Drying cedar slabs -- and stepping up sawmill production

Effective drying and basic sawing with a scragg mill. September 2, 2002

While having Eastern red cedar logs cut into fence posts and lumber with a Lucas Swingblade, we have gotten some nice slabs from the bigger logs. Does drying slabs follow the same procedure as lumber, i.e. sticker stacking, etc?

Forum Responses
From contributor A:
How did the sawing go? Bugs like to get to the sapwood with bark on it, so do not stack the slabs near the lumber. We just crisscross stack them to let some air in and water through. They are stable and you can make birdhouses and stuff while they are green.

Thatís the truth - insects love the bark and sapwood of ERC.

I dried a lot of 2.5 inch thick ERC slabs last year using the same method I use for all my slabs - coat the ends, sticker the heck out of Ďem and let 'em dry. I am getting some beautiful pieces of wood out of the slabs - it is well worth the effort.

From the original questioner:
Here is an update on the sawing. After bringing the saw over, setting it up and sawing for two hours, the gentleman had to leave. He taught me the basics of using the saw and now I am doing the sawing. My first few days were quite a learning experience (frustrating!). I now feel I have a handle on it. It is a lot of work! But the product is very good (confirmed by some loggers and woodworkers I know). With me doing all of the work, I have (over the last couple of days) cut about 300-350 board feet a day. Out of an 8' log with a small end of 9", I get a 6x6, one 1x4 and one 1x6 on average. Of course, this varies with the quality of the log, and the smaller logs are harder to deal with, while bigger logs are a lot more fun. Right now I feel that the process is way too slow for the amount that I will be cutting (approximately 150 16 foot logs), but I am into it now, so I will be seeing it through. I'm sure a bandsaw with hydraulic dogging, etc. would let me feel like I have feet at the end of the day.

You ought to come run my manual bandmill sometime. I sawed 1145 bdft of 1x pine and ERC today. Around 500 of it was cedar. It shouldn't take long and you'll find a rhythm or system that works best. It gets easier as you go.

I think that your recovery should be better than two boards per log. Even though the outside of cedar logs is usually of lower quality because of too much sapwood or ingrown bark, you can many times get good one-face boards of 3/4 inch that can be used for paneling, birdhouses, birdfeeders or other projects.

From the original questioner:
I am getting one face (flitches? boards?) that I am saving for something.

A gentleman who owned a Wood-Mizer came by and said:
1. Sawing on a bandsaw would be faster but when he cut cedar he went through at least one blade a day. What is that cost in downtime and blades? I have not had to sharpen the swingblade yet (1000 bf cut roughly).
2. He also did not see how I would get any more yield out of the logs with a bandsaw than I am getting, so any pointers would be helpful.

From contributor A:
In a small log you can not save enough in sawdust to add an extra board, unless you are cutting very thin. So in a 9" log you may get a 6x6 and a couple 1x4's depending on the log. If it has a big bell, you may get some short wood. Over 12 inches, you can pick up extra boards.

Blade charge is about 1 penny a bdft and takes about 5 minutes to change. In ERC I get about 1000 bdft per blade and use less than 2 a day. It costs about $8.50 a blade for sharpening and shipping and a blade will last 4000 to 5000 bdft on average for me.
I walk with my mill but then I do not have to push or pull it. I would guess that I walk about 2 miles a day with it and handle 3 to 4 tons of material a day.

From the original questioner:
Contributor A, what is your opinion on my progress? How much more in one day would one individual be able to cut if he were using a bandmill like a Wood-Mizer with the computer settings but no hydraulics? (Doing everything - getting the logs, getting rid of the slash, stickering the lumber, etc.) What about with hydraulics? I am coming to the conclusion that cutting anything smaller than 9" on the Lucas is not worth my time and expense.

From contributor N:
If you have a lot of small logs, the easiest way to handle them is with a scragg mill and resaw. You might want to consider this if you expand your operation. We got ours for that purpose and we use them more and our bandsaw less, not only for small logs but processing large pallet logs after we cut flitches on the bandmill.

From contributor A:
I do not use a computer set works as I do the math in my head and each log produces different type of boards for different orders. I may cut a few 7/8 x 5 1/4 and a few 5/4 x 6 and 1x8s from the same log for different people. I saw mostly 6 to 12 inch 8' logs in a day and average 1600 bdft with a third of it cants. 6 and 8 inch octagon porch posts take extra time but I charge extra for them. Small logs I flip by hand and hydraulics are not as fast with them. But when you get to the 12 inch and larger ones it really helps. I can see where less than 10 inches would be tough with a swinger, but a man has to start somewhere.

From the original questioner:
What is a scragg mill? I didnít intent to get into the milling business, because I thought I was hiring a sawyer... but you never know. I have a good quantity of cedar logs, and I wanted to get fence posts out of them that were better quality and better value than what I could buy. The lumber is to be resold to help recoup the cost of the project, which is why all I have been cutting is 4/4 lumber along with the posts. The quality is there, but it is actually costing me more in my time and labor than I feel the better quality warrants vs. what I could buy locally. Although this is very interesting to me and it may be something I get into, it doesn't make financial sense right now. I need to increase the productivity, mainly speed. Of course, if I could get more yield, that would help.

From contributor N:
A scragg mill has two blades (can be band or circle) and will take round wood or pieces that have a flat side. If you were processing the 9" log you mentioned, you could set the blades at 6" and run the log through, ending up with a 6" flitch and two slabs. You run all three pieces back through (ours has a roller return) the flitch on 6", again resulting in a 6x6 and two 6" edged slabs which might need to be run through again, giving two 4" edged slabs. The original two slabs would be run back through probably on 4" also. The result would be a 6x6 and 4 edged slabs in less time than it took for me to type this.

The edged slabs are accumulated and run through a resaw. They are fed end to end as fast as two people can feed and stack them.

Without a resaw, you could run the piece through the scragg mill numerous times, narrowing the blades with each pass and cutting a one inch board or flitch off of each side at each pass. Then run the flitches back through to edge them.

We have cut some 7x9 ties on ours, but I prefer to use the bandmill for that size because you have to position them by hand on our Scragg. Anything smaller than tie size definitely goes on the scragg unless it has some grade lumber in it.

From the original questioner:
Is the definition of a flitch a log that has been cut flat on two sides? And a slab is simply a side of a log that has been cut off and has one flat surface? Also, what kind of scragg mill do you have?

From contributor N:
You're correct on the vocabulary as I understand it. I think of both a cant and a flitch as being slices of wood that require further processing - the cant being larger and sometimes flatter on four sides.

As for a scragg mill, you have to change the blade spacing manually with a wrench, so you would have to saw all the same width for a while, sort your slabs or flitches or whatever, move the blades and go at it again. That doesn't appeal to me and in addition, Iíve heard they are awfully light. It's a circle mill.

Ours is a Morgan run by PTO with 36" blades and roller return. The blades shift by moving a lever. It has hydraulic feed.

From the original questioner:
The gentleman who owns the Lucas Mill was able to work with me today and we doubled our production (following my input on how to saw this stuff, because I now have more experience than he does cutting cedar). Still, he told me that the most he has been able to cut in a day is 500 board feet when doing it all by himself. And this is cutting much larger logs into lumber. He couldn't spend the whole day with me but we cut 250 board feet in four hours so that would have been 500 in a day on the cedar. Still not a productive operation, although it is interesting.