Lumber Quality above the Butt Log

      There's a lot of useable lumber left behind in short log ends that commercial sawmill's won't accept. But that higher-up wood can be tricky to work with. October 4, 2011

I know that the butt log is the premier log on the tree, but is there any reason that the wood further up the tree can't be used for making furniture? I've seen a lot of 12-14-16" diameter wood left lying on the ground because the big commercial mills don't want to mess with it. A lot of it might only be 4-6' long, but I make a lot of things that use shorter length lumber in my furniture. Do any of you mess with the wood further up the tree and if no, why not?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
There is nothing wrong with the wood farther up the tree. Once you get up into the limb sections you have to work around the knots, but other than that it's fine. I think we should be as efficient with our resources as possible. The only wood you want to watch is limb wood; one side is under compression and the opposite is under tension. This wood can do some crazy things after drying. Some people use it as well, but usually it's wood turners.

It sounds like you're getting the bug; you'll be sawing in no time!

From contributor A:
In this area (western Pennsylvania), most of the butt logs that have any size to them go into veneer or the export market. The only butt logs I get at my mill have some defect that kicks them out of those markets.

So second and third cut logs are used routinely for furniture and everything else. You don't get as mush select and better lumber, but still plenty of good material. Some species like soft maple and white oak aren't worth messing with (in my opinion) after the butt log. You just end up with too much low grade to make it worthwhile. Other species like red oak, walnut and cherry can still yield plenty of good lumber from logs with 0 to 3 clear faces.

From contributor S:
Often those 4-6 foot logs are left because they were something that didnít match the logger's load or wasn't worth the production sawyer's time. Those logs still make nice boards and can usually be acquired for little or no cost other than one's time and effort. Thatís where the sawyer/woodworker with a smaller mill or not into production work usually justifies some of his/her investment in a sawmill.

From the original questioner:
Thanks guys. I used to sell logs and the mill I sold to wouldn't take anything less than 6'. They wouldn't fit their log deck or loader so a lot of wood was left in the woods. They also wouldn't take longer than 10' for furniture grade logs so anything that had a usable length of 11-15' had a lot of waste.

As far as the compression/tension thing with limb wood goes, does it all go crazy drying or just some of it? Is there enough that dries flat to be worth the trouble to try? Are the crotches farther up the tree as nice as the lower ones, just not as big, or should you stick with the lower ones?

The mill I used to sell to also wanted their logs 6" over length. Such as 8'6" or 10'6", and they didn't treat the ends of their logs. Do you think they were sacrificing that 6" to check, or just a little cushion?

From contributor B:
A tree growing at an angle/tilt will try to straighten out by pulling on one side and pushing on the other in its growth; it may also twist. These tensions are grown into the wood, and will not be relieved when the tree falls. When you slice it, the tension will cause the wood to bend, and as it dries it will bend even more. Moisture changes in said wood will bend it even after drying, making it unreliable for anything that needs to be kept straight, hence the best use is for turning bowls and the like that may not need to be so perfect. The crotches up a tree are generally mostly sapwood while the first crotch will have the most heartwood; it depends on what you do with it that will determine if it is of any use. As far as the 6" thing goes, I would think it to be both a cushion against cracks (whether or not sealer was used) and a means of getting a true length cut once they are done with slicing it.

From contributor S:
The mill asks for 6" over length, but they probably don't say anything if they get the occasional 3" or 4" over length. If they ask for 3-4" over length, then some logs will come in with no over length at all, and those logs will present a problem, either with end splits if the logs dry out, no room to trim, or the logs and lumber will fall off the various conveyors the mill uses. Also, the cutting units in the over length can be used for grading purposes.

From contributor W:
Tension and compression wood like you find in limbs have different properties than the non-tension/compression wood of the same species because the cell walls and cellular structure is different. It will machine/plane differently, sometimes is very fuzzy, brash, and has lower strength in addition to wanting to bow, cup, and warp more.

I have learned to leave limb wood alone if at all possible as it will end up turning out poorly and wasting your time. It is not nice to spend a bunch of time sawing and drying low quality junk logs and then end up with most of it only suitable for firewood.

As a forester and a sawyer, I can say that I have learned the log quality lesson many times. You get what you pay for in most things in life, and that goes for logs too, even if the junky, crappy, knotty, sweepy logs are free!

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