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I Made My Own Lumber with an Alaskan Mill!

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It has been 2 1/2 months since the Valley Fire tore through 76,000 acres of Southern Lake County, and consumed about 7 million trees.  I grew up on Cobb Mountain, spent my childhood deep in the forests, and chose to raise my kids here as well.  The loss of the trees weighs heavy in the hearts of everyone in this community.

When we were finally able to return to our home-site, we found 5 of our tallest ponderosa pine trees had been dropped into the neighbors’ yards.  With lot and debris clearing in full swing, I was beginning to worry that my trees would be taken away without my permission.   This was our biggest pine (we counted about 115 rings) and it constantly sapped all over our vehicles.  Did we ever care?  Not all, that tree was 100 times more significant than our paint-jobs.  I love these trees.  These trees are old friends, and I want to honor our connection to them by using the lumber in our new home.

fell pine tree

Just like everyone else in town, I’ve been trying to find someone to mill the trees before they start disappearing.  The guys I know with mills are crazy-busy, so I called my old neighbor, Rob, who I knew had an Alaskan Mill.  Rob is an excellent woodworker and cabinet maker, and unfortunately (for me) moved to Idaho.  Luckily, though, he was home for Thanksgiving and brought his mill for us to use.

The Alaskan Mill

Joel and I got right to work with the Alaskan Mill.  It’s a pretty simple rig, a long chainsaw with a guide, so you can cut even planks of wood.  As far as working with chainsaws go, it is a reasonably safe experience, because the bar has guards on all sides.  All you really do is “run it through”. That said, read the manual and follow all of the directions!  

To get started, cut your trees in 6 to 8 foot sections to make the milling easier.  It takes about 10 minutes to make a single pass.  For the first pass, attach guide rails to the tree, or a 2×6 like we did, to make an even cut.

joel alaskan millThe height of the top guide can be adjusted to your preference of slab thickness.  We are making 1 1/2 inch slices here, and will do some thicker mantle pieces a little later.

jess alaska mill

This big tree is a whole lot of work, but won’t it make some great furniture?  This lumber can’t be used structurally, but will make gorgeous trim and finish work.

first milled slab

Once you have the slabs cut, they need to be dried.  We stacked our’s in a shop, using shims to let the airflow between the planks, and a fan to prevent them from molding.  You can also have them kiln dried, which we will probably look into once we have finished the milling.

Many years ago we built this slate hearth in the old house, and used hand-milled pieces of pine for the mantle.  Unfortunately, this is the only picture I have left, but believe me when I tell you how beautiful it was after we stained it a deep honey, with a thick coat of gloss.  The uneven saw marks gave it character, though you could always run the lumber through a planer.


These are frustrating times for everyone, when progress isn’t moving fast enough and all we want is a sense of normalcy, and maybe even a little control over the madness.  Being proactive helps.  So does getting your booty outside!  Get your hands on one of these Alaskan Mills, maybe pool some money together with friends, and start rebuilding in a small way.

PS- power tools have that magical way of making you feel badass!

milling big tree

Want to learn more?  Get all the info on Alaskan Mills at Granberg International, they’re in Vallejo, so their local, too!

I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, so a purchase there would earn me a small commission.




Take a peek into my world of Eating, Gardening, Making and Mothering, authentically and with meaning. Thanks for visiting!
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