Best Dimension for Sawing Poplar

A sawmill operator with a load of Poplar logs to saw wonders what size boards would prove most popular. September 27, 2008

I have about 800 bd/ft of yellow poplar to saw on my LT15. The logs range from 26 inches in diameter to 14 inches. I plan on selling the lumber when cut. What size boards should I saw them into? They will all be 5/4, but I don't know if I should cut as wide as I can get or cut 1x6, 1x8 and 1x10.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
Try to get an order before you saw up the logs. Someone might want 4/4 instead of 5/4. I've used lower grade poplar for siding. You could saw that 7/8". The lower grade material also makes good 2x 4's.

From contributor C:
Thanks. The 5/4 should have been 4/4. I guess what I was wondering was whether I should saw boards to a standard width or cut a 7.75 inch board or a 16 inch board if I can get it. Regardless of fractional width or possible warping in the wide board? I'll try an ad in the local shopper to see if anyone wants something other than 1x's.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Most y-p is sold random width. As-wide-as-possible might result in lower grades, so edging for higher grade is worthwhile.

From contributor R:
I previously sawed all my hardwood for grade. By chance I ran across some large poplars a homeowner had taken down. Rather than saw for grade, I sawed them into 1 x 12 and took them to farm auction in Ohio. I actually got more for them than most mills sell for. If you are in farm country don't ignore the fact that many people use siding for a variety of uses. I have since attended an auction in southwestern PA and had the same results. I can get more boards from a log sawing 1x lumber as opposed to 4/4; the boards are lighter and people buy it green. You need to investigate your buyer's needs.

From contributor S:
What was the average price you got at the auction? If you factor in your time and price of gasoline driving to the auction, was it worth it?

From contributor R:
I had 40 pieces, 1 X 12 X 120 or 400 bd feet. The winning bid was $375, or .94 per board foot. Minus the 10% commission left me with $337.50. The logs were free for taking. $25 in gas to get the logs, $25 for a new blade to saw the logs, and $20 in gas to attend the auction. The better part of one Saturday to saw the logs on my manual mill. $267.50 profit to go into my sawmill account for upgrades and improvements. I am a part time sawyer, who works a regular 40 hour a week job and usually only saws on weekends. I currently don't have a permanent location for my mill and lumber, so the auctions are a suitable means of sale. Yes, I was quite satisfied with the money I made on the poplar siding. One word of caution about auctions though. If the auction has much of the same thing, or if your lumber happens to be the last in line, it can have a negative effect on the price it brings. I only mentioned the siding option as a consideration to sawing for grade especially if the logs are not high quality to begin with. If it is a farm auction the attendees are most likely farmers, not woodworkers. Walnut and cherry probably won't bring near their true market value.

From the original questioner:
Thank for all the responses. How does 2x12 poplar work for stair stringers? Is it as strong as pine?

From contributor T:
You said, "I can get more boards from a log sawing 1x lumber as opposed to 4/4; the boards are lighter and people buy it green." What is the difference between 1x lumber and 4/4?

From contributor R:
4/4 comes off the mill at about 1.125 inches thick. 1x lumber comes off the mill at about .875 inches thick. You gain about one quarter inch per board or an extra board for every 4 you cut. If you go to the commercial lumber stores and home improvement stores, a 1 x 12 is probably .75 x 11.25.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The grading rules for hardwood lumber require a minimum of 1.00" for 4/4 lumber, green or air-dried. As a result, we cut lumber at the mill a little thicker on the average. Although 1-1/8" (1.125") was common in the past, now with more accurate equipment, we often see 1-1/16" (1.06"). Some customers have different requirements, so the advice given above to get the customer first is great advice indeed.