Carpenter Nathan Gilbert’s loss is our gain. A large red oak tree on Nathan’s Christmas tree farm has crushed some of his trees. After cleaning up the branches of the crushed conifers, he’s left with large logs that he’d like to turn into a bar top. With the help of a friend, he mills the tree into usable slabs that will be perfect for Nathan and the crew to enjoy while having a beer.
Fallen trees can cause a lot of damage, but they can also be ripe for woodworking and carpentry projects. When carpenter Nathan Gilbert had a red oak tree fall on trees at his Christmas tree farm, he decided to take advantage of the windfall and make a bar top. Here’s what you need to know to do the same.
Note: Working with trees, chainsaws, and bandsaws can be dangerous. Anyone who isn’t comfortable or doesn’t understand the process of working with these large, heavy materials and tools should enlist the help of a pro.
Note: Remember to wear eye and ear protection, as well as work gloves, throughout the process. Avoid loose clothing, as well.
Clear the Limbs and Brush First
It’s important to start the process by clearing any limbs and brush that might be around the fallen tree. This can help ensure the DIYer has stable footing for working around the tree. Cut up any large branches for firewood with a chainsaw and chip the smaller brush.
Cut the Tree into Usable Logs
Use a chainsaw to cut the tree into usable logs. The portable chainsaw’s capacity will determine the maximum length that logs can be. Note: Always stand uphill when cutting logs to length.
Level the Sawmill
Use the built-in jacks to level the sawmill as much as possible. This will reduce flex in the frame and allow the blade to work as efficiently as possible.
Load the Log onto the Saw
Load the log onto the saw, pressed up against the “dogs,” or the guides that hold the log stable while cutting. Logs can be extremely heavy, so be sure to use a tractor or a group of friends to muscle the logs into place.
Adjust the Blade
Adjust the blade so that it will cut from one end of the log to the other regardless of the variances in the trunk’s thickness. The first pass establishes the topmost section of the first slab you’ll be milling, so it should reach from one end to the other to make the most of the log material.
Start the Saw and Water
Fire up the sawmill and turn on the water. The water lubricates the blade and prevents the tree’s sap and pitch from collecting on the blade. Begin milling by pushing the blade through the log.
Stand Behind the Blade as You Mill
Stand behind the blade as you push the saw through the log. If you’re behind the blade, it’s much less likely to hit you if it snaps.
Adjust the Height and Continue milling
Lower the height of the blade to the desired thickness of the slab. For 2-inch slabs, lower the blade height by 2 inches, for example. Cut through completely, separating the first slab.
Sticker the Slab
With the help of a friend, remove the slab and place it on a few boards that will support the weight of the entire log and keep it up off the ground. Place three sticks of equal thickness across the board, as well: one at each end and one in the middle. For longer slabs, use more sticks.
Continue milling the log and removing more slabs. As you near the center of the log, consider flipping it over so that the flat face of the log is now facing downward on the sawmill. Adjust the blade and repeat, removing slabs and placing them on sticks to allow air to flow.
Let the Wood Dry Out
Leave the wood stacked and stickered to dry. A rule of thumb is that each slab needs one year for each inch of thickness before it will be stable enough to use. For folks who aren’t that patient, a kiln is also a good option.
To mill the lumber for the bar top, Nathan meets with his buddy, Mike, who owns and operates a portable saw mill. Mike uses a portable bandsaw mill. Mike levels the mill by using jack legs on the trailer until it’s perfectly level.
When operating a saw mill, safety gear includes:
Nathan received expert assistance from Mike at Peregrine White Sawmill.