"Portable Saw Mill - Part 2" or "How to Work Your Core with Just 4 Tons of Lumber"

In a previous post I wrote about the adventure that comes from hiring a portable saw mill.  In this part, I'll try to cover the care and feeding of the resulting lumber so that it will be usable for your home projects.  First the disclaimer.  Apart from helping out my dad in venerable age of acoustic couplers, this is my first full foray into drying my own lumber.  If you know better and see obvious mistakes, by all means speak up.  This is what I've found in my research and consultations.

Your ultimate goal is to get wood that is both dry and flat.  Almost everything you do in this strange and slow sport centers around that fact. First let's talk about your site.  It can be indoors or outdoors, but there are some limitations. If you're putting it outside, you want it under some sort of cover.  Getting rained on would defeat the purpose.  You also want to protect it from light to limit bleaching.  The best outside covering I've seen is an impermeable tarp on the top, and landscape fabric down the sides.  The fabric protects the wood from light and limits water splashing in during heavy rains, but still lets air move through.  

I'm lucky enough to have an old one-car garage that isn't heavily used.  It has a dirt floor, so some site preparation was needed.  I used a set of cinder blocks as the base, but I took the added precaution of checking that each block was level with the adjacent one, and removing or adding soil as needed so that they were all in one plane.  It wouldn't do for me to painstakingly dry every board to just match the random contours of the dirt floor.  This may have been overkill, but I also put a plastic grocery bag on top of each block so that moisture couldn't wick up from the ground into the wood. 

Too keep it flat, it's recommended that the wood be supported at least every 24 inches. I started stacking the wood with the longest boards on the bottom.  That way the shorter boards are fully supported.  I used furring strips as spacers between the layers.  They're cheap completely uniform, and already dried.  I made sure that the strips were at least every 24 inches, and also made sure that there was a strip close to each end of the board.  There's a theory behind this.  You invariably get some cracking at the ends of the boards.  Once a crack starts, it can follow the grain and migrate down the board, but a spacer tends to stop the migration.  So putting spacers close to the ends will limit how far the cracks can migrate. 

I can highly recommend recruiting some help for moving the lumber.  Unfortunately, Kate had hurt her ankle, and the neighbors we out of town.  This left me with some help, he came up a little short.

 

 For best results, you want to put weight on top to hold the boards flat.  Cinder blocks will do, or dead marine deep-cycle lead-acid batteries (long story).  My first thought was that the set of 4x6 planks that I had Carl cut would do a good job of holding everything down, but as the stacking progressed and the pile got higher, I realized the flaw in my plans. How was I going to lift those monsters onto the top of that pile?  I could just about get one across my shoulders, but my vertebrae imediately started make sounds remiscent of hull of a submarine just before things going really bad for the passengers. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and  opted for strapping an old hand truck to one end of the boards with a couple of band clamps and wheeling them into the garage.  After steering a 15 foot board with me at one end and the wheels at the other, I think I'm beginning to understand the challenges of backing a semi into a loading dock. 

Of course that's just getting it into the garage.  There was still the matter of lifting it up to chest height to get it onto the stack.  Fortunately, I was able to enlist some spare cinder blocks to "walk" it upward one end at a time. 

After that, the rest was relatively easy, if incredibly grueling.  I started a second pile for the maple.  The boards were shorter and thicker.  While they were plenty heavy, they were a bit more manageable.  Here is the final stack.  The wax on the ends is very obvious on the maple.  That's because I put a second coat on to be safe. I found that a gallon of Anchorseal 2 Green Wood Sealer was just about the right amount of this job. 

 Now it's just a matter of waiting.  The guidelines are one year of every inch of thickness.  That should give me enough time to come up with some designs for it. One parting warning, though.  Carrying all this lumber is a good way to aggravate your old bobcat injury, but that's another long story.