Western Hemlock at the Sawmill

As you will be well aware, I have been absent here for some time.  Work and other obligations have made it very difficult to find time to write.  I have done some woodworking, but have not documented the projects very well.  I’m hoping to write a few posts showing what I have been unto lately and share some projects and new tools.

To get started, I thought I’d share with you a lucky recent lumber acquisition.

A friend of mine from my local woodworking club asked for some help in getting logs out of the woods and onto his mill.  He wanted to trade some of the wood for help moving and milling the logs.  A couple of trees (Western Hemlock) had fallen on his 20 acres and he had cut them into 11-foot logs.   He has a very nice Wood-Mizer with all the hydraulic bells and whistles, but getting the logs to the mill was a massive chore.

I took my utility trailer to his property and we used hand winches, cables, and chains to pull the logs up onto the trailer.  After driving to the mill (on another part of his property), we then had to rig the winches again to drag the logs back off the trailer and position them in a way that they could be rolled onto the mill. Some of the bigger logs, were really heavy and I was only able to move one log at a time.  There were seven or eight logs in all.  Getting the logs out of the woods and back to the mill took all day and was pretty tiring.  We finished the day with milling one of the logs, which my friend then gave to me.

Here's the log going onto the mill.

Here’s the log going onto the mill.

This was the first time the I had helped to operate a sawmill and it was lots of fun.

The milling begins.

The milling begins.

I was asked what I wanted to mill the log into.  I really had no idea how I was going to use this wood.  I decided that 5/4″ lumber would probably be useful in a variety of ways, so I asked him to flitch saw the log at 5/4″ thickness.  I figured that this way, the lumber should be dry in about a year, and I could start finding a good use for it.

I think the most common use for Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is for house framing lumber.  My local Home Depot only carries this species in their 2 x material and it’s crap.  Massive growth rings and curved like a banana.  Instead, I shop at a local building supply store where they carry No.  1 Douglas fir, which is way better.

Back to the point at hand, the lumber we were getting off the sawmill seemed pretty nice.  Too nice for framing anyway.  I figured that 5/4 lumber should get me a 1-inch finished board if I want anything heavy duty (like a tool chest carcass) and I might even be able to re-saw two ½-inch boards out of it, if it doesn’t cup while drying and I’m very careful.

When I got home from a long day in the woods, my daughter helped me stack and sticker the lumber in the correct flitch orientation.

The log stickered and stacked.

The log stickered and stacked.


The following weekend, I went back to help finish milling the logs.

I ended the day with another trailer load of hemlock, again all from a single log.  This time the log was halved lengthwise and then cut into boards.  This resulted in boards that were a little narrower, but that all had one straight edge.

We also experimented with some Red Alder (Alnus rubra). With one small log, we wedged it in the mill at an angle so that we could cut it on the bias.    This resulted in some interesting shaped pieces.  I’m not sure what I will do with them, but we’ll see.

On another alder log, we were able to cut four nice sized boards, one of which my friend gave to me to bring home.

I live in the Pacific Northwest and this lumber is going to be stored outside to dry.  My friend suggested that I take out a little insurance policy against a bug infestation by spreading the wood with Timbor.  When I got home, my daughter was really thrilled to find out that we were going to un-stack all the wood from the previous week, treat it with insecticide, and re-stack it  along with the new trailer full.

I mixed the Timbor in my garden sprayer and coated both sides of each board.  Here’s what I ended up with:

When all was said and done, I had a nice pile of lumber.

When all was said and done, I had a nice pile of lumber.

The widest boards are about 12″ across, but those on the left are more in the 6″-8″ range.  They are all just over 11 feet long.

My guess is 200-220 bd. ft.

My guess is 200-220 bd. ft.

I've got no idea what I'm going to build with this.

I’ve got no idea what I’m going to build with this.

Some pieces of alder that we cut on the bias.

Some pieces of alder that we cut on the bias.


I hope to have more posts in the future.  Hopefully before this lumber dries.


All the best,


About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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16 Responses to Western Hemlock at the Sawmill

  1. jenesaisquoiwoodworking says:

    Hey Jonathan

    I enjoyed reading this post, sounds like lots of fun in a hard work type of way. I really like the idea of being involved with one’s stock from the the start and especially natural slow drying like what you are doing. Some of my wood has been seasoning for around the 18 year mark by now. It is just so much better to work with than kiln dried stuff.

    I cannot wait to see what you do with the wood. It seems to be super straight grained which always helps.

    Cheers mate.

    • Jonathan says:


      Yeah, it’s nice wood (for Hemlock 🙂 ). It’s softer than my usual Doug Fir being 540 on the Janka scale compared to 620 for DF. I’ve never used it other that in framing lumber, so it will be interesting to see how it cuts and planes. One positive, is that I don’t think it is going to have the really hard rings that DF has. That stuff eats chisels.

      I’m still not sure what I’ll do with it. One think that I really need to make is a good clamp storage rack. At the rate I’m progressing through my to-do list, the wood should be well dry by the time I make a rack.

      I am perpetually envious of your lumber shed of feral hardwoods.

      All the best,


  2. Robert Demers says:

    Heh, welcome back Jonathan, been a while.
    I laugh when i read “my daughter was really thrill to find out…” i would had been too 🙂

    Looking forward to see what you make with it.
    BTW getting wood without a clue what to do with it had never stop me from getting some 🙂

    Bob, still stuck in a heat wave, make you almost long for winter … almost

  3. Gav says:

    Hi Jonathon, been keeping an eye out for some more posts. Glad you have managed to do a few more. I have a chainsaw mill I run through the occasional urban sourced timber I come across and it is quite rewarding when you can get to using it. Usually the biggest problem I have encountered in my part of the world is excessively fast drying due to our hot summers so end treatment to help stop splitting pays off. In saying that, some species really do dry evenly compared to others. Working air dried timber does seem to be nicer with hand tools- even with some of Australia’s notoriously difficult timbers. As you said, it is a fair bit of work to shove around a log. Makes you appreciate what the sawmills do! Hope to read some more posts at some point ,all the best. Gav

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Gav,

      I really need to find the time to sit down and write. I was doing really well for a couple of years there, but… life. Perhaps I just need a little more self discipline.

      If only distance wasn’t such a problem, it would be great to swap some timber with you from Australia and with Gerhard in Namibia. 🙂

      Here in coastal Pacific North West, the humidity is a little odd. In the US at least, most people have very dry winters and humid summers. We are the reverse. No rain at all for three months in the summer, and then near constant drizzle for the rest of the year. Snow is somewhat rare and never sticks around for more that a couple of days. I have to run a dehumidifier in my shop throughout the winter to stop my tools from rusting.

      I haven’t treated the ends of these boards, but I can certainly see why you should when it is very hot and dry. It’s pretty dry outside, but temperatures have been staying in the 60s and 70s. I figure that even if I get a few minor checks, the boards are 11 feet long and losing a few inches of each end won’t kill me.

      It’s good to hear from you. I hope that you are well.

      All the best,


  4. Allen Ross says:

    This is a great post. Have no fear, the right project will appear in about 10 years for all that wood! I’m impressed your daughter helped you at all, much less twice.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Allen,

      Thanks. Yeah, I think I’m going to be sitting on this wood for some time to come. My daughter was a big help spraying a stacking all the lumber. The boards aren’t super heavy, but stacking 11 footers is a little awkward on your own. Plus I was really knackered from working all day, and it would have taken three times as long without help.

      All the best,


  5. jesse Washburn says:

    Where are you located at and I would like to hear from you and work with you on it here is my cellphone number 12083203667 and my name is jesse washburn jr

  6. Gary Reach says:

    My sawmill, kiln, log arch and my log loader is homemade. I built the loader about 7 years ago and it has loaded hundreds of logs, has never let me down and I have yet to come across a log it wouldn’t load. Oh, by the way, it also unloads the logs also. Here is a few pictures of my ugly old loader. I know it doesn’t look like much but, heck, neither do I.
    Well, heck, I can’t figure out how to share a picture.

  7. Bill marcus says:

    Beautiful color and grain patterns for turning pens and stoppers. Do you have any small cutoff pieces leftover?
    Bill M

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Bill,

      There might have been small off cuts big enough for pen turning left at the mill, but my friend cuts all of those up for firewood. All I brought home were the big boards shown in the stack.

      All the best,


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