Planning Your First Cut for Best Lumber Quality

A little forethought can help a sawyer get the best wood out of every log. April 10, 2007

I have just recently bought a LM2000 and have been reading up on the best methods of sawing. Most articles mention that the first (best) cut will determine the amount of good lumber that will be produced from a log, but I have found nothing that expands on this. What should one look for in order to determine where that optimum cut should be?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
I look for the cut that will produce the most clear lumber. You have to take in the total picture of what the log will produce. I try to cut knots and other defects so they will be edged off. I learned a lot from watching another sawyer. The main thing is Just Do It! Learn from your mistakes; I still make them every day after seven years of sawing.

From contributor F:
When I first got my Wood-Mizer and started sawing, I got so depressed after I sawed a stack of lumber and it dried. I couldn't use but about 1/2 of it because it warped or twisted so bad. I was ready to get rid of the mill. I asked a lot of questions on these forums, but what helped me was I took a ride to Lowes and studied how the lumber was sawed (I mainly saw pine). 2 hours at Lowes and a little thought… The lumber I saw now I can use about 98% of. A few boards are going to bow and I can't help that.

Each tree has to be looked at to plan the first cut, plus it's important to know what you need out of each tree, meaning 2x whatever width or 1x. On pine, I try to make the first cut to where, when I get it squared, I can keep the heart centered in the cant on both ends. If a tree is bowed some and it will square into a good size cant, I turn the bow up or down on the mill (whichever way it will work/clamp best) for the first cut, but I still get the ends to where the heart will be close to center on each end. Then when I get it squared, I make sure before I saw it into boards that I have the cant to where the bow was. Will still be up or down. Then flat saw the whole cant. If I have to turn it because the cant is trying to lift, I turn it 180 degrees. That way the grain will stay close centered on each board from side to side and it will bow less. Some trees, the heart is way off center, so I look at both ends and figure out which way would be the best way to cut it to keep the grain as close to center of the cant, even though the heart is not centered, then I saw the cant to where I can take a board off, keeping the grain centered as close as possible, turning the cant as needed to do this. Keep in mind if you end up with a 16" square cant, if you cut it into just 2x4's, you will have a lot of bowing/warping 2x4's. But sometimes, that's all the customer wants. If he said he wanted 2x4's and 1x and the cant squared 16" with the heart centered, I would cut him 6 1x16 off of one side, then turn it 180 degrees and cut 6 more 1x16, then turn it up 90 degrees and cut him 8 2x4's. If he didn't want boards that wide, then I would adjust my sawing to try and give him what he wanted, but at the same time trying to give him the best sawed lumber. I rarely ever cut hardwood.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
You need to get "Sawing, Edging and Trimming of Hardwood Lumber." Contact the Forest Products Society,

From contributor S:
Your opening face cut determines the rest of your cuts. Try to make it on the best face. If your first cut has a knot in it that extends to where your next face is, you will have defects in both faces. Try to arrange the cuts to keep defects or clear faces together. Timberking has some good videos on this, but they are pricey. Don't worry about it - just get some logs and start sawing; practice is the best teacher. I have a LM2000. It is a great mill.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
You should position the opening face so the knots are on the edges, as much as possible, for hardwoods. You then open the best face using taper or the worst face without taper. The width is 4-1/2 for lower grade and 6-1/2 for upper grade. (There are other rules too, but this is the basic idea.)

From contributor W:
For hardwood, I find the best face and place the best face down on the mill. Then, I open the face that is opposite the best face. That way, when I turn the log 180 degrees to cut the best face, the cut on the best face will flow parallel to the bark, resulting in more stable grain orientation in the boards. Remember, you will eventually saw boards off all 4 faces (in most cases if you are grade sawing), so make sure that you are sawing boards off the best faces parallel to the bark on those faces by opening the opposite faces first. The other option as Dr. Gene implies, is to position the log to eliminate taper by wedging the log on the little end so that the pith is the same distance from the bed. This works well, but to me, takes more time. This is not a problem if all 4 faces are very good and clear of knots, but the stuff I saw rarely has 4 clear faces. Usually, at least one face, and typically more than one, has knots or defects, so it is easy to decide which face should be opened (the worst) and which should be placed 180 degrees down on the bed - the best).

From the original questioner:
Many thanks for the advice. This should keep me going for quite a while.