Milling Earl’s Fir

Help Support



Earl Johnson is 85 and a retired shipwright out of the Bremerton Naval Shipyard…a gentleman who can tell ya about the days of coal-fired steam for sure. Earl lives on Hood Canal and needs to redo his wharf, so he chose the big Doug Fir right next to the house… the one getting bigger and bigger and making the Missus nervous.

Problem is, the fir is in a tight spot…room to drop it but no room to handle it with most mills…and it wouldn’t be economical to hire a self-loading log truck to haul it just a couple miles to a sawyer with a local mill. The local Woodmizer and Timberwolf guys didn’t want to do it because there was no room for the machine required to load logs on the carriage. So Joe Emel, the friend and arborist who’s gonna fall it for Earl, shanghaied me to bring in my Lucas ‘cause he knows it can mill them where they lay on the ground...and easily move the mill to the next log. I agree to do it because these men are friends and I can use some quartersawn doorjamb material and boat framing.

So Joe and I fall the tree late one morning so I can break down my mill and move it to Earl’s place before it gets too dark and begin milling the next day.

Joe making the face cut in the 44” DBH fir...


Back cut started and wedges being driven…


Finishing the hinge …falling…


Exactly where I asked him to put it so there’d be room for the mill…as from here on out this wood can only be moved by hand. The two top sections chunked down during the limbing/topping operation on the left are light enuf to peavey out of the way.

I mentally compute where the lumber requirements will come from within the tree based on where the crooks in the bole are, the ring count and what stock is required. Generally, the rougher and knottier the log, the bigger the stock you should take from it. In this tree, we decide before bucking that the 6X6’s will come from the upper logs, the 2X9’s will come from the second log and 4/4 and 5/4 stock will come from the clearer lower log.


We buck them into the lengths Earl requires, move the tops and set up the mill…by the time this pic was taken one of the rough tops had been cut into bearers and stickers and the center log opposite to it had been jacked into the mill.


Joe, like most fallers here, prefers light Husky saws with 36” bars. As my use is primarily bucking for the mill where I don’t carry it or even use it much, I have a bigger Stihl 046 with an aftermarket hop-up kit installed. Shortens engine life, but Stihl cylinder repair kits run only 50 bucks these days on Ebay, and I’m stocking up. One heavy saw to tote, tho. For where you have to move logs by hand that are too heavy for peavies, the trusty old 48” farm jack and the ancient 1950’s all-steel Homelite Zip with Lewis winch come out of war reserve...the Zip treated to new cable and anchor chain for the occasion. If you can tunnel under that log, you can wrap a winch or come-along cable around it, drive the hook in with your falling axe, and cross-haul it to roll it around.


Rolling the logs instead of simply setting them on bearers with the backhoe is heavy labor...slow...and unprofitable...and another reason others turned it down was the slope that makes milling difficult. We couldn’t get either the mill or the log level…only a shallow enuf slope to make the job workable but strenuous.


Cross-hauling with a winch is fast but a bit of a chore working alone. An easier but more strenuous method is rolling the log with the farm jack, kicking a wedge in as you jack to keep the 8-10,000-pound log from rolling back and breaking your leg. But the farm jack doesn’t like that much weight so get a good one if you are gonna do this.


Continued on Milling Earl’s Fir II


Continued from Milling Earl’s Fir Part One.

Six by six Bearers cut from the rough tops are laid and leveled in preparation for receiving milled stock…green boards are heavy and you only want to handle them once.


With the mill and log as level as we can get them, we align the mill’s tracks with the top of the log for the first cuts. Earl asks me to idle the mill so he can see how it works…a swing blade circle mill can cut on either side of the log with either the vertical or the horizontal cut made on each pass…on this mill, maximum vertical cut is 8 ½ inches and maximum horizontal cut is 8 ½ inches, but reversing the powerhead frame and attacking the log on the same plane from the opposite direction will give a total horizontal cut or 17 inches. It is ideal for quartersawing by the “one square edge” method as seen in the pic.


To better demonstrate, I complete that board and move the mill to the head of the tracks for resharpening, as it’s time…the shaving noodles flying from the mill are getting shorter in length. With the blade guard and water tank removed, you can see the blade, hub and transmission in the vertical position as son Jake moves to the operator position to control the swing mechanism.


Jake moves the swing handle a tad and you can see the sawblade begin to drop toward horizontal.


Jake moves the blade back to vertical, I attach the chainsaw sharpener with diamond wheel to the jig built into the mill and touch up the carbide tips…the sawguard is replaced, the water tank that cools the sawblade is filled and we are ready to go again in 5 minutes.


Vertical milling continues using the One Square Edge method until near the pith…


At the pith the technique changes to flatsawing to maximize vertical grain…notice I will make this 8 ½” horizontal cut in two passes instead of one…the tradeoff for a thin-kerf 3/16” blade is that it is flexible, and you can warp it easily with too big a horizontal bite.


And the log is completed using a combination of vertical and flatsawing all the way to the bottom bark. This 2d log had no taper…when we mill the first log, we’ll have to adjust the mill when we reach the pith to get parallel to the bottom bark, taking the waste produced by the taper out of the pith instead of making a cant like we would to with a band mill.


Continued on Milling Earl’s Fir Part 3.


Continued from Milling Earl’s Fir Part 2.

The next log milled is the third log from the stump….a rougher (more knots) 16-footer I chose for Earl’s 6X6 stock...each well over 100lbs each. Notice this 6000lb log rests on the ground in front, and was rolled on a bearer in the rear. The mill’s blade only reaches 6” from the ground, so after most of the log is cut and lightened, we’ll dig a hole in front for the farm jack and raise the log remnant to a bearer so we can saw all the way to the bottom bark.


We finally get to the only log I came for, the clear 12-foot first log from which I need quartersawn doorjamb stock…we’ll use every inch of it. 9-10 rings per inch inside and 10-12 rings outside, this stock will grade No.1 Select if I can saw around the few pitch pockets. At 10,000lbs, this log has a few inches of taper we’ll have to compensate for at the pith. We begin with vertical sawing using the One Square Edge pattern after the mill’s tracks are perfectly aligned with the top bark…


At the next deck of boards we switch to horizontal sawing to maintain vertical grain in the boards. You’ll notice the next board to the right in the deck will not have vertical grain. With this mill, we could continue sawing vertically into the log beneath the first board shown, leaving the center, non-vertical grain wood. Using that technique, we’d reverse the powerhead and do the same on the opposite side of the log, leaving a beam-sized ridge of flatgrain wood in the center. We then could switch from horizontal to vertical sawing and take out the center, producing a few more vertical grain boards than with the pattern I'm using. If this log were a rarer Oregon (Garry Oak) White Oak, we’d take the time to do that. But clear DF logs are common here so we’ll give the flatsawn boards to Earl to use for something else.


When we reach the pith, we readjust the mill’s tracks parallel to the bottom bark, removing and discarding the pith in the process…


Instead of a thick slab, this mill’s waste is a tapered pith center useable as stickers and tapered boards…


From heavily-tapered cedar butts, we even chainsaw them with deck screws and poly glue into rustic Adirondack chairs…I can make six of these a day and often give them to neighbors, some of whom even rasp and sand them smooth and paint them.


The end result is only a bit of sapwood and bottom bark…and if I tried hard, I could even squeak another 1X3 out of this one, although it’s quality would be poor. The ridge left on the right side of the slab prevents it from sagging between the bearers, producing “wasp-waist” board thickness.


The resulting 5/4 doorjamb stock…or at least my share…the others are in Earl’s stack. Having seen these go for a double sawbuck or more each (more than a British Pound per lineal foot), retail, it’s not a bad morning’s effort.


Pete W

Established Member
31 Jan 2004
Reaction score
Hey Bob - nice to see you on this side of the Atlantic :).

I've greatly enjoyed your posts - and your great tool rehabbing tutorials - on the US forums.

Welcome to the UK Workshop!