Slabbing with a Chainsaw

Advice on low-tech slabbing methods, to rescue a nice log from the burn pile. January 2, 2012

I've been doing woodworking for a lot of years and am just getting into the idea of making my own lumber. Why do people slab out a log? I have a ten inch table saw. Would it be possible to make some 2' 2x2 or just some small boards on it?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor D:
Slabbing usually refers to cutting a log into boards without turning it. This gives a mixture of flatsawn to rift sawn to quartersawn and back again. With some woods the assortment of different grain patterns are all attractive (in my opinion, walnut is one of these woods, cherry is usually not). One or more of the boards contains the pith (center) of the log which is usually defective, but maybe not in some woods like pine. Sawing like this is fast and easy and can also leave natural edged boards (even easier). These are the reasons some logs are sawn this way. Also some low value logs don't give better wood no matter how they are sawn, so taking the easy way is chosen.

So far as your question about sawing lumber from logs on the table saw, watch out. I would only do this if I made a sliding board, say a plywood piece with a miter runner underneath, and carefully fixed the log to this board with screws or some kind of clamping arrangement which is not sawn by the blade. Not too much you can do with the 10" blade projecting 3-1/8 above the table, but you should be able to saw 2" with it. I would joint two edges of a small log on the jointer, then saw it on the table saw directly. However you really have to watch out for tension release or kerf binding when doing this. You might find the little log makes a big noise then ends up somewhere else in the shop. Much more preferable to do your little sawmilling on a 14" bandsaw if you have one.

From the original questioner:
I also have access to a couple chainsaws. Is there a way to cut some boards with those and not have to buy those brackets? I would like to get into this but don't want to spend much if any money if it's possible.

From contributor D:
I sawed my first board freehand with a Stihl 028 chainsaw. Lots of people, though maybe not many in this country, who have access to nice wood, saw it this way. Regular chain is fine; ripping chain just gives a little smoother surface but isn't necessary.

From the original questioner:
I think I am going to give it a try this weekend. You got any tips to make it easier?

From contributor D:
I should be clear that there is not going to be anything easy about it, and don't recommend it based on safety. If you're borrowing a chainsaw, I have to guess you don't use one regularly and so would strongly recommend you consider other approaches. I was just saying it can and is done.

From contributor J:
Do you have a bandsaw? It's a little more doable with a sled. It's a job but it can be rewarding.

From the original questioner:
Yeah, I do use a chainsaw quite a bit with my job. No, I don't have a bandsaw.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
A slab is round on one side and flat on the other. It is the first piece taken off of a log's face. There are four faces on a log. Rarely, a slab also refers to a thick piece of lumber that will be resawn, but the correct term is cant or flitch.

When a log is sawn on one face about halfway through, and then sawn from the opposite face back to the center, this is called live sawing or through-and-through sawing. To maximize grade lumber, a good log will be turned from face to face (following specific rules); this is called grade sawing or sawing around.

Note that a chainsaw makes a lot of sawdust and therefore less lumber. Can we afford to waste our natural resource in this manner? It certainly gives ammunition to the anti-logging folks if we waste.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info Doc. I'm not too worried about waste, because it's either a chainsaw or off to the tree dump to be burned. I would prefer a little waste over burning it all. On another note I tried it with a chainsaw today. It's pretty tough. I think with a little practice and some reading on this site maybe I can come up with some ideas to make it easier to free hand with a saw.

From contributor B:
The Beam Machine, available from Bailey's, is a real cheap tool that will help make straighter flitches or boards than freehanding with your chainsaw. I use one occasionally to split a big log so that it will fit on the Wood-Mizer or occasionally in the field so I can just pick the log up and put it on my trailer.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
A shop-type band saw can have difficulty cutting green pieces, as often the wood is stringy and this clogs the blade and gets fibers on the wheels, etc. Also, it is prudent to remove the wet sawdust and fibers from the saw equipment to avoid corrosion and mold growth.

Make sure you check the Sawing and Drying Directory here at WOODWEB to make sure that there is not someone nearby that could saw for you and make life much easier.

From contributor D:
Here's how easy it is to do it if you had a bandsaw (I know you don't). I just found this product - the AccuRight Log Mill from Carter - today for the first time. You could make up your own fences like these for almost nothing if you wanted to.

From contributor M:
If you Google "Alaskan sawmill," you should find several companies selling chainsaw attachments for cutting lumber. Some of the attachments are only $40. If you are good at welding, they are easily copied.