Recovering Lumber from Tree-Service Oak Logs

A woodworker has a tree-service friend who is looking at some fine old oak trees that need to come down. Here, sawmillers discuss the market and the milling choices for that nice wood. July 28, 2006

I have a tree service guy who is interested in using the wood he cuts down to be made into lumber. He has been wondering about it for a while now and because of a job he has gotten, would like to get started up. He has been asking me questions I just don't have the answers to.

He plans on cutting down some rather large red oaks. 40" diameters, 80' straight up before any branches start, and he says he has about 20 to cut down. What would be the best lengths for him to cut the logs to? He can handle 10'6" easily, but I have told him that 12'6" would probably be better.

He plans on getting a band saw mill to cut the logs into boards. After he does this, what does the kiln operator expect? Does this need to be delivered to him already stickered out? Or will the kiln operator do this? Or is this just dependent on the operator?

I am in northern CT. Any ideas what it costs to have the oak dried (6-8%)? And how do I go about finding a kiln operator? This is the first of many questions I will need to ask you guys/gals. Thanks.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
First, your friend should identify what market he plans to sell his wood to, and then cut the logs to the appropriate length (as well as saw them to the appropriate dimensions). Many experienced sawyers will recommend that he cut to whatever length and mill for the best grade. Some oaks have a lot of tension in them, and so some sawyers accordingly prefer the shorter length.

One other option for your friend to consider is to talk to some local timber framers re the oak (and there are a lot of timber framers in CT). Straight, long logs may yield higher profits if they are cut to the longer and larger timber frame lengths/sizes.

There is a Sawing and Drying Directory on this site that lists sawyers and kiln operators in most states:
Sawing and Drying Directory

From a pricing perspective, .35 per board foot is a good number to use for a budgetary estimate of kiln drying 4/4. However, some operators may charge more and some may be less; a lot depends upon the local electricity costs. Oak takes longer to dry than pine, so it will probably cost more. Again, talk to your local kiln operator to get the low-down for your area.

There are different pros and cons to air-drying oak prior to kiln drying it. However, the general consensus seems to be that immediate kiln drying may result in less defects. In a perfect world, the logs would be cut down on day 1, milled at the sawmill on day 2, and placed into the kiln on day 3. However, this can vary depending on a number of factors.

Regarding stickering, this depends on the kiln operator, but most that I know would prefer to receive the wood already stickered! Your friend needs to use dry (already seasoned) stickers and to place them so that they will line up with the supports on the kiln operator's kiln carts. If not, the pile will have to be restickered.

Gene Wengert is one of the experts on drying lumber. Search the archives for some of his posts, and also to download a copy of "Drying Hardwood Lumber," an excellent resource for your friend.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
You can find a kiln by looking at the list here (link above) or by contacting your state extension service specialist in wood utilization.

Logs this large are likely to yield a great deal of upper grade lumber. Such lumber is more valuable when at least 12' long. It would be best to consider flat sawing as well. Your extension person can help you with markets. The best opportunity is probably the smaller markets as they have higher prices, but it will take a while to sell this lumber.

From contributor A:
Most portable bandmills will not handle logs over 36 inches DIB. Most swing blade mills will not cut boards wider than 10 inches. (Yes, I know you can double cut, but not on every board.) A lot of wholesalers do not want boards wider than 12 inches. Longer brings better prices as well as wider and thicker if you can make it.

The timber framers are a good place to start for marketing the center of these logs. If the logs are as good as you say, then a veneer buyer should be considered. If there is a chance for junk in the trees, this may determine the type of mill choice as well as markets.

I have seen lots of good logs on very fine machines messed up by a person who had no clue about sawing. I think the tree service guy would be better off hiring the sawing done and stick to dropping trees.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I did miss the idea of selling the logs to a veneer buyer. It is a great idea. High quality logs can generate more profit if sold for veneer than if sawn and dried and then the KD lumber is sold. Just do not take the first offer, as it is likely to be low. Your state forester's office can help in selling timber and veneer, in many cases. They also will have reports and so on about how to handle the taxes. They can help in reforestation too. If you are serious about timber growing, I encourage you to check out the Vermont Tree Farm association. They have technical info, opportunities to talk to others in the state (and NH), etc.

From contributor R:
As a cabinetmaker, one of the hardest products to find anymore is 16' hardwood lumber. Trees the size you are talking about should, if at all possible and if their grade allows, be cut at 16 feet. I make a lot of millwork as well and am constantly asking my suppliers for some amount of 16' lumber in the total board footage and never get it. A longer board can always be cut shorter, but a short board is harder to make long!

From the original questioner:
I had told him this, but his equipment can't handle these lengths. He wanted to do 10' and I told him to try for 12'. Veneering would be a good option to make money for him, but it would leave me out of the loop for getting all that wood at an ultra low price (wink, wink). Thanks for all the responses guys. I'll forward this info to him and see what other questions arise.

From contributor K:
I'll bet the veneer folks are so persnickety that there will be plenty of volume left over for a milling adventure. They are like the rest of us... a bruised apple gets passed over for a shiny one. Both apples would make good pie. I am glad to sell my finest, longest, widest lumber. There are always odd selections left out of any milling event and they are still superb wood. For personal use, the leftovers are valuable because I can't get as much cash for them. The end product (locust flooring or pine chicken coop) will still be as valuable. Just a thought.