When we first visited our little house in Michigan, we were in awe of the trees. (Hence, ‘Tree House.’) Our lot is surrounded by mature trees on three sides and there are more than a few giants right on our property. While the majority of our trees are healthy and well-balanced, the enormous Silver Maple that shaded the entire backyard had been improperly trimmed over the years and was showing signs of disease. These are not facts that one wants to hear from professional arborists, even more so when it’s a tree with several enormous limbs dangling over the roof of one’s house. After additional professional consultation, we made the extraordinarily difficult decision to have one of the trees that had given ‘Tree House’ its name removed completely. Womp.
In an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, we posted an instagram story looking for guidance on how to salvage some wood from this century-old tree. We thought, What if we could make our dining table from this maple? Per the norm, you – our amazing readers! – came through. We received a recommendation that we reach out to John at Primal Woods for on-site wood-milling services. Wait. What? On-site wood-milling is a thing that exists? We can now confirm that it is a thing that exists, and that it is awesome.
John was an absolute pleasure to work with from the very first phone call. Both Kim and I have had experiences in which, sadly, contractors and tradespeople have talked down to us or as if our curiosity is a nuisance. John is the polar opposite! He’s kind, informative, and professional, but most importantly, he’s a down-to-earth guy who was a blast to work with for an entire morning. (As an added bonus, John is a fellow two Pittie-mix rescuer! Jack and CC immediately took to him and showered him with
slobber love.) If you’re not in Southwest Michigan, you probably won’t meet John (boo), but this site includes a search function to help you find a portable sawmill service in your area (yay!).
How Does Portable Wood Milling Work?
The milling process was fairly hands-on in the sense that John worked a Wood-Mizer mill, which is essentially an enormous band saw on wheels. Kim and I helped maneuver logs onto the machine, and then we cleaned, hauled and stacked our lumber after it had been cut. The machine lifts logs onto a stationary cradle and holds them in place, then the saw itself travels down a length of track to cut perfectly measured lumber, wasting only 1/8″ of wood (due to the blade itself) per cut. Nice.
The milled wood has a texture similar to what you’re left with after using a standard table saw or circular saw. It’s a bit rough, but it’s still smoother than we both expected! We’ll likely have quite a bit of finish sanding to do, but that will depend on the final joinery and planing of the lumber. As each cut was made, we oohed at how every slab seemed even more beautiful than the last.
How Much Does It Cost?
The service cost less than what we expected and yielded more lumber than we anticipated. Our overall cost hovered around $300, which included an hourly rate plus a per-mile travel charge at 88 total roundtrip miles. We actually stopped short of milling all four logs we had set aside, because we had far more live edge lumber than we could ever use! Everything was milled down to 2″ thicknesses with at least one squared edge. We left the fourth edge live on the larger slabs, since we still aren’t sure how wide the planks will need to be for our (eventual) dining room table. Once we determine final width, we’ll trim the excess down on our table saw. Note: We chose a 2″ thickness based on personal preference, but you could choose whatever you’d like! This is your chance to get creative.
What Happens Afterwards?
At John’s request, we scored a few free pallets from a local hardware store and stacked all of our lumber onto the pallets, alongside our shed. Between each layer, we used small lengths of broken down pallets to keep the air moving between our slabs. He recommended that we use a tarp for protection, but not to fully enclose the milled lumber. The goal is to allow for airflow, while still keeping rain and snow off of the wood for at least 6-8 months. After the initial natural dry time, John recommended we kiln-dry the lumber, and he even suggested a few local companies that we can contact when we’re ready.
At the end of our milling session, we ended up with seven boards that measure 7′ x 2″ x 15″ and nine slabs that measure approximately 5′ x 2″ x 18″. It’s WAY more wood than we’ll ever need, but it will allow us to build any table – multiple tables! – we can dream up in the future.
The experience was unlike anything we’ve ever done, but most importantly, it left us with a tangible reminder of one of the reasons we chose this property in the first place. The trees.