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Whitethorn's Log Milling FAQs

Whitethorn log purchasing:

Do we buy hardwood logs?

Yes, we buy logs and we have specific requirements regarding our purchases. We only buy certain species and we pay differing amounts according to specie and quality. We have diameter requirements, length requirements and quality concerns. Our needs vary and our requirements may vary accordingly.

As a rule of thumb we look for logs at a minimum of 8' 8" in length, and 20" in diameter on the small end. A good saw log is one that is straight and has very little taper. However, we are sometimes in the market for the oddball log, the log that is curved or short and fat, or in some other way unique. We pay more for those logs that have good color, good size, and good figure. When in doubt call or send us an email photo of the tree/log in question.

Whitethorn's milling services:

Does Whitethorn Hardwoods offer log milling services to customers?

Yes we do mill logs for others. We mill our own logs from our log deck and we mill those logs brought in to us for milling. This is one of many services that we perform at our facility. Call ahead to make arrangements with us prior to showing up with logs. We mill logs based on seasonal and scheduling limitations.

Can we provide information regarding local log millers?

Yes we can and we do. Call for references.

Can we turn your log into flooring or cabinet lumber?

Yes we can mill your log, sticker it for air-drying, kiln dry your lumber, plane it to specified dimensions and, if desired, mill it into flooring.

Milling your own logs:

Can we provide advice on milling logs?

Yes, we provide information and suggestions on proper milling. If you are clear on what it is that you want to accomplish with your wood, we can help you get there. Read further for some of that advice.

Should you mill hardwoods from trees on your own property?

Are you milling your own hardwood to save money or for the satisfaction of using wood from your own property in your own home? Milling your own wood from your own trees may be either more or less expensive than purchasing your wood from a commercial supplier. This calculation will depend on a variety of factors. What is the quality of your logs? How accessible are your logs? Do you have the resources available to care for your logs and lumber throughout the milling and drying process? How will you value the time that you invest in the project?

If it is for your own home, then you may be willing to donate some of your own time in exchange for the satisfaction of using wood from your own property. If it is to save money then proceed with caution. With the right combination of skills and accessible, high quality raw materials it can be done. This will be especially true if your objective is to limit the amount of cash you spend rather than the amount of personal time you invest in the effort.

It is very important to have a game plan prior to initiating such a project. First ask yourself some questions. What is the final product of this effort? Where will the milling take place? What will become of all the sawdust and slash from the product? When will the milling take place? Who will do the milling? How prepared are you with manpower and equipment to pull this off? Do you have a multitude of dry stickers for the project? Why are you milling your own hardwood? Why aren't you buying the finished product from someone who has it available? Where are you going to put the stickered stacks of hardwood? How are they going to be protected? Ideally all of these questions should be answered prior to felling your trees or bucking your logs.

Who is milling your hardwood?

Does your chosen miller have experience with milling hardwood and following through with his product, your product? This is not softwood! Does he have experience with drying hardwood? Can he answer questions regarding the species you have chosen? Can he tell you how long it should air dry before going into a kiln? Can he advise you on how to layout your drying area? Is he a source for dry stickers? Does he know the spacing of the stickers in the pile? Has he discussed the loss factor related to drying hardwood with you? Has he explained the consequences of drying it too rapidly or too slowly and how each could damage the final product?

When should hardwood logs be milled?

These are hardwood logs and they are best milled between November 1st and April 1st. This is not the best time for logging equipment, but it is the best time to limit drying damage. Drying damage is the most likely source of loss factor in your program. Hardwood milling should commence immediately after the trees are dropped. When the logs are bucked to length the ends of the logs should be painted with a wax based end sealer immediately. Transport to the milling area should happen as soon as possible and milling can and should begin. If milling in the warmer months, milling should begin within a week if at all possible. Hardwood logs degrade rapidly especially in the warmer months. Have your ducks lined up.

What kind of mill do you recommend?

Mills are like other tooling, no single device does it all. We have been milling at this location for 40 years. We have used five different styles of mills. We currently have three choices to use on our logs. The proper choice depends on your desired end product. We use an eight inch Lucas mill for lumber up to 8"x8"x 26 foot stock. We use a Woodmizer for stock to 20 foot in length and widths to 26" and pretty much any thickness we desire. We also have a Lucas dedicated slabbing mill for milling slabs up to 60 in width and thickness to about 6" by any length to 26 foot. Each style of mill, whether circle saw or band mill has advantages and disadvantages for specific applications. To make the correct choice you will need to be specific about your needs.

Target Dimensions

Wider, longer and thicker stock can provide more value and fetch higher prices. However some wood may be lost or damaged in the process -- particularly for lower quality materials.

What is the ideal for hardwood log length for milling?

The answer here is related to the mill that one is using as well as potential kiln size and of course, the ultimate use of the material. Softwood is sold by even lengths only, whereas hardwood is sold in both odd and even lengths. When sizing logs try and get at least an 8' log though some species might not let one do so. Lengths up to 12 feet are common and each length should include an 8" or greater "trim" allowance. Therefore a nine foot log would be cut to at least 9' 8".

What is the preferred milling thickness for cabinet lumber?

If you are interested in milling hardwood that will one day be either cabinet lumber or ¾" flooring, we recommend milling your wood to 1 ¼" thickness. After drying and planing the resulting board will be 15/16ths thick. From this dimension it can easily become cabinet lumber or flooring stock. For a net 8/4 or 9/4 stock we recommend 2 ½". The thicker a board the greater chance of failure during drying and the longer it takes to dry that board.

What is a preferred width for cabinet stock?

We recommend that you mill your hardwood lumber to 7" to 9" in width. This width keeps open a variety of possibilities. A wider board provides more chance of loss. Drying boards 7"to 9" are challenging enough. It is a question of volume. The wider the board the greater the chance of failure during drying. If one can succeed with thicker or wider stock, they have attained extra value.

What is the preferred width for flooring stock?

Once again the 7" to 9" width works most efficiently. One or more strips of various widths of flooring stock can come out of such widths. Narrow widths may result in a lower overall recovery of final product as narrow strips may "crook" during the drying process. When subsequently straightlined for the molder narrow stock may not meet minimum flooring specifications. Wider stock yields a better return. Even good sized logs will yield some narrow stock.Milling wood to mid-range width keeps open far more opportunities for flooring, cabinets and millwork.

Prepare Air Drying Area

What is drying?

The essence of drying is heat, moisture content and air velocity. Controlling these elements in air drying is just as important as in a kiln. Kilns provide a more controlled atmosphere, but air drying comes first and the wood is most vulnerable in the early stages of drying. Protecting the pile from water (rain) in the winter and heat (sun) in the summer are the keys to success. Bringing wood inside seems to be the obvious solution, but not if there is no air flow. Air flow is critical to success. Heat and air velocity are both needed.

What is stickering?

Stickering the wood is the first phase of drying. The milled pile needs to be stacked, stickered and protected from the sun immediately. Sun damage to the top of the pile begins the first day and mold damage is not far behind in the lower layers of the pile. Stickers are the wood pieces that separate the layers of wood and allow for air movement between layers. They are most often approximately ¾" thick and the width of the chosen pile size, often 48 inches. The most important part is that they are of uniform thickness on each layer and that they are dry. Fir stickers are excellent, but other species can be used, dry is the operative word here.

How should one make the pile for drying?

Piles can be of any size depending on the logs you mill. It is good to have the bottom layer off the ground by a minimum of 10 inches and more if grass could be an issue. The stickers provide all the gap needed. The individual boards can be in the pile one against the next, though creating vertical chimneys can aid in drying. In practice chimneys are hard to produce without uniform widths of wood. Mixing different lengths of lumber in one pile is difficult but not impossible. Try to complete each row to the full length so that there are limited voids in the center of the pile. The stickers will have to support the next layer over those voids and could allow deformation of material. On 4/4 stock the stickers should be on 12" centers, for 8/4 it can be 16" centers and for 12/4 it can be 20/24" centers. The importance of a level pile should not be overlooked. A twisted pile makes twisted lumber.

When is the wood dry enough for the kiln?

Air drying should be taken to a level of drying that prepares it for easy and quick kiln drying. The less time in the kiln, the less expense. Drying the wood to 12-14% moisture content is recommended.

How long will the kiln take to complete the drying process?

The length of time in the kiln will depend on the kiln type and the goal. The cost of that time will depend on kiln type, the length of time in the kiln and the efficient loading of the kiln. Also, the specie and the thickness of the stock will have a lot to do with the time taken. As a rule, one does not mix species or different thickness of stock in the same kiln load. And of course, one does not mix different moisture content material in the same load. In our kilns fully air dried wood will take from 15 to 90 days - depending upon thickness and species.

How long does it take to air dry one inch thick hardwood?

That will first depend upon the species involved. Some species are very quick to dry, like Alder or Black Cottonwood. Others take a much longer period of time, such as Madrone and Tan Oak. Black Oak and Chinquapin are in between. It also depends upon the time of year you are drying your wood. The fastest air drying is in the May to November time period. It can go quickly, too quickly in fact. It is better to mill in the winter and get the wood started on its drying program, get some of the moisture out before the heat of May or June comes. The first moisture to leave is the free water that begins leaving the log when it is first bucked and then milled. As it leaves it allows room for the captive water to move out of the cells and occupy the areas between the cells. In this process it may move quickly and create what is called collapse and honeycomb. If this happens the wood is ruined, you have just experienced a "loss factor". If, on the other hand, there is not enough air movement and heat to keep the drying process moving you encounter the damages of mold. Once again you have a "loss factor". If all goes well the time period should be that the wood that is milled prior to May 1st is ready for the kiln on the first of November. With 8/4 stock the timetable would be more like 2 ½ years. Some kiln operators, with their kilns, would find this scenario of air drying time before kilning excessive. We have standards for our operation that does not allow for a faster process. We can provide information regarding kiln operators in our region.


Whitethorn FAQs:

We often field questions about a variety of elements in our wood processing operations. The FAQs (Frequently Asked Qustions) linked to below address the most common questions we receive.

Whitethorn's Log Milling FAQs

Whitethorn's Wood DryingFAQs

Whitethorn's Hardwood Flooring FAQs


We are woodworkers first and wood merchants second

Our supplies are limited - Our hours are variable
Please call ahead for an appointment

Whitethorn Hardwoods: a division of Whitethorn Construction
P.O. Box 400, Whitethorn, CA 95589
707 / 986-7412