It’s slaburday!

Here are my tips for making your own fancy kindling blanks. Remember – nobody has nicer firewood than woodworkers!

In the year of the covid pandemic, I felled a huge oak which now is a pile of fancy firewood blanks. I’ve gathered a lot of tips and tricks over the years. Some turned out to be utter hogwash, others proved to be pearls of wisdom. Did you know you should cut your materials on a waxing (growing) moon to prevent splitting? As it turned out, I cut most of my oak on a growing moon, and it still splits. But not more that the planks I cut when the moon was waning (shrinking). So much for that theory. This proves one important point: be critical to the information you gather. Be critical to what you are about to read, although I give you my word that the following info is as unbiased and accurate as possible. This info is gathered from lots of sources and most of it is based upon my own experience.

Elm planks. Smells funny, looks stunning!

Just remember that I place my planes sole down! Like a savage…

Here’s an image showing the three different cuts you can get from a log, and how the grain looks in oak (summer oak or english oak):

Quartersawn oak to the left (flecking), flat sawn to the right (cathedrals). Rift sawn diagonally (straight grain on all sides).

Making your own materials – tips and tricks:

  1. Preparation:
    • Choose a well ventilated area. If placed outside, orient the long side of the stack perpendicular to the predominant wind direction in the area. Airflow should be considered in every step.
    • Consider placing some cover on the ground under the stack. Thick plastic is a good choice, as it stops moisture from evaporating from the ground into your stack – and it prevents anything from growing. No need to mow under the stack…
    • The stack must be elevated at least 15cm/6” off the ground (cinder blocks goes a long way), or 4” above a floor. This is to ensure good air flow through the stack and to reduce moisture from the ground affecting the bottom layer(s). Also makes it easy to remove weeds and plants if you stack on soil.
    • I recommend building a “ladder” from 2×6” or similar. Each “step” (rung) should be 35-50cm apart. The rungs are load bearing, not the rails. Make sure the rungs are well supported, level and in plane. If the foundation of the stack is twisted and bowed, so will the boards be.
    • You need some sort of plan to add weight to the top of the stack. Maybe another “ladder” on top and straps could be an idea. If you are going to use straps, make preparations before you have a Mikado-stack on top of the frame…
    • If you place the stack outside, a 1-2 degree tilt in both Y and Z axis (X axis is vertical) will help shed any water from the boards.
Shiiiiny – and the weapon of choice for slabbing!
  1. Cutting planks
    • You need to seal off the ends of the boards. I recommend doing this BEFORE you cut any boards! This will save a lot of time. Glue or paint works well, and there are products available as well. It could be a good idea to paint the boards 10cm in from the ends as well, but the end grain is the most important.
    • Trim the logs to even length or at least square off the ends before cutting planks. If the end is cut severely out of square, you might want to cut the boards first to preserve length. This is not necessary, but it makes for an easier job and a neater stack. At some point you’ll need to square the ends of the boards anyway.
    • The pith shall be your sworn enemy! Get rid of it. That center thingy of the log is almost guaranteed to make the board split. Should you get one board with the pith running through it, you can get around the problem by splitting the board along the pith. This will yield to quarter-sawn boards. Which is nice!
    • Decide which kind of material you want. There are three types of “cuts:
      1. Rift sawn: the annual rings stands 30-60 degrees to the surface, with 45 being ideal. Produces material with nice and linear grain pattern with no flecking. Dimensionally very stable and will stay straight. The most wasteful way to cut a tree into lumber, but in combination with quartersawn you can get very good yields. Requires a lot of log tumblin’ – you will have to work for each and every board. Good for fine furniture, so the value of the boards will be very high.
      2. Quarter sawn: The most stable material dimensionally, ideal to work with. Quarter sawn lumber exhibits almost no cupping, twisting and/or warping.
        In white and red oak true quartersawn wood might exhibit wild ray flecking. Other sought after quarter sawn species is maple, cherry, walnut and birch.
        To get quartersawn material, be prepared to flip your log a LOT! The method gets the name from sawing the logs into 4 pieces – quartering the log. You cut a plank, flip the piece, cut, flip, cut, flip… until you arrive into rift sawn territory.
      3. Flat sawn or plain sawn: you just slice the log without any consideration to grain pattern. The most efficient way to cut and almost no waste is produced. Creates beautiful cathedrals in the grain, perfect for door panels. The boards will cup – the annual rings wants to be straight. A board with the annual rings “smiling” will be convex on top and have a hollow underneath – it will cup upwards. Twist will occur. As you cut, the boards will have more and more rift sawn areas, then quartersawn areas, along the edges. “Live edge” means flat sawn, but you can get very interesting boards near the center of the log.
The annual rings in Rift sawn, quarter sawn and flat sawn.
  1. Stickers:
    • Should be fir or spruce (gran eller furu). This reduces “sticker stain” (rather self explanatory)
    • 15-20mm thick and square.
    • Must be bone dry!!! If not, mold could form.
    • Crank your OCD to 12 while stickering! Place the stickers neat and above each other in the stack. Place them over the rungs in the ladder in order to transfer the weight of the stack into the ground.
    • Place a sticker as close to the end of the boards as possible. This will help reduce the chances for the ends splitting on ya.
  2. Stacking
    • Consider how the air will move through your stack. You need good airflow to get dry lumber and to reduce the chance of mold forming.
    • You will need to add weight on top. Lots of weight. If you do not do that, the boards on top of the stack won’t be as straight. Straps could also be used, but be sure to check the tension on them from time to time. The stack will shrink during the drying process.
    • Another option is to cut some logs to put on top. They can be utilized as firewood or you can cut them to boards or slabs later on.
    • Place the boards evenly and with some distance to the neighbours. If you have shorter boards mixed in, place them so that the ends of the stack will remain neat and uniform. Any gaps in between should be filled with stickers or planks so that there will be no voids.
    • The thickest boards will take the longest to dry out. Place them at the bottom of the stack. The boards you want to use first should be placed at the top.
    • OCD to 12, remember?
    • Make sure the stack is even and level as you build it. As mentioned earlier, a 1-2 degree tilt might be a good idea to shed water if the stack is placed out in the elements.
My stack of 2” elm slabs. I painted the ends and added another strop later.
  1. Other tips and info
    • Drying time will vary a lot depending on the local clima. Harder woods (oak) takes longer than softwoods (spruce and even birch). A good rule of thumb is 1 year per inch in thickness. Depending on when the tree was felled, how long it took before you cut it to planks and other factors, the drying time will vary. The only way to be sure, is to measure. I’ve read “one year per inch plus one year”. It might be a good idea to plan for such long drying time. Because waiting sucks!
    • Outdoors here in the Nordics, the moisture content (MC) will level off at about 20%. Further drying indoors will be required to reach furniture levels (8-10% MC)
    • On very hot days during summer, it could be a good idea to place a big fan to help circulate the air around the boards. I did that the first summer, and the smell of oak became intense! Proof that the boards gave off lots of moisture.
    • If your stack is placed outdoors, you need to build a cover to prevent rain from reaching the wood. Extend the cover at least 50cm (1’8”) past the edges of the stack.
    • Your boards will split, twist, cup and misbehave. The forces involved are very strong; there is little you can do about it other than plan for it. The boards will look very nice straight off the saw, but in a few months the story changes dramatically. Neat stacking, lots of weight and sealed ends will help, but some boards is destined for the kindling stack no matter what. But who doesn’t need firewood?

Milling your own lumber is not cheap! You need expensive equipment or you need to get someone to do the job for you. But it is cheaper than buying the same amount of ready-to-use wood. If you get the trees for free, we’re talking serious savings. However, you do need some equipment to further process the wood. For the occasional log, though, you can get a long way with an alaskan mill or similar. Further processing can be done with simple hand tools, but this is not viable in any larger scale unless you really enjoy the process. It takes a long time to process a rough sawn board into useful material.

From round to square(ish); a transformation that suits us woodworkers!

For me, the main reason and motivation to cut my own lumber, is the fact that one day I’ll have furniture I made with my own two hands from start to finish. And when that day come, I’ll bring the piece to the stump where the tree once stood. And I’ll take a picture of me standing beside the stump and the piece, and I can proudly say “I did everything except growing the tree – which God provided along with the skills He gave me to do the job.”

In this day and age, how can you put a price on that?

Anything to add? Leave a comment! Anything wrong? Leave a comment – but in both circumstances, please give me a source so that I can verify your claims! I’ll include your tips and credit you in the article.

3 thoughts on “It’s slaburday!

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