Monday, July 15, 2013

Last week at the saw mill...

Despite the presence of full-on summer climates, we spent a good portion of the past few weeks outside at our saw mill. We were finally able to make some room on the drying stacks by loading the kiln so, we finished making slabs of the beautiful logs Steve (the man in charge at Shreiner Tree Care) donated to us!

When it comes to milling here at Lohr Woodworking, some logs are easier to cut than others. Our band saw mill has it's size limitations so, for the narrower logs, the process is relatively quick and dirty. After rolling the logs onto the mill, we need to decide how we want the boards to be shaped along their live edges. In most cases, when we mill the logs ourselves, we have no intention of milling the edges to be straight; they will likely be left in their natural, live edge form so we want the shapes to be as interesting as possible.
After we position the log how it needs to lay to provide the most appealing and interesting live edge shaped boards, we use wedges (and in some cases a car jack) to hold it in place to can cut a flat face. Because it is far safer to cut the log with a flat surface sitting on the mill's base, once the flat face is cut, we flip the log over and cut the boards from the opposite side.

Here, I am cutting an 8-quarter slab. The band saw blade spins horizontally as we manually push it through the log. Even for a clearly incredibly muscular girl such as myself, pushing this mill is far from effortless.
Now, what happens when we find ourselves with a log whose diameter is longer than what our band saw mill can cut? Well, we break out the Alaskan chainsaw mill of course!

First, we need to halve the log so that we have the largest flat surface we can get for the straight cutting guide of the chainsaw mill to ride on. Before that flat surface exists though, we need to make an exterior flat surface in order to make a straight cut to halve the log. To do this, we attach a long straight, milled board to the top of the log. We attach it by leveling the board as it sits atop the log, then screw a small square of plywood to the ends of the log with it's edge flush with the level board. From there, we screw another small piece of wood to the plywood, make it flush to the level board as well, and screw through that piece into the level board. This way, the board is firmly held into a level and secure position as we use it to guide the chainsaw.
Then, out comes the Alaskan chainsaw. As I have written about before, this monster of a machine is composed of two chainsaw motors attached by a 6-ft long bar and chain. The straight cutting guide is an adjustable frame that allows the long bar to remain straight and level as it cuts through the log.

Here, you can see Jeff and Rob making the first cut to one of the logs. The guide rides flat along the level board we attached and as the cut is made, small wedges are pushed into the cut so that the weight of the upper portion of the log doesn't weigh too heavily on the chainsaw blade.
Eventually, the log is halved and we break out ol' Trixie the tractor to move the upper half. We place the half up on lifts so that we can easily get to the bottom when we need to lift and move it again.

This is one of the best parts of woodworking; being the first person to see the inside of a tree. The plant has spent years and years growing it's annual rings and keeping them sealed and hidden under it's newer layers and bark. When the half is lifted, the grain patterns and colors are revealed to the human eye for the first time.

From there, we use the large, freshly cut, flat surfaces as the level face for the chainsaw guide to ride on for the remaining slab cuts. The guide is easily adjusted to cut any board thickness we want.

And, by the end of last week, we have stacks of brand new live edge slabs! The slabs are temporarily stacked on saw horses with equally-sized sticks placed in between to prevent warping and allowing air to pass between the slabs so both sides can dry at the same pace.

In this photo, you can see the white, waxy substance applied to the ends and along the figure of the slabs. We use a coating called Anchorseal to seal the ends of the slabs to prevent checks from developing/growing through the drying process. The sealant also helps protect the interesting figure from any cracking or splitting it might do while the slabs dry.

Now, these slabs will find themselves on the drying stacks for a year per every inch of thickness. From there, they will make their way into the solar kiln for a couple more weeks. And, some day in the distant future, they will become part of some  one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture to carry on their legacy.

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