Selective sawing

One thing that is truly interesting about milling a piece of lumber on my saw mill, is this; “you never know what you will find when you open up the log”. I cut boards or beams or clapboards or shingles and as I load a log onto the mill to make the first cut, these things are just a few things running through my mind: What am I hoping to extract in lumber out of log? Which side (face) of the log has the highest quality? How straight is it? Where are the defects in the log that I need to consider? The first cut is an educated guess. The log once opened, reveals a story of its own.

Ash can be very surprising (and dangerous). For some reason ash has a lot of stress in it, because of the grain and the way that it grows. Think of a tree growing on the side of a hill and for its whole life the branches are growing up towards the sun, they are always growing against the way the tree wants to grow. So when you get the log to your mill, it has all that tension inside and it’s hard to tell how much tension is there. I was once sawing a 10 foot ash log and as I finished the first cut, the slab sprang away and came flying off the mill like shot from a gun!

I sawed through a horse shoe that must have been hung on a branch 40 years earlier. I wonder what the story was? I have sawn through many nails and spikes, colonies of ants, squirrel nests, and once a bunch of baby mice came running out of a hole I opened up!

Today I was sawing Balsam Fur for Bob Love of Walden. He has around one hundred 10ft logs that he needs sawed for a house project. They all need to be sawn on just one side, around 3 1/2″ thick, though bigger on some, and no scuffing if possible. He plans on peeling them, letting them dry some, then attaching them to the inside walls and ceiling of his house. They will all be exposed, and need to look as natural as possible.

We decided that it would be best if he were there while I was sawing. Good idea! Each log we put on the mill, he would turn, and turn again, until he had just the look, bend and size he wanted. He would signal to me with his fingers the desired dimensions, 3,4,or 5 fingers (inches), sometimes adding a half inch to those. He could see, in his mind’s eye, just the look he wanted in each of the logs we sawed. Something that was not possible for me to see.

Bob kept describing the intricate details of the renovation project he needs these logs for. It’s for his own house, for the half that used to be a rec room. He’s very particular. It sounds like the house is going to have to go together like a puzzle, with everything made before just right and then everything will slide together in the perfect order. The house is a timber frame and Bob says he knows that only another carpenter could tell that he used joinery with precision notches that fit the collar ties perfectly inside. I’ve been in his house; I didn’t notice, but I don’t have his eye, or much finish building experience. The sawing I have to do for him next Friday is even more intricate.

Each log can tell a different story. Each sawing job is a different story. You never know what you are going to get when you open them up.


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