Welcome to Sawmill Nation

Andy and I have been wanting a sawmill for a number of years now. We had no way of justifying an expensive production model with hydraulics, so instead we focused on smaller home models. We looked at just about every brand, and eventually settled on a Woodland Mills. Rather, I had settled on a Woodland Mills. That was until recently, when a deal came up that was too good to pass.

DSC_9642A few years back Andy and I went to his friends place to help him and his Dad saw some lumber. Our friends father had purchased a Hud-Son Oscar 121, which had been purchased used from another guy who bought it and decided it was too much work. Andy jokingly said, “When he’s ready to sell it, have him give me a call.” We moved on, and continued to look around casually while renovating the house. We knew we were going to buy a sawmill this year, but we figured it would be this fall. That is, until we got a call recently saying our friends Dad was selling his mill – a mill that had been barely used.

With our anniversary just about a month away we pretty much looked at each other and knew we had to jump on it. My heart was still with the Woodland Mills, but I came around pretty quickly. We ended up getting the mill, extra track, and a box of new blades for about 1/2 of what everything would cost new. We wished each other a happy early anniversary, jumped in the truck with the dogs and picked it up.

It was just in time too, since our neighbor had a pile of logs out back him and Andy had cut and hauled out this winter.

DSC_9621It’s been fun getting the mill setup, and getting the feel for it. Andy and our neighbor have mostly been the ones using it, but I’ve been learning the ropes too.

DSC_9627We’ve been cutting a lot of 2×6, with some timbers and other various dimensional lumber mostly hackmatack, poplar and a scatter of pine and maple. I’d say overall we’re happy with the setup. The logs are cut nice and maintenance seems to be straightforward. We had an issue with a wave in one of the boards from the blade jumping but that had more to do with the figure of the grain and some pitch build up most likely. Like I said, this is a learning curve for everyone involved (me the most).

DSC_9635The log pile is almost decimated at this point, which means we’re looking forward to cutting the cedar Andy felled at his mom’s place a few weeks back. For now we’ll keep cutting up our neighbors lumber with him, and then at some point we’ll do some hackmatack up at the farm too for a lean-to off the barn. One of the reasons I love Maine, and particularly where I live, is that there is a strong sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.  A lot more gets done, and faster, when we’re all willing to step in with our resources to get it done.

DSC_9641I know this sounds a bit odd, but the truth is that our little homestead feels a bit more complete with Oscar here. We’ve been wanting a mill for so damn long that it feels like an accomplishment. We aren’t big spenders, we understand the worth of a dollar, and we have made sacrifices specifically so when something like this comes along  we’re able to buy it. That might seem rare in the age of keeping up with the Jones’s and instant gratification, but it’s a deeper feeling like no other to see a long term, hard worked for, item come true.

DSC_9662To both Andy and me it’s important to provide for ourselves. We live in a vastly interconnected world but we also think it’s important to be able to provide for ourselves in some ways. I’m not even close to totally self-reliant and I’m okay with that. We are in no way hardcore homesteaders, and don’t intend to be. In the case of the apocalypse, I am – in the famous words of Dido – going down with this ship. My self-sustaining goal is less dooms day zombie survival and more to have food in a snow storm, to decrease my grocery bill significantly in the summer, to enjoy the taste of summer in the winter with a can of homemade salsa, and to have lumber on hand (or the ability to cut it before we need it) for projects. It’s important for me to just do my part.

Overall, we’re happy. We know it’s not for everyone. I know I’m a bit of an odd duck in the world of marketing to women in that I don’t want diamonds for my anniversary. Last year we stumbled upon our long sought after Suburban a month before our anniversary. This year, it’s a sawmill. Next year? Who knows, but I bet it won’t be jewelry.



From Forest to Floor

I’ve mentioned before that in the past we’ve  sawed our own lumber, but I’ve never really walked through an entire project soup to nuts…er, cedar to lumber. Since we’re planning on building out our porch this summer I thought this was a great opportunity to show the entire process. This is a short post, but it’s the first of many about the porch (though proceeding posts about it may not be until later this summer).

DSC_9551Sustainable forestry is very important to us. Cutting just to cut is not something we do. It’s a very purposeful process, in both for the wood we need and being conscious of all the surrounding trees. Andy’s mom happened to have a thick cedar stand on her property which worked to our advantage. Not only do we need cedar for our decking, but it was also beneficial to free up some of the trees for the overall benefit of the cedar stand. While Andy chose the best trees, his mom tallied up the board feet.

DSC_9475DSC_9489Andy cut the logs into 8, 10, & 12 feet which we’ll be able to haul home on our trailer later this summer. The easiest way to measure everything out was simply to use his tape which is attached to his wedge pouch. Note: I am positive the technical term is not “wedge pouch” but it was better than calling it a “reverse wedge fanny pack” which sounds like “reverse wedgie” which while I have no idea what that would be but it sounds ultimately horrible.

DSC_9546Overall it was a very successful day, and we not only freed up some smaller trees but now also have enough board feet for our porch. Later this summer we’ll be winching it out of the woods, loading it on a trailer and bringing it home to saw on a sawmill.

DSC_9518As always the dogs were with us (and under my eagle eye watch). We can always count on them for cleanup with a smile.

DSC_9479 DSC_9482

So while we wait for the logs to dry I wanted to share some other news in equipment acquisition land—we 99% likely getting a sawmill very soon!

While it might not be entirely relatable, I have wanted a sawmill for a number of years now and the idea of finally getting one is absolutely thrilling to me. We have a lead on a great deal. While it’s not the original sawmill I wanted, I couldn’t be happier that we’ll finally have one and at an awesome price. I’m keeping my hopes in check, but crossing my fingers! I will be SURE to update when/if this happens!



I’m A Logger

Okay, maybe I’m not a logger persay.

But I was involved in a logging accident yesterday.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a logging accident persay.

But it was still an accident, involving logs.

I mean, it was more like a bump, but it could have been a bad accident.

It could have broken my leg.

But it didn’t. Probably because I drank so much milk as a kid. Turns out I’m so tough my legs can stop logs.

You’re probably giving me the same look Mr. A gave me when I announced I had been involved in a logging accident (of which he was right there for). It was something similar to an eyebrow raise slash smirk slash eye roll.

Let’s back it up for a moment to explain what the heck was going on.

The day was actually about using our friends sawmill because we’re buying a sawmill. This in and of itself is very exciting. And sawing the lumber comprised of 99.9% of the time we were there. Only about 15 seconds comprised of my leg being pinned. Do you watch AxMen? No? Well you should. It’s a good show and funny because every fall becomes some dramatic commercial / wait for the next episode issue – and then it ends up being a tiny scrape. It’s hilarious. Andy has informed me I should be on AxMen because I’d fit right in.

So let’s get back to the sawmill thing.

Andy and I have been looking at these things for a while. I use the “we” because we’re married and that makes us a “we”. What it really means is that Andy has been looking at sawmills and mentioning them for as long as I can remember. He’s also been telling me we should get one and I’ve been alternating between telling him to buy one today, and being skeptical of if we really need one.

These photos might not look like using a sawmill is all that exciting, but it is. You’ll just need to trust me on this one. I wish Mr.A got photos of me using it because I was like a kid in a candy shop with my allowance. Except I was a girl with a sawmill and lumber. It’s a very appropriate analogy. Again, just trust me on this one.

After this weekend, I’m totally on board pun intended—even though we’re likely going with a different sawmill than above.

Wait, so what do you look for when you buy a sawmill? Here are my two cents, I’m sure Andy would have different and/or more but these are mine:

  • Loadability/Useability: We really liked the sawmill above, but it was really hard to load logs without multiple people. Truth be told, there’s no way Andy could ever saw lumber on his own without having other guys around. It wrecked their backs. Part of the issue is that there are no log stops on one side you can roll against. The other loadability issue is that there was no spot for tractor forks under this one, so you had to choke the logs and then pull and place them onto the sawmill. Also, general useability. Are the blades easy to replace? Is there a good ruler built in so you can easily size your boards without having to constantly remeasure? Does it cut true? Is it portable or is it difficult to move once it’s down?
  • Log size: Depending on what size logs you plan on using, you’ll need to account for this. Different sawmills can take different size logs in both width and length. You’ll need to check to see if the sawmill can take logs as wide as you expect your logs to be, and as long. Also, check out the pricing on how much additional segments will be to accommodate longer logs (and if additional segments are even available).
  • Price: Sawmills go from cheap to expensive so you need to buy what you’ll actually use. We would love a sawmill with hydraulics, but we just can’t afford it—and it would beat the savings from sawing lumber ourselves. Other things would be to look at how much it costs to replace the blades—because you will go through them. How often are you going to have to fill the gas tank?
  • Color: Color is very important. Okay, I’m kidding. This isn’t important at all.

Those are the biggest points for me at least. I’m sure Andy has about 100 more of them, but through everything I’ve seen—I’d want one that Andy can use by himself, and one I could even use if he was winching logs out of the woods and lumber needed to be cut.

As far as using them, these things are fun. Here’s my 101 overview of how you use a sawmill (minus all the technical mumbo jumbo of the different ways you can saw a log for different grain views).

Step 1: Load your logs. If you’re driving, watch where everyone is at all times. If you’re choking the logs onto the tractor (in the case below) watch the driver at all times, and the logs you’re on. If you’re not doing either, stay the hell out of the way. I really am serious here – as much as I’m dramatizing in a joking manner that my leg was pinched, it’s no joke how easy it is to get hurt and I really am lucky my leg didn’t snap.

Step 2: Put the log on the sawmill – carefully.

Step 3: Brush the log off. This is pretty important or else you dull your blade pretty quick on dirt, and you might even get off tiny rocks from gravel which will really dull your blade.

Step 4: Cut. Typically for plain sawing, you take the debark it on all four sides, get the timber down to the sizing you want (for example 8″ or 10″, which is what we were cutting yesterday) and then saw to the width you want accounting for the blade size. This is what they taught me yesterday—if you want a 3/4 inch board (or 12/16) you need to actually cut at 13/16 because the blade is about 1/16 of an inch thick and you need to account for this.

Fractions come back pretty quick when you’re cutting lumber.

Step 5: After you cut, have your buddy grab the boards and stack them. Make sure to stack your lumber neatly and use stickers in between to keep the airflow going. It’s all about airflow to make sure you have proper drying.

The second reason is there’s something to be said for a nice lumber pile. Simply put Mainer’s judge you by how neat or messy your firewood piles and your lumber piles are. Obviously not all Mainer’s do, but those who use firewood themselves or saw lumber do. Nice lumber pile? You probably have your shit together and I could have a beer with you. Firewood in a messy pile? What are you doing?! Firewood not even cut, still in tree length in your driveway and it’s October? I’ll drive by with my mouth gaping open and saying “WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!”.

I have a firewood judgement problem. I’m working on it.

Step 6: Eat Italians for lunch. This has nothing to do with anything legitimately Italian and they are not Boston Italians. It’s a simple classic sandwich here in Maine best bought from a mom and pop store on the corner in some small town. I’ll post a recipe for these sometime. I’ll also remember to get a photo next time instead of wolfing it down like I haven’t eaten in 12 years

Step 7: Take a photo of your dogs in the truck.

Step 8: Give your dogs raw hides.

Step 9: Don’t get your leg pinched between two logs. Then hang out for a while. Then go in the truck to take a nap because you have a food coma and a throbbing leg. Wake up and take more photos of the boys sawing lumber. Oh, and what about all of that scrap? It gets used. Often it gets burned in wood stoves, or wood boilers, used for kindling, etc. Nothing goes to waste.

Step 10: Go home.

That is how you saw lumber at a friends house. Sort of. (That’s not his house in the background)

Oh, and by the way, Mother Nature was a day late on her April Fools joke this year. Now she’s just messing with Sasquatch. Which is me, in the morning. It’s April in New England so I truly expect nothing less. If we don’t get a snowstorm before May I’ll actually be surprised.

Now off to nurse my horrific logging injured leg. Pretty soon this story is going to morph into me having a wooden leg from a bear attack and running away from a 100 foot thousand pound log.

My grandkids will think I’m the best ever. I can’t wait to tell them how tough I am.



Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful—But The Logs Are So Delightful

I have to be entirely honest with you guys. If I told you I always knew what a sawmill was I would be lying. I’m into homsteading now, but at 18 I thought for sure I was going to be in finance in New York City. Ten years later I have made almond milk from scratch, and I have more pairs of boots than high heels.

Nope, that’s a lie. It might be a tie. (Update October 2013: It’s true. Most heels have made their way to The Salvation Army or Goodwill. I officially have a couple pairs of high-heels and significantly more pairs of boots of all sorts).

I still had no idea what a sawmill was until Andy came around, even then it was still a few years before I ever saw one in person.

Long story short we sawed lumber at Andy’s mom’s house years ago. By “we” I mean I stood and watched and liked it—more than I expected I would. We’ve stopped and watched the sawmill demonstration at the Fryeburg Fair every year too. Watching men at a sawmill demonstration is like watching a national geographic documentary on culture. It’s entirely fascinating and perplexing. I realize this is a generalization. My own husband has mentioned multiple times about getting a sawmill for our property. Normally this happens almost immediately after the sawmill demonstration. I have so far kept this from happening since we don’t really need one. (Update October 2013 – I must have been delusional while I was writing this, or I’ve drank the water, because I think I want a sawmill *more* than Andy at this point. For real. I’m even egging him on for a grapple and hydaulic cable logging winch for the tractor. I’m also voting for trading in our tractor for the next size up.)

I also am taking too much credit for it. If he really wanted one and found it for a good price he would buy it. I should mention I would totally be okay with it too.

Where was I going with this?

Oh right. For a few years now Andy and our neighbors have been thinning out the woods and piling logs behind our house in the corner of the hayfield. Most of the trees are Poplar and Pine (surprise, we live in Maine) but there were also a couple Fir and Hemlock too (I had to ask Andy what the other two were).

Our neighbor and his brother (the farmer) own the woods behind our house and told us if we got the logs sawed we could have the lumber for our addition. I can frame how Andy felt about it in this way: it would be like giving me butter and telling me if I make cookies with them I can eat them. Yes please.

So after we found out one of the Sawyers in town was busy all winter doing carpentry work, we got wind that one of the guys at our church (with an awesome old-timey mustache I someone managed not to get a photo of) had a sawmill. Andy talked to him on Sunday, he came out and looked at the lumber later that day and then a few days ago I woke up to Andy jumping out of bed like it was Christmas because somehow, in the distance, he heard Craig pull up with the sawmill and start it up.

He informed me this was a very big deal. I asked him if it needed a blog post well knowing the answer. He looked me in the eyes and said again that this was a very big deal and exciting. With that I put my boots on, rubbed my eyes at 7:30am, grabbed my camera and made my way out to where the sawmill was.

Despite what this photo looks like there’s actually something exciting about watching a log become a board you are going to build your home with. It feels like automatic progress.

You might wonder why we don’t just buy the lumber we need.

A.) Despite it being more work, it’s cheaper to pay the sawyer than to buy all of this lumber.

2.) It’s way more fun to do it this way.

18d.) It’s super interesting to watch a log that looks all meh on the outside and see how beautiful the grain is on the inside. It never really gets old. Except when I get cold. Then it gets old pretty fast when I can’t feel my nose anymore and I left my mittens in the house. (Update October 2013: No. It never gets old. It might get cold. You might have to go warm up. But the sawing itself never gets old. I want to smack myself for even saying it could get old.)

As for my boy—he’s in love.

It’s only the truth.

Happy Freezing Your Butt off To Take Photos For Your Husband Because You Love Him,