One of the benefits of living on the western most edge of the Eastern Deciduous Forest is an abundance of hardwood trees both in town and in the country. At any given time, it seems someone nearby has a Walnut or Oak that needs to come down or has fallen over in a storm and often times these beautiful trees get cut up for firewood or worse, sent to the chipper. And that in part is what motivated my good friend and I to invest in an Alaskan chain saw mill recently. We also are fortunate to have access to a number of fallen trees on some river bottom land on his acreage.
We had to preorder it as each bar and ripping chain are manufactured on demand due to their size. It took about 5 weeks to arrive. We went with the 36″ bar which gives us an effective cutting width of 34″. The bar itself is closer to 40″ and is double ended but with the mill cage, the workable length is significantly reduced. Nonetheless, the size of the bar is almost comical and gives one pause about what you’ve really gotten yourself into.
Once we got the mill assembled and the bar and chain attached and tensioned, we went for a walk on the land to locate a suitable first candidate for the trial run. We came across a large Red Elm that had fallen some time ago and most of the cork and cork cambium were gone with a little rot in the secondary cambium. To get the trunk to a manageable length we needed to cut about two feet off one end and this would tell us if the rot went much further.
Once we got through, it was clear that the trunk was still in really good shape so we set up our slabbing bracket to get the first cut. But before we could do that we needed to roll the log out to an area we could work in and also to get the optimum slab width on the trunk. This is where the lever and fulcrum are your friend. It felt a little bit like building the pyramids, but after about half an hour of levering and fulcruming we were ready to go. We used two 2×4’s that were as straight and level as we could find and attached them to two metal cross brackets that we then leveled from front to back and side to side and nailed in to the trunk.
Since there were only two of us and running the mill is a two person job, I don’t have any photos of the mill in action but here’s few pics of the process. This image shows the trunk after we pulled the first cut off. After that, as long as you make a nice flat cut, the tree itself is the guide for the mill and all you have to do is determine the thickness of the slabs (we went with 8/4 for the duration).
By the time we had 6 slabs cut we were losing daylight so had to call it a day. Here’s Johnny (and Lily) taking a break on what we have left. We should get about 3 more slabs before we hit the bottom. The trunk is just over 7′ long and 32″ wide at the widest part.
We had to close up shop for the night so we did a quick hack job of stickering and piling but we’ll get back to it and finish slabbing out the rest and coating the ends so it doesn’t dry out and check/crack unnecessarily. Then in 18 months we’ll have some slabs to work with…