Is It Practical to Store Logs for Long Periods?

Most logs will deteriorate quickly if not cut and dried. Here's a long debate on the practicality of pond storage and other proposed ways around the dilemma. April 19, 2006

I have an opportunity to bring in more logs than I can cut over the next couple of years. The logs are approximately 80% hardwood, mostly red and white oak with some hickory and sweetgum, and 20% longleaf pine. All exceed 36"diameter. What is the best way to store these logs for up to 2 years? Which should be sawed first, and which can wait for later?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
This is a bad idea, as logs generally do not keep well. Pine has the shortest life of the three you mention, generally 1 to 2 weeks in warm weather, along with gum. Red oak is also not too good in storage, but might last a month of warm weather, except the sapwood will be gray. White oak will last the longest. Nevertheless, you should look at the expected value of the logs and saw the most valuable first, as any losses would be greatest. (Longleaf is quite valuable if sawn into the right products. After storage of 6 weeks of warm weather, you will begin to lose value to the point that paying $75 to have them sawn per MBF will be cheaper than letting them deteriorate in potential value.)

From contributor B:
Where can you get sawing done for $75.00 mbf? Cheapest I know is $200.00. At that price difference, I would like to broker some sawing if it is not too far away.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I was thinking that the questioner already had the equipment so all he had to do was hire some labor to do the sawing more rapidly. The money spent for labor would be a better choice than letting the logs deteriorate. The cost of sawing in his case would be around $75 per MBF, as he is already set up and already has the equipment.

Note that it is possible to sprinkle logs with cold water, equivalent to about 2" of rain per day, to offer 6 weeks of fairly good protection in warm weather. However, the water runoff can be a problem in some states, requiring permitting, holding ponds, etc.

From contributor K:
"The cost of sawing in his case would be around $75 per MBF, as he is already set up and already has the equipment."

I am already set up and have the equipment, but there is no way I could mill at that rate. Just the equipment upkeep expense would exceed the rate you mention, thus you're losing money. I am confused as to how anyone can afford to cut for $75mbf. Currently I am paid $250mbg min for custom sawing. Then to "hire some labor to do the sawing more rapidly" just means you're going to lose money.

Is the questioner sawing for a hobby? Are the logs free or is he paying for them? Does he have an outlet to dry the lumber and then sell it? Lots of unknowns, but I suggest that he's better off only bringing in the logs he can handle for whatever size operation he has.

I don't know how many logs you can cut over the next couple years, but some of it that can't be cut in 1-6 months may just go to waste. I don't cut much softwood, so I won't comment on those. As far as the white oaks, they will last for at least a year if kept of the ground. Sure, you will lose some sapwood, but who wants it anyway?

Red Oak? I just cut some last week that had been in my log yard for a year. Sapwood was toast, but below that was FAS lumber! Hickory? Cut it quick and kiln dry it or treat for powder post beetles. It doesn't fair well since the bugs like it so much. Sweet gum? Cut it soon into large carving blanks. Great carving wood and if your logs are 36" dimater, the carvers will go nuts for good big pieces.

What kind of mill are you running? I think your question can best be answered by talking with folks that actually are sawyers and have seen many cases of logs not being cut right away. Seems to be a lot of advice out there that gets disproved after a log is opened up. I know quite a few folks that cut oaks that laid for over two years and got a fair amount of FAS lumber. What type of lumber market are you cutting for? Small end cabinet shops? FAS finished lumber (S4S). Pallet material?

From contributor B:
As the questioner stated he had more than he could get to in the next couple of years, I kind of figured the only option left was to hire them sawed or lose them. I have to agree with contributor K's math.

From contributor R:
I'd cut them up here for $75M if the logs are 16-30''.and nothing over 16' long. I just bought a box of 10 1 1/2'' Wood-Mizer blades to try out and they work great.

From contributor D:
The simple answer I see is to cut into cants and sticker for future resaw. This has its own problems with storage and the curse of repeated handling. You could certainly have some superb material in the yard and it would be relatively stable. I have a friend with a Lucas mill. It can move fast and those carbide blades hold up better against the bark. Having a Lucas create cants would be more effective than loading the material onto my Wood-Mizer.

From contributor K:
Where are you located? If you're limited to 16 feet, I assume you are running a LT30 WM. Based on my own experience, you can't make money at that rate. Expenses of equipment upkeep run in that range alone. Regardless, the questioner said the logs he has all exceed 36" diameter, so I guess that rate won't work for you on these.

From contributor R:
I have a turner mill and there's not much equipment upkeep on it or anything around here. On the bigger logs I can get 300 feet an hour easy and the electric for running the mill isn't much, so I should clear about $20 an hour, which is good money for this part of the country. But you're right - if they start at 36'', that leaves me out

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
There are two types of cost when running a mill. The first is called fixed costs and they accumulate whether you are running the mill or not. They would include the cost of the mill, bank loan interest, advertising, office expense (phone, trucks, etc.) and so on. The second is variable cost that accrues only when the mill is running. Variable costs would include labor, fuel, electricity, and so on. If you have a pile of logs that you are going to saw, the variable cost will be the same whether you saw them now or later (discounting inflation). The fixed costs will be less if you saw them now. Generally, the cost of sawing, without profit, will be about $0.15 per BF or $150 per MBF. Fixed costs would be about 1/2 or $75 per MBF. This is the cost to be considered when looking at the value of a log if sawed now or later.

Note that although you can get lots of FAS, if you lose the sapwood, you are losing a good deal of volume. For example, a 26" diameter log that has 1" of sapwood that is lost, will be a 24" log. The loss if footage is 363 BF to 300 BF, or 20% less lumber. As the outside of the log is typically the most valuable (the clearest), this can be quite a loss.

From the original questioner:
I am a weekender. I have a Lucas 8". A relative of mine has given me the opportunity to pick and choose the type trees I mentioned before he sells the property they are on. I am located in mid-west Georgia.

From contributor C:
What is the goal? To saw all of them yourself? To make them into lumber for later use? To saw and sell the lumber? Is this simply a profit making deal? You should be thinking about getting the logs sawed or sold as quickly as possible, whether you do it yourself or hire it done or hire help to do it with your mill. Storing the logs is the least desirable alternative as the loss in value of the logs over 2 years would be greater than the expense of sawing them now.

From contributor E:
I've read somewhere that most hardwood logs can be stored in a holding pond almost indefinitely. Float them in a pond to keep them moist, drag them out as you need them. I've never tried this myself, though. Don't have a pond that's convenient to where I saw.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
One problem with pond storage is that only 80% of a log is under the water. The part above can deteriorate. A second problem is that the logs leach tannic acid and other compounds into the water, creating excessive pollution. As a result, many (or maybe most) states will not allow pond storage. A third problem in warm water ponds is anaerobic bacterial degradation, which weakens the wood and creates odors in the wood.

From contributor G:
Pond storage is a good option since the logs tend to sink after being in for a while. You will need a private pond though. The pollution factor is not worth mentioning compared to the acid rain and mercury deposition problems. Wood actually becomes more valuable when sunk for awhile. I have worked with lumber from old sunken logs and it is the best for furniture. You will have to pay a premium for lumber from the Great Lakes.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Many logs will not sink for a very long time. Butt logs will often sink first, especially if there is a bacterial infection. Other logs can float for a year or more. Because raising logs from the bottom of a lake, including the Great Lakes, adds a great deal of sediment to the water, this activity may inhibit fish life and reproduction. In addition, because there are Native American issues, harvesting of sunken logs from the Great Lakes in the US probably cannot occur any more.

Wood from sunken logs is weaker than from fresh logs. It is harder to dry. The furniture or cabinets made from such wood is not any better than from fresh logs. In fact, the wood is often more discolored and weaker. Because some sunken logs are submerged for over 100 years, they may have closer ring spacing, which will give them a different appearance, but it is hard to say that such an appearance is "best." Submerged wood does reportedly have better acoustics, according to the supplier of such wood, and therefore would make a better instrument.

In Wisconsin I do know that using a pond, even a private pond, for log storage is a concern for pollution of that pond and is controlled by the Dept of Natural Resources. Just because you own the land or water, doesn't mean you can pollute it. In fact, water law is a very complex subject. Even the water in a pond will eventually reach a public water supply. Further, at some time in the future, the land and pond will be sold and if it is contaminated, we could have a major issue. Indeed, pollution from mercury or hydrocarbons may be more serious than pond pollution from logging, but even small pollution sources must be controlled.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Logs that have been stored for more than a few weeks in warm weather are likely to begin to develop enzymatic stain. This would be most critical for white colored woods. Also, oak lumber from stored logs must be dried more carefully as it is several times more likely to check when stored over 3 months of warm weather.

From contributor G:
Wood Doc, you may want to read some Fine Woodworking type of magazines concerning the use of lumber from old submerged logs. It is not the integrity of the wood itself that makes it so highly prized. It is the fantastic coloration that is picked up from the minerals in the water. There are dozens of articles in numerous magazines describing its characteristics and uses in fine cabinets.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Indeed, there are a few pieces with some dramatic coloration, but they are the exception and not the rule. I think the close ring spacing from old growth is the most striking appearance in most cases. However, some submerged logs do not have slow growth, so again, it is hit and miss. One problem in one Wisconsin operation was the large number of hemlock logs and the low percentage of quality hardwood logs. I wonder if the old time sawmillers knew that some logs were very valuable and so they worked to prevent them from sinking. My experience in working with several sunken log mills (logs over 75 years old) convinces me that sunken logs are not the gold mine that some claim... there are some good logs indeed, but not a high percentage. Some of the early articles written about sunken logs were quite biased and were directed at trying to build a market for such wood. As with all specialty woods, you do not make any money until they are sold and selling such wood at a high price is extremely difficult.

From contributor J:
You should consider the moral repercussions of trying to take more than you can use from this forest. Respect your elders.

From contributor A:
I have to agree with contributor K - it is almost impossible to cut for the amount quoted by the Doctor. Even if you already own the mill outright, and it is your hobby, that mill will sooner or later have to be replaced. And I bet if word gets out that you will cut for that amount, you will either be replacing the mill sooner than you like, or out of business, or both.

As far as pine logs, slab off all four sides making cants and tarp them over - they will keep just fine. For keeping the logs in a pond, what's wrong with excavating an area, and laying down a pond liner membrane? There can't be any environmental issues if the water isn't getting past the membrane, are there?

Finally, it is a free country and you can charge what you want, but you aren't doing anyone a favor keeping the sawing rates artificially low by subsidizing your hobby with income I assume comes from other sources.

From contributor P:
I have a question about this as well. I had bought enough pine to frame the building(s?) for my new mill and also have a lot of poplar that I bought to put up a very large privacy fence to hold in a large dog. I bought all the logs this past spring and have been having problems with my back. I'm finally about 4 weeks to being able to get back to the mill and cutting the logs. Is the problem with long term storage of the logs in discoloration or in strength? Honestly, I don't care about discoloration in this case, but do care about the strength.

From contributor K:
My experience with hardwoods has been that it effects both. Some to more of a degree than others. I know that a lot of the ash that I have cut for folks was sap stained, so using it for projects where you wanted the white wood was limited, but it also was dodey, or filled with small pockets of decay. I would never use lumber for construction that had any sign of decay. Just yesterday I had to use one of those ash boards as a plank to get my truck unstuck (trailer was filled with logs and I couldn't get moving). Just from the weight of my truck, the board snapped as I rolled across it lengthwise. I am not sure on the pine, but I did cut some SYP a week ago while in FL that was blown down trees from the hurricane in the Sebastian, FL area. The bark was all falling off and was full of bugs, but once the heavy slab was removed, the lumber looked no different than what we cut a day later in Jacksonville, FL that was freshly felled SYP.

From contributor A:
I have some red pine I cut two years ago and the beetles have just started into the outer wood. Cut past the slab wood, and the wood is fresh and new with no deterioration. I turned the remaining logs into cants. Next spring they will be cut into structural dimensional lumber for my pole barn.