There is strong satisfaction in taking a live tree and turning it into useable lumber. With a minimum amount of tools, you can turn trees on your property into useful poles and planks. Whether you are building a chicken coop, smoke house or storage shed, with a little elbow-grease and know-how, you will be impressed with the building materials you can turn out.
Getting it on the Ground
If you are interested in making wide planks, you will need to fell a large diameter tree. Soft wood trees like pine and poplar are the easiest to handle and shape. Wider planks cover a structure faster, but there is the added danger of getting larger trees on the ground.
First, you will need a chainsaw full of fuel and oil. The last thing you want when you are halfway through a tree is to have the chainsaw run out of gas. Next, make sure the tension on the chain is relatively firm and the chain has been sharpened. You want to emit small, wood chips from the chain instead of sawdust.
Next, make sure you are wearing safety equipment like chainsaw chaps, non-skid boots, eye protection, ear protection and head protection. Make sure you have cleared out an escape route around the tree in case it falls in an unintended direction. Finally, never cut trees alone. Accidents are never intended, but you may need someone to get help in a worst-case scenario.
After making the two front cuts, you should be able to remove a wedge-shaped chunk of wood on the side you want the tree to fall. Finally, make the back cut a couple of inches higher than the front cuts. In addition, you can drive wedges into the back cut to aid in felling a tree in the right direction, once you have removed the chainsaw. If you doubt your tree-felling ability, hire a professional.
There are many chainsaw attachments on the market today allowing you to make your own lumber. Northern Tool (www.northerntool.com) sells a chainsaw attachment called the Granberg Chain Saw Mill, Model #G777 for $124.99. This device bolts directly onto the bar of the chain, and an adjustable platform rides along the top of the log with a guide made for 2x6 or 2x8 lumber. The saw depth can be adjusted to cut any thickness of lumber you want.
To cut planks, the log should be on level ground. Place the 2x6 piece of lumber on top of the log. Measure from the center of the log to the top of the guide rail plank, and adjust the height of the guide plank so the first cut will be level. Place shims under the guide rail on the small diameter end of the log so the first cut will be level for the length of the log.
Once you’ve made the first leveling cut from the log, you can then remove the guide rail, and the rest of the log can be cut to your desired thickness of boards. It is critical to take the time to level the board used as a guide rail so the rest of the boards will be cut evenly.
To create finished boards with the same width for the length of the board, you can pop a chalk line on each edge of the boards and trim them with the chainsaw. Boards you create yourself can save quite a bit of money over store-bought lumber, and it is kept off the ground and under a tin roof like the wall of a chicken coop or smokehouse, it will last a long time.
Skinned poles are by far the easiest to work with. These come from trees like pine or poplar less than six inches in diameter. In addition, it is much safer to get trees or saplings of this size on the ground.
After felling the pole-size trees, cut them into lengths you will use. Eight to 10- foot lengths are easiest to work with. The only tools you need to make poles are a chainsaw, to get the tree on the ground and split the pole lengthwise, and a draw knife which is a two-handled cutting tool that has been around for centuries. Unfortunately, most of them have been gathering dust on the walls of Cracker Barrel® restaurants.
Some of the more traditional hardware stores carry draw knives or you can order one through www.lehmans.com. Type "draw shave" in the search box. You may also have an old draw knife in your own barn or you can often find them at flea markets or trade day outlets.
Begin by skinning all the bark off the pole. Next, with the pole in a secure position, the chainsaw can be used to cut the pole in half lengthwise. With a little practice and a properly-sharpened saw chain, you might be surprised how straight and even you will be able to split a pole in half. I do this because you get twice the wood, and halved poles are easier to secure with nails or three-inch wood screws.
The poles are handy building materials when you want to roof a shed. If you let the tin overlap the poles so no rain touches them, they will last a long time. With a combination of hand-skinned and halved poles and chainsaw hewn lumber, you can complete just about any small shed needed around the farm.
Like many of you, I live in a rural area, and it’s quite a drive to the nearest town to buy lumber. With the high cost of gas to get there and the high cost of lumber once you get there, you may find it is worth the extra work to transform a live tree into lumber.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.