Thick Slabbing Versus Edging

Sawyers debate the decision: saw and edge for grade, or start by slabbing to create a square cant? Many factors enter into the choice. August 21, 2006

I have been sawing on a Timberking B-20 band saw. All of the work I have done for the last year has been ranch use wood for our own outbuildings using our own downed pine and fir logs. Because we do not edge or plane we cut deep slabs from our logs to get to the square cants - that makes sense for us. I am about to do some custom cutting of other people's logs and am wondering if it is really necessary to worry about the edge boards and amount of waste doing it the way I always have. Some of my discarded slabs are 2 to 3 inches on one end of the slab. Will the customers think that I am wasting too much of their lumber? Should I assume that the customer is going to edge and plane their boards?

I need some input here about the customer expectation and proper approach to the end board issue. The extra time doesn't seem worth it for the few extra boards.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
When you saw grade hardwoods, the best quality lumber is from the outer edge of the log. The closer to the heart you get, generally the more defects you begin to run into. You would be doing the customer a great disservice by slabbing heavy and throwing away some of the best lumber.

You should study up on how to grade saw, keeping the heart centered. The customer will probably also expect you to edge the lumber but will not expect it planed. This is accomplished on the band mill by placing the flitches back on the saw bed in a vertical position and making successive passes sawing off the edges. Even if you are just sawing utility lumber for a customer, you are throwing away a fair amount of board footage by slabbing deep to create a square cant in four passes. I don't mean this in a nasty way, but if you feel it's a waste of your time to get the most lumber out of the customerís log, perhaps you shouldn't get into the custom milling business. I understand what you're saying - edging takes time and creates a huge mess of edgings, but sawyers owe it to the customer and the resource itself to get the most from every log.

From contributor B:
You could just talk to your customer to see what he expects or wants and price accordingly. Show him the layout of the cuts on the small end of the log (or a piece of paper). Wood waste is a fact of life.

From the original questioner:

I see what you mean by the grade sawing approach. I spent the last 10 hours and 9 logs practicing taper sawing parallel to the bark on the best side of the logs. I placed the flitches back into the mill vertically to edge off the bark but am not sure if I am doing it right. With each pass one or two boards have to be removed, and the rest re-dogged and another pass again removing one or two of the boards as they are not all the same width. Is this the right or best way? It does seem to produce a few more boards but more importantly it produces a higher grade of lumber.

From contributor C:
You're doing it right. If you square up your cant in the beginning then you won't have to edge though. Cut all four faces, then you have a square cant that you can start sawing for grade. At most you will recover one 4/4 board from each slab that you sawed off the log in the beginning to recover. If you take a light cut you can pull one board off and then move to the next face, take another light cut and then one board and so on until you have a square cant to start sawing on. It eliminates a lot of edging that you are doing.

From contributor D:
Keep in mind how you are charging your customer. The two ways I have found sawyers charging customers is by the hour or by the board foot. Either way by spending time getting maximum yield out of the logs you are spending more time to make more money or making more board feet to charge more.

I own a growing sawmilling business. I hooked up with my business partner who owns a tree service. I cut his logs that are a by-product of his own business. People also bring logs to us for custom sawing occasionally. When cutting his logs I will slab thick because it speeds up the process and allows me to work in more of a production mode. I don't own an edger. But when I am custom sawing I cut the customers log more carefully to produce maximum BF. If I had a bigger mill I might consider changing my methods a little but I own a Timberking 1220 that is all hand cranks - no hydraulics whatsoever. I do have a boom with a grapple to move the logs onto the mill which saves my back a bit!

From Dr. Gene Wengert, technical advisor Sawing and Drying Forum:
If you consider a 16" diameter log (inside bark, small end), you will get about 6 or 8 pieces from the slabs that require edging (assuming that you rotate 180 degrees from the first to the second face). This will give you a rectangular cant. If you square up the log (11-1/4 x 11-1/4), you will miss even more than 6 or 8 pieces and these pieces will be the highest grade that the log face has to offer. I cannot believe that anyone wants to throw away that much good wood. The loss increases as the log size increases. Certainly, you can deliver unedged lumber. This is not often done, however. Most customers will want you to get the slab lumber and also have it edged.

From contributor F:
I say it really depends on what they are going to do with the lumber. If the guy is going to build an ag building where he is looking for minimum lengths of dimensional lumber and the lowest price, you may be better off leaving some 8ft 1 x 4's in the slab pile. Sounds like you are sawing out west (pine and fir). Having sawed those species in the past, it is a different ball game than hardwood grade sawing. No one is going to build furniture with the grade lumber near the bark, or if you do spend 20 % more time to extract those few extra 1 x 4's that have wane and need end trimming, your client may not really appreciate your effort. Meet your clientís needs first. They may really not mind having the extra slabs for firewood, and a few more dollars in their pocket.

From contributor G:
Any way you slice it, edging on a bandsaw mill is a pain. I usually end up edging each board separately as loading a bunch of flitches, removing, redogging, and flipping can be cumbersome, and it can be harder to get the most out of the flitches.

I don't worry too much about wasting a softwood 1 x 4 x 8' by not edging, as they don't sell very well anyway, but anything wider that that, I take the time to edge them. Sometimes I will even throw a slab back on the mill, and get another board out of it if I'm feeling guilty about waste.

From the original questioner:
I am up in the sierra mountains North of Lake Tahoe. There is no shortage of downed pine/fir in this area.Most of my customers usually have 10 to 20 90+ foot logs and are looking to get the "fun of using your own lumber" in their remodel or out buildings. The contractors I haven spoken to in the area say that it looks like the biggest market is for thick and wide timbers for that "exposed" look.

I did notice that when I sawed parallel to the bark that I still had to lose a fairly good sized chunk when I tried to square up the cant. And it was harder to box the heart. So now I am really confused! Do I go for the extra maybe good boards grade sawing or try to square up the cant from the beginning with my first cuts?

From contributor F:
I still say it depends on the client. For example, I am sawing a package for a client here in KY. It will be a 120 ft long machine building. We are milling hickory, poplar, ash, and oak. My client is not interested in any grade lumber, only good production and value. He has river bottoms full of timber, but needs this building. Fully explaining this issue to him, he wants the slabs heavy, he also burns wood. If you have a client like this, with good log handling, you can get over 2000 BF in an 8 hr day with the B-20. He will be very pleased. Make sure you keep a sharp blade on at all times so you do not have any wavy lumber. Always turn the dagger board over and size it correctly on the last cut. Providing high quality lumber like this will make a smiling client.