Sawyer survey

      A host of sawyers share their preferred techniques for sawing logs, and the reasoning behind them. June 20, 2000

How do you prefer to position a log on the mill, with the top end of the log towards the blade, sawing from little to big end; or, with the butt end towards the blade, going from big to little end?

Or no preference (i.e., whatever way they load)?

If you have a reason that's not been explained by someone else, please add that, too.

I'll go first.

I always saw from the top end to the butt end.

My reasons:

(1) When I started sawing with my Woodmizer in '96, no one told me to saw top to butt - it just felt right. Then my uncle, who ran a circle mill for 60 years, told me you always put the little end towards the saw and toe the log out so the center line of the heart is parallel to the travel of the carriage. You run the log up to the blade, he said, and then adjust it out to make your face cut. The taper of the butt end then assures a large enough face. With the butt end to the saw, you have to do a lot of measuring and math get a good face on the top end, and you have a greater risk of being too shallow or too deep.

(2) I've had two different cedar mill operators tell me to saw red cedar from top to butt whenever possible because the band tended to ride up over the knots, producing wavy boards, when going butt to top.

The no-preference argument:

I've worked a couple of Woodmizer product demos with one of the company's "top gun" sawyers. He said he saws the logs as they hit the mill. I respect his opinion, as he can put more sawdust in the air in one day than I can in week. Another Woodmizer owner who has done custom sawing twice as long as I have also saws the logs as they come. But both these men saw for speed and volume. I saw my own logs, mostly for grade lumber.

I feel it's worth my time to make the most of every log. One more grade board is profit to me, though it may be lost time to them.

I have no argument for butt-first sawing, although I have found two sawyers that prefer that method.

I knew there was a reason why I always liked to saw from the small end first. You explained it very eloquently.

I've been grade sawing since '84 and have tried it both ways. It just seems easier for me to visualize the opening face from the small end. In fact, I have the log-truck driver unload the logs so the small ends are all facing the same way. That way I don't have to spend time turning some of the logs around when I put them on the log deck.

Count me as a small-end-first man.

Well, I go with the small end also. I can get more good quality lumber and less time deciding where to start cutting than on the big end.

I have friends who seem to be able to go either way without any loss of time or lumber.

I'm running an automatic circle mill. On some logs, the highest priced product is in the heart. This is especially true for 23 foot 7 x 9s, and bridge timbers. It is far easier to judge taper sets and depth of cut from the small end to ensure a usable product when you are done.

On large butt logs, sometimes it is better to start at the flare end. Again, it's easier to judge your depth of cut, and you can recover some of those clear shorts that you might miss if the butt was facing to the rear. You also have less travel on your carriage.

All that being said, I have to take them as they are put into the mill. Positioning is more up to the debarker operator to ease his operation, and besides, he's the one putting them up.

I can go either way without much loss of time, and time is money in this business.

I swing both ways, but have a preference for the small end simply because this is where the adjustments are made and everything is easier to see.

Small end first.

I ALWAYS measure for my calculations from the small end; if it is at the far end of the mill it makes for more walking, more time, less cutting, etc.

If you cut from the small end to the large end you will make your blade guide arm adjustments as you cut down the log. So when you get to the end, the arm is out far enough to clear the log on the way back. If the log is sitting the other way you will hit the fat end of the log if you forget to push the guide arm out before you make your return to the other end for your next cut. This causes much cussing here at "It's Worth Milling Co."!

I don't tell my customers to make an extra effort to turn the logs this way, it would be a lopsided deck if all the fat ends were on one side. Plus it's just a little overwhelming for most people dealing with all the other things involved. I just feel fortunate when the logs come on the mill this way and count my blessings.

When I managed a mill, we considered the options and went with either end first. However, we always sawed parallel to the bark, not the heart, to maximize long, high-grade pieces.

One reason to saw the large end first is that the feathered edge, when squaring the tapered log or cant, is at the back -- so it will not catch as it rolls on the conveyor, or catch on the log splitter.

One reason to saw the small end first is that there will be more defects at the top, so seeing the end at the top is often more helpful in knowing when to rotate to another face.

The best reason is for trimming to length. It is better to take trim off the top end rather than the butt end, as the butt is usually clearer. So, where the trimmer operator is standing and how the boards are presented to him/her is part of the decision-making process. Then you orient the logs so that the minimal trim (2 inches?) is off the butt end and the remainder is off the top.

Otherwise, I do believe that it is a toss up. In Europe, they face all the logs the same way in a mill -- either end first, but not mixed.
Gene Wengert, forum moderator

In my opinion, if you're grade sawing you should saw parallel to the bark, so it doesn't matter a heck of a lot whether you're starting on the little end or the big end.

Since the outer rind of the log contains (usually) more clear wood, it is a good idea to full taper the clear faces of the log to the saw, then take out the taper in the interior, lower-grade portion of the log after you have removed the best pieces from the outer portion.

If you are splitting the taper and establishing a minimum opening face (MOF) in the little end on the first line, you are leaving a lot of lumber in the slab. If, for example, you are sawing a 16-foot log that has 2 inches of taper, establishing a 6-inch MOF from the little end would result in leaving two shorter, 1-inch boards in the slab.

If you are split-taper sawing a log from the large end, you save travel time, as mentioned by a previous poster. But, if you are sawing grade you should be full tapering and not split tapering.

Iíve found that when you enter on the butt end, the grain is usually flared out and not as parallel to the tree. With an unsupported blade entering the grain it can tend to follow the grain towards the center, and dive.

It's easier to cut from the small end so the blade is supported as it hits the flared-out grain on the butt end.

Big end first for me. It's easier to judge the first cut so I don't get thick slabs that need to be resawn. If I can get a 2-inch wide x 3-foot long piece from the outside on the first cut I take it, and edge it for stacking stickers. Seven-plus years with a bandmill and over fifteen with a circular mill have taught me some ways to save time and money!

For economy of motion, judging cut, etc., I prefer the small end toward me. When I load the logs on the ways I try to get them positioned small end first, however I don't go to a great deal of trouble to do so.

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