Quality Expectations for Bandsaw-Milled Lumber

Sawmillers chime in on whether wavy cuts and thin ends are acceptable in walnut boards. June 28, 2006

I have employed a sawyer to mill some logs for me. Most of them are walnut and I cut them from my own woods, so there are upper logs with (too many) knots, as well as good butt logs. If there is a relatively tight Y in the tree and the logs above the Y are decent size (say, greater than 12" inside the bark), I cut those, too. I've hauled the logs to his mill and am paying 30 cents a board foot for the cutting service. He has an old Wood-Mizer mill (manual turning, 24" maximum cut diameter, and about 16 feet maximum length).

I feel that there are too many thin boards (about 1 and 1/16th inches in the center but down to 7/8ths on the ends), and there are major wavy areas where there are larger knots. Sometimes this leads to wavy edges. He blames the thin ends on stress in the logs. I sell wood and these issues are going to create a large amount of handling and work for me, not to mention that I'll lose board feet for the thin parts, which I have little market for.

I don't want to have expectations that are at all unrealistic. At the same time, a friend with a newer model Wood-Mizer used to cut for me and he did not have these issues. Wavy cuts, when they seldom occurred, indicated a blade problem and walnut wasn't terribly hard to cut. If a log rose at all, you turned the log to relieve the stress on the other side.

If the problem here is something simple, such as the guy needs to replace blades more often or change something about the blades, then I will complain louder. If it is unavoidable, then it will do no good to complain. His claim was that 95% of the wood would plane to 3/4 inch when dry. Perhaps he isn't that far off, although I would say that more than 10% is mis-cut if you count wavy areas around knots, and even if you go with 5% of the surface area mis-cut, that translates into maybe 15 to 20% of the boards with mis-cut portions.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor B:
Sounds like the sawyer is rushing the work. I've read time and again on this forum that the key to even sawing is to take your time.

From contributor E:
You have good reason to be upset. The sawyer needs to replace his dull blades, adjust his blade guides and not rush the cut. Just because it is an older mill is no excuse for poor quality work.

From contributor S:
I run a manual 1990 model Wood-Mizer LT-30 and I cut very straight lumber. While some logs and, more frequently, secondary leaders, may pose challenges in terms of tension and cant movement as said tension is released, this can be easily overcome by more frequent log turning and keeping the pith more or less centered as he saws around the log.

There is no reason that an older manual Mizer can't cut just as perfect lumber as a new hydraulic LT-70. It just might take a little longer. Also, the diameter capacity of an LT-30 is 32" easy and 36" with a hefty slab cut and/or notches in the log at the rails. The through and through capacity is 28". If this fella is having a hard time cutting straight in walnut, then there are issues with his guide adjustments, wheel bearings or blades.

From contributor L:
A constant diet of small walnut logs, especially if muddy, is a recipe for dull bands and wavy boards. We know the top logs are small, but you didnít tell us the size of the butt logs. Knowing walnut, I suspect a lot of the logs are also short, making BF production difficult, at best.

No excuse for the sawyer to produce wavy boards, but maybe time for a sit down meeting with the sawyer to discuss your expectations. If he canít produce, find somebody else. A lot of mills produce 4/4 at 1-1/8" thickness to make up for shoddy sawing practices. If the sawyer doesnít know how to grade saw walnut, the extra 1/16" wonít cost a thing and maybe save you a few bucks.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Stress in a log can indeed cause thin ends, but not as much as you indicate. Further, the waviness within a piece is a certain indicator that the blade is wandering, which is caused by heating (dull blade) and/or lack of proper tension. You have to find a new sawyer for sure.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for your comments. The butt and second logs in this group that I took to the sawyer are very good and the butt logs are greater than 18 inches inside the bark on the small end. Many of the logs are 12' length and only a few are 8 feet. However, I've probably gotten 4 logs per tree, so on average every good log is matched by a smaller diameter log with more knots and tension. In the big picture of sawing, this is probably not going to lead to a high rate of production from one's sawmill. They are relatively clean because I hauled them out of the woods in a skid steer loader bucket and didn't have to drag them. That, of course, doesn't mean there is zero dirt on them.

My initial reaction to the thin boards was to suggest that he cut thicker, to which the sawyer responded that he would have to charge more. I would much prefer, for example, having one fewer board per log, than having to deal with two thin boards per log. I know it is a waste, but if a board is questionable thickness, I can't sell it without a significant discount. I usually end up planing them myself to see where they will come out, and that is time I don't have. These spots around knots also use time to haul them into the shop and plane out the heavy areas so that it will stack properly on sticks. It pretty much doubled the time to unload and stack.

I don't know the model number of this man's mill, but I suspect it is older than 1990s. From contributor L's comment "just not at 30 cents," I assume I can't expect a top quality job at that price. I know people cut for less, but I don't see how anyone can make very much money, especially after the expense of the equipment.

I have a sawyer who I think posts on this board coming to cut, but I ran out of room for logs and hauled some to this other guy. It looks like that was a mistake and I'll have to haul some back!

From contributor R:
It is industry standard to cut 4/4 at 1-1/16" to 1/8". It has nothing to do with shoddy sawyers - it has to do with allowing for drying defects and still planing out at 13/16". Many commercial brokers won't buy a board cut at exactly 1".

To the original questioner: You should expect better lumber quality than you're getting, and 30 cents a board foot is a fair rate. Age of the mill is irrelevant, it's the attitude and care of the sawyer that make a difference. You just happened upon a lazy sawyer. His statement that he would have to charge more to cut thicker is incredible - if anything, his board footage per hour would increase! I'd go get the remaining logs back and let a competent sawyer do the job.

From the original questioner:
I received an apologetic phone call this morning from the sawyer. He knew he should have changed blades sooner and perhaps was a little defensive when I picked the lumber up and complained immediately. He offered to make an adjustment to his charge and the only adjustment I want is to have the rest sawn properly. I'll see how he does on what he has sawn since the first batch.

From contributor I:
I have a 1987 Wood-Mizer and I don't have this problem as long as I change the blades when they start to get dull. I would guess this may have been his problem and he may have been pushing too hard and running out of HP on the wider logs. If I push mine real hard on large trees I will get a wavy cut because my motor lugs and I lose blade RPM. If I use Wood-Mizer blades they will not saw flat on my mill no matter what adjustments I make. I usually saw 1200 to 1500 BF a day 4 to 5 days a week.

From contributor M:
I have seen sawyers charge more than 30 cents/bf and I have seen some that charge less than 20 cents. I personally charge 30 and feel that to be a fair price. However, I actually like to cut hardwood at 5/4 to make sure there is plenty of wood there for planing. I treat everything under 5/4 as 4/4 when determining bf (i.e., a 5/4 board costs the same as a 4/4). This cuts into the finished lumber produced from the log, but I think a greater proportion of the lumber is usable.

From contributor K:
Contributor I wrote: "If I use Wood-Mizer blades, they will not saw flat on my mill no matter what adjustments I make."

What blade do you recommend?

From contributor I:
I use Simonds blades.