Sawing Eastern Red Cedar

Tips on handling and sawing cedar logs to obtain marketable product. October 4, 2007

Any input will be greatly appreciated. I've already made up my mind on purchasing a mill and am looking for my best options to be able to make this my full time job. Eastern red cedar is a nuisance to many ranchers in the area I'm from, and I would like to be able to make this beneficial to both parties. I've previously read on this site that it is best to let cedar dry before milling. Is this true? What is the best way to saw cedar? I'm still working on the issue of marketing the finished product, so any bit of advice on this would be great.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor E:
Saw the cedar as soon as it is felled. You'll get more yield from green trees than those that are left to dry out, as sapwood tends to break down quickly. And it's easier on blades; cedar knots are very hard after they dry out.

From contributor C:
Cedar logs can set for 2 years off the ground and the sapwood will still be quite sound. Depending on the time of year, larvae will make some holes in the sapwood. Therefore, cedar can be milled green or dry. The outside lumber on cedar is usually your lowest grade. The best is heartwood. Slabs and edging strips can be run through a grinder for mulch. Sticker the cedar immediately on sawing and it will air dry quickly to about 12% depending on where you are located.

Before sawing, be sure to have your markets lined up. Also, you will have to discuss specifications with every customer, as the two recognized grades of cedar lumber are almost useless for individual sales. Some companies will buy truck load quantities of #1 common, the best grade of cedar. Most common thickness is 7/8, 15/16, 1, and 5/8.

Where are you located?

From contributor D:

Watch for nails. Get a good metal detector. I have hit more nails in cedar, especially cedar from a farm. I will not even cut a cedar from a fence row.

From the original questioner:
I'm located in central Nebraska. One of my first projects will be to re-side my house and possibly barn. I've read that some guys will put cedar siding on the home green and let it air dry and then finish securing it to the wall. Is this feasible?

I hear you with those nails and staples. I've dulled a lot of chains finding those things unexpectedly.

Contributor C, could you explain more about the two recognized grades being almost useless for individual sales?

From contributor C:
Cedar around here shrinks so little that there is only a small change from green to dry. It also air dries enough in a week or two that for outdoor purposes we do not worry about it.

The 2 grades are #1 common and #2 common. Just like hardwoods, #1 common will give you about 2/3 of a usable board and #2 common will give you about 1/2 of a usable board. That is the short answer.

They allow too many defects for most end users unless you are making small things and will be ripping and chopping the boards. Most customers want a board that has very little defect. We grade so that it will be 90% to 100% usable. Low grade outer boards find another home. Privacy fencing is a good place for them. That is why, by volume, only about 50 percent or less of a cedar log makes it into usable lumber.

From the original questioner:
I guess I'm just looking for a general consensus here. I'm in Iraq right now but will be getting 2 weeks of vacation soon and am just curious if it would be alright to get a start on my log pile for when I get back for good. It will be this fall when I get back and would like to have at least a little head start. I plan on talking with local lumberyards and carpenters and cabinetmakers to get a feel for interest also while I'm back. I just wanted to get everyone's opinion on these logs sitting through the summer months. If I end coat them, what's the worst that can happen? Just extra firewood, I suppose.

From contributor T:
A few weeks ago I had a customer bring me a load of cedar that he had sitting in a log pile for 5 years. They were all dried out and the sapwood on most was too far rotted to be useable. It did make a lot of good lumber and ready to use straight off the saw. There were a couple logs that didn't have any sapwood left on them, all heart.

From contributor P:
Listen to contributor C - he knows his stuff. I love cutting ERC and I love carving things out of it. Also did board and batten on my workshop with it. Very stable and ages to a soft grey patina.