Sawing Walnut for High-Quality 5/4 Lumber

Tips on working with a big Walnut log to get high-grade five-quarter lumber. May 18, 2010

I have a large diameter walnut log that I would like to saw for furniture lumber. The log is about 36" across and 7' long with very little sapwood. I am tempted to try to get at least one very wide 8/4 board and cut the rest at 1 1/8". Will this just be folly and end up a huge warped mess? If the large board is not advisable, can anyone advise the best size (width and thickness) to get the most good furniture wood out of this log?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
You could sell that for a hefty price as a veneer log and buy two or three times as much clear walnut with the proceeds.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
First, you should cut parallel to the bark to minimize warping (compared to cutting parallel to the center of the log). Generally, cut as much 8/4 as you want until you think you are going to run into a knot or two, making the 8/4 piece a low grade piece. (Many people will cut a 5/4 piece first when opening a face and then go to 8/4.) Turn the log from one face to another whenever the adjacent face promises higher grade (in your opinion). I think the second face should be 180 degrees from the opening face if you can do that safely, but it is not so critical with a larger log. If you apply the above rules, you should maximize the high quality 8/4 and achieve high yields overall. Of course, each log is special, so these are general rules which will prove beneficial most of the time.

Sometimes, when estimating the grade of the next piece to be sawn and making 8/4 vs. 5/4 decisions and turning decisions, you might err on the conservative side, meaning that your guess about the next piece's grade is on the lower side. Experience with the logs from a given site will allow better estimation; with one log, it is hard to know for sure, so switching to 5/4 sooner and turning sooner than necessary is a good idea and it cannot hurt you much, other than sawing time.

From contributor R:
You can always cut it into narrower boards later if it cups too bad. I'm a wide-board addict though, so my opinion may be somewhat biased!

From contributor S:
You are exactly right - when all else fails, rip it smaller. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Before sawing you need to figure out what you really want sawn from the log - more 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 8/4.