There are few things in woodworking that I enjoy more than milling wood ... every new cut is like opening a Birthday Present because you just never know what is going to be inside. I even remember the first time I was part of our Woodworking Guild - Milling Crew, and what it was like to watch the saw come through the log and slice off a plank, which we then had to take over to the stacking and drying pile, and what a joy it was to turn over that log to see what the grain looked like inside.

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For me, this process never gets old, and when I talk to many people who have their own mills, they experience the same thoughts when they are milling wood, especially when they get logs that appear on the outside to be something special ... sometimes they are figured or spalted wood, other times they are just regular, good quality wood. 

Some time ago I was lucky enough to pick up a few short logs of spalted alder. The first log I cut, I found it hard to manage slicing on my bandsaw so I cut it in half. This worked OK, the only problem I encountered was that being restricted to 24 inch long boards created a bit more waste than I like ... so this time, I have made up my own outfeed table for a different bandsaw and I am going to mill the full 4 feet on this 14 inch bandsaw. 

I decided the best way to get a flat bottom was to secure the log to a base, which in my case was a lumber year 2x6 - 5 feet long that I trimmed shorter. I made a couple of end pieces to secure the log to the 2x6 then drew a line with an aluminum edge that I have. 

The purpose was to give the log it's own flat bottom so I could dispense with using the 2x6, but in hindsight, the method I chose to draw the lines was somewhat problematic. The lines were not as straight as I thought they were which meant that when I free-hand cut them on the bandsaw the boards were not as straight as I expected. 

Milling wood

I used this same methodology for the first log, but toward the last cuts, I came up with a different idea for making the lines. Too bad I didn't think of this earlier, too bad for me, but others can learn from my mistake. 

For the second long, again I trimmed off the bottom of the log, but this time to mark that line with my felt pen, I used the top of my work bench and with my felt pen resting firmly on a small block of wood, I marked a line along the side of the log. When I flipped the log over to look at the line, ti was clearly straight.

How to make lumber

As I began cutting the second log on the bandsaw, I could see right away that my struggles in cutting the first log were all because my lines were not straight enough. That first cut on the first log convinced me that using my workbench top with the felt pen and small block of wood to mark the line was a much better way of marking logs and getting excellent results. 

Milling lumber

After cutting the bottom of the log flat and straight, I could take off the 2x6 and start milling the rest of the log after marking each board individually by using the work bench top as the guideline,  and the cuts on the second log were much, much improved, which means the wood will take less time to prepare and there will probably be a little bit less waste as well ..

Now comes the fun part of deciding what to do with these gorgeous Spalted Alder Boards ...

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Copyright Colin Knecht

Milling Wood Using a Bandsaw