next day or two, but I’ll try to get a couple of pictures of the tree so you guys can help me ID the tree. If it’s a pine, I’ll probably have other uses for it than a kitchen table. But if it’s maple or something similar…then it’s another story.

Survivor, what’s riving exactly?

Dcase, I think I’m going to try going for that route…get a bunch of friends in and try to roll it out! Not exactly sure how we,re going to lift it up into the trailer though, but I have a couple of ideas…




View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3933 days

#11 posted 08-02-2010 06:14 PM

Generally speaking, cutting a log along it’s length is best done with a chain ground to around 5 degrees, not the standard 25-30 degrees that they start out at for general cutting; this angle change reduced vibration and flat out shake while you cut. My partner and I use a 2×6 guide type guide, I pull the saw with a boat winch attached to the far end of the 2×6 and he holds the saw straight. It works well; we quartered a 5’ maple tree with it to allow us to load it into our trailer. There is alot of trial and error involved; a one time project as you mention is much easier said that done. You need a powerful chainsaw, a 16 incher will not do; find one with at least a 30” bar and the engine to push the chain accordingly. You can probably rent one. If you go after it, remember one thing: a log is rediculously heavy! The wood holds as much weight in water as the wood itself. It is great you are trying to save that piece from rotting, I would recommend snooping around for some help. You could build a sled to drag the log over the top of the concrete blocks. A cable/chain and pick-up can do alot of work. Someone with a small boom truck could be a good friend to find. But before you do, I would recommend getting ahold of the land owner (county, whatever) and making sure it is okay! They get awfully mad at people doing this kind of thing without permission, even if it is “trash”. They may have a date where they will move the blocks, making it easy to nab them. I have also found that counties often sublet these types of things to local contractors, allowing them to keep whatever wood they remove in whatever task they are performing; taking the log may well be theft. Be careful, and good luck!

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View dpoisson's profile


190 posts in 3889 days

#12 posted 08-02-2010 06:20 PM

Nomad, I hadn’t thought of it this way, but now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right! I just simply thought it was a dump, but there could be more to the story.

I’ll give the land owner near by a call, if it’s not theirs, they might be able to tell me who owns the land there.




View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3936 days

#13 posted 08-02-2010 07:02 PM

Make sure that you tell the sawyer the sizes of the logs. I called a guy that had a Woodmizer bandsaw set-up but said that the logs had to be 6 ft. long. Have to find another place.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7911 posts in 3889 days

#14 posted 08-02-2010 08:12 PM

sniff,... sniff, sniff, sniff… What’s that smell? Trespassers will be shot.

”Sort of a wood dump” Huh? Not sure what that means.

”On public land” Is there a sign that states this? If not, do not “assume” that it is just ‘cause you’ve ”strolled” on it several times in the past.

If you know the City owns it, contact the City.
If you know the County owns it, contact the County.
If you know the State owns it, contact the State.
If you know the Fed owns it, contact the Fed.

Problem solved, contact one of the four entities above for LEGAL permission to remove the lumber. The concrete blocks are their for people who would just stroll in and take things that are NOT theirs to take.

Yep, contacting the actual land owner sounds like a very good idea.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20048 posts in 4650 days

#15 posted 08-02-2010 08:39 PM

Dumps are obvious:-)) All the timber companies here in Water World locked up their land about 25-30 years ago because of the yuppies in their new Jananese SUVs couldn’t afford dump fees ceased the opportunity to use the land as a surban toilet :-((

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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