From Logs to Shelves; Part 2

Milling logs into boards for shelving, using a Woodmizer LT10 Bandsaw Mill.

Milling Boards to Build Shelves

Hello, my name is Cody. Welcome back to Alaskan Blog Cabin, part 2 of From Logs to Shelves.

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In this segment of the miniseries we will be covering the basic operations of a Wood-Mizer LT10 Portable Sawmill as we rip boards from the 4′ logs that we hauled in with a snowmachine in PT 1. Over time there will be more in depth posts about the mill, so it will be assumed that the mill has already been properly set up, leveled, and calibrated.


You are about to be bombarded with safety warnings, to save your ass and cover mine!



While bandsaw sawmills may be intimidating to most people they are actually quite simple to operate. In my opinion they are safer than a tablesaw.

With a tablesaw you are standing in line with the blade so there is a high risk of kickback, when the blade catches the peice you’re cutting and launches it backwards, at you, at a high speed. Bandsaw mills however, have you standing perpendicular to the blade and it is moving at a much slower speed.

It is still a dangerous piece of equipment but if the proper safety equipment is used and basic common sense is practiced you should be ok. The most important rule to follow is to always keep everyone behind a moving blade and let the blade come to a complete stop before stepping in front of the powerhead.

The more likely way you would get hurt milling, is not from the mill itself, but from handling the logs. Always use a cant hook, peavey, or lever to roll heavy logs and not your back.

NEVER have any part of your body under or between the log and another object. If the log slips or falls it can crush or snap a foot, hand, ankle, etc. in a flash and could possibly trap you in such a way that you can’t free yourself.

1st Aid

You should always have a first aid kit within easy reach with supplies for stopping bleeding. A trauma kit is a good idea.

If possible have a helper, or tell someone where you will be and when to expect you home.

If there is cell signal carry a cellphone or if you are remote it’s a good idea to have a Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator. To call for help in an emergency.

Cell phones aren’t reliable but the new GPS Satellite Comunicators are, plus now they are small enough to keep on you in case you get pinned or can’t make it back to your vehicle.

I apologize for all of the warnings but a sawmill is not a toy, and we don’t want anyone getting hurt or cutting their life short! Yes I really did just use that pun!

Read your manual cover to cover. The mill manufacturer will have all the proper safety precautions.

Type of Logs:

The logs we will be milling, are uphill from the mill

The logs that I am using are from a “standing-dead” spruce tree, meaning that the tree was dead before it hit the ground. Ants, spruce beetles, and the wind are the main killers of these trees.

If you’re lucky it’ll be just standing there or will have fallen against another tree, keeping it up off the ground, which prevents rotting.

The reason I like using standing dead is that it is dry wood (not green) and therefore it doesn’t shrink or warp that much when you cut it.

Stacking Lumber

It is important to have a level area to stack green milled boards to dry or they will twist and warp.

I live on a hill that is on the side of a lake which means there’s practically no level spots. Where it is flat-ish, it’s subject to serious frost, in other words; I don’t have a good spot to stack lumber.

When there’s no long logs to mill in the near future, the extra mill deck makes a good level drying spot

You may have notice in pictures of my sawmill the stacks of drying lumber on the other half of my mill deck. This is due to the lack of level drying places, which I suppose the remedy to this will probably become a future blog post!

Drying Dead Trees?

Just because they are seasoned it doesn’t mean they are 100% “dry”, therefore you still may get some warping, checking, and splitting. Make sure you check out the boards before using them for anything structural.

Upside Down Pics

Sorry in advance, for some reason half the pictures for this post are being displayed upside-down. I am new to blogging and I am trying to remedy this problem (yes I’ve tried flipping them in a photo editing program and reposting them and they still show up, upside down!!)

If anyone has a clue why this is happening, and knows how to operate WordPress please send me an email at . As for the rest of you, you’re just going to have to bear with me while I work out the kinks. Try standing on your head to look at the pics… or just turn your phone over. Thanks for understanding!

Preheating a Cold Engine

A hairdryer & a 2000W generator preheats the mill

It was barely above zero when I milled the first batch of boards so it was neccessary to preheat the engine oil in the mill. The way to do it is to use a hairdryer and a portable generator.

The hairdryer puts out a tremendous amount of heat on high (1875Watts) so make sure you dust off all of the loose sawdust from where the hairdryer will be blowing to avoid a fire! Prop the hairdryer against the oil reservoir and plug it into a warm, revved up, generator.

Whenever you’re using a high powered tool or appliance, whether its plugged into a generator or a regular house outlet, the shortest and the heaviest-gauged extension cord should be used.

Point the heat on the bottom of the block to warm up the oil. Dust off any sawdust to prevent a fire.

Once you are sure the hairdryer wont wobble lose, throw your mill cover back over the powerhead. It’ll trap the heat and speed the preheating of the oil and the engine. It’ll take around 15 to 20 minutes to warm up.

Blade Tension

To prevent serious damage to the mill, the blade tension must be released, when NOT in use, during the winter. Reengage before use.

In the winter you must always release the blade tension to prevent damage to the wheel-bearings from thermal contraction (shrinking) of the blade in extreme cold. Before you begin milling you MUST swing the blade tension lever counter clockwise, until the blade tension is fully engaged.

On a side note, in the Winter you should always loosen the chain on your chainsaw when not in use to prevent similar damage to the clutch from the chain shrinking.

Let’s Get Rolling!

While the mill warms up, you can load the first log. Lay down the ramps and roll the log down the hill to the mill.

These 4′ logs are dry and light so they easily roll up onto the deck with your foot. If you were loading a heavy log you can roll it up with a Wood-Mizer 48″ Cant Hook

This light log was rolled up by foot, use a cant hook for heavy logs

Position the Log

There is a science when it comes to lining up the grain of the log when making lumber. When making shelves though, you have a little more leeway.

When I first bought my mill, I asked a carpenter buddy if I could use 3″x timbers because I didnt have enough wide logs for 4″x’s and didn’t yet trust my timber grading skills on 2x lumber.

He accused me of practicing wizardry and told me there is no such thing as a 3x, 5x, or 7x lumber. He was joking about that, but then told me probably the best advice you can get: “Whenever in doubt, over build.”

The great thing about owning a mill is, when in doubt, you can mill it thicker.

That is why I enjoy log and timber buildings and furniture. By removing less of a log you maintain the strength that nature designed into the tree. Plus a big thick shelf or table just looks better in my opinion.

On a longer tapered log, with different diameters at each end, it is important that you make your first two cuts, with the smaller end shimmed up, so that the centers of the logs are at the same height. This eliminates cutting through the grain at a diaganol, which would weaken the lumber.

Here however, we are using short 4′ lengths with diameters within a 1/4″ of each other so you don’t need to do anything special. Just clamp the log tight against the vertical log supports and remove the ramps.

Before you begin milling, sweep off the log. The bark may contain dirt and small stones which will dull your blades.

Board Layout

For a very easy guide on how to layout your cut pattern on the log, go to the Woodmizer website:

Living on the Edge

We want live edge boards (a board in which 1 or 2 of the edges is not cut square.) This gives a wavy, rustic, natural look & feel to the shelves.

Single live-edged boards have a flat back for mounting against a flat wall, yet have a natural rugged look in the front.

In order to make a single live edge, skip the last turning of the log that is shown in the Woodmizer guide.

  • Make the 1st cut
  • Roll log 90°
  • Make 2nd cut (which will square the back of the shelf)
  • Roll log 90°
  • Start ripping the boards at what ever thickness you desire. The top, bottom, & back edge (the side against the side supports) will all be cut.

Mill Cheatsheet

I find the hardest part of milling, is figuring where to set the blade, in order to get multiple boards of the same thickness, while also remembering to subtract the blade thickness from each cut. I’m dyslexic so to ease the process, I made a spreadsheet of where to set the blade for each cut, depending on the board thickness desired.

This cheatsheet shows where to set the blade, for a particular thickness of board. The blade width is already added to each measurement, so there is no math involved!

Choosing a Thickness

If you are making rustic furniture or shelves then the thickness doesn’t need to be a specific dimension, but if making a set of multiple shelves they should be very similar.

To make this math easy once you are ready to start ripping the boards (the 1st two sides are cut & the log has been turned), look at the chart under the board thickness desired and find out what the biggest multiple is that you can cut and still get a usable board.

To find this first cut multiple, roll the power head, with the blade NOT engaged, up to the log, set the blade at the highest multiple. Look at the log under the blade to see if it’ll make a wide enough board, if not lower the blade to the next setting on the chart.

I like to get as many boards as possible from the mill, even though I burn all of the cutt-offs to heat the cabin, so there really isn’t any waste.

If I can cut (8) 1″ boards out of a log, then I will move my blade to the setting indicated on the chart for the 8th cut, the cut-off (also called a filch) will be whatever is above the sawblade.

If this chunk is pretty thick, but not wide enough to make a similar board, I may just rip a 3/4″ board and set it aside for a different project.

What to Cut

For this project I plan on utilizing multiple sized boards for several types of shelves. I milled a bunch of wide 1″ stock from the centers of the logs that didn’t have a lot of waviness, for no-thrill, basic shelving.

From the “tops” & “bottoms” of the logs, I milled 2″ boards. This is where there is a steeper angle on the live edge, so the shelves will be twice as strong, because they’re thicker. They’ll also look better too!

Finally I milled a couple extra thick boards with multiple knots on the live edge. These will be used to make custom shelves for a friend’s log cabin in Fairbanks.

After the Cut

After making each cut, once the blade has come to a complete stop, sweep off the top & bottom of the board and the top of log. You do this because sawdust collect moisture, which can cause mold on the board and also attracts bugs.

I stacked all of the boards, temporarily, on the unused end of my mill. I don’t plan on using the mill again before building the shelves so they aren’t in the way.

Use a couple of short stickers (small 1″x1″ sticks), placed between each board, to allow air to flow for proper drying. The wood was mostly dry but this will help remove remaining moisture.

Finally Board

When I was done with the first log, I placed two heavy birch timbers on top of the boards and then a 100 pound battery. This will keep them from warping.

What are they Weighted For?

Why Log Shelves?

I started making log shelves while restoring a log cabin, on a remote river, for a friend of mine. I had first installed a new roof and added skylights to it.

The original cabin owner had nailed a piece of plywood over a cross log, for kitchen storage making a mini-loft. You could only reach the stuff on the edge, unless you climbed a stool, so the back wasn’t being used.

When the skylights were cut in, the plywood loft blocked half the light let into the kitchen so I removed it. My buddy asked me to just rip the plywood down into a single shelve and mount on the log wall with shelf brackets.

I said “Nope! This log cabin was build by hand and I will build a custom roughcut shelf.”

He said “don’t worry about it, I’ve got other stuff that I’d rather have you do to the place.”

I was staying at the remote cabin for the summer so I said I’d do it on my own time after I was through for the day. He said he didn’t want a “log” shelf because there was a 12V camper light on the old plywood, above the little mirror & drysink where he shaved and it’d look like crap to mount a flat light onto a round log.

So I dropped it until he left, then I went to see the neighbor who has a sawmill and asked if I could dig through his cut-off pile for a shelf board. He said he’d mill me a flat board, but I wanted a round, knotted one.

(I apologize but Spring came three weeks early in Alaska and all the snow between here and there melted so I couldn’t make it over with a snowmachine to take pictures.)

I found the perfect board, carved a flat spot into it for the light, then drilled into the back so the wires were hidden. The next time my buddy flew up to his cabin he loved it.

The Bookshelf

He had another plain shelf, that spanned 2 cupboards, with books on top, a 12V light on the bottom, & an old school pencil-sharpener on the bottom, off to the side. I had a plan for that shelf!

My buddy had loved the great big knot on the other shelf so I spent an hour digging through the neighbors cut-off stack. The neighbor thought I was a little strange because I kept tossing perfectly knotted boards aside.

Finally I found an even knottier board, with spruce beetle holes, and a great big knot perpendicular to the flat “top”. I planned on killing two birds with one knot.

When I had used the pencil-sharpener in the past, I always wrapped my knuckles on the bottom of the original shelf. I measured where the pencil sharpener was located from the end of the original shelf, then measured that distance from the big knot and cut the new shelf so that I now had a 2″ base for the pencil-sharpener, viola, no more skinned knuckles!

After my buddy saw that he hired me to replace all the shelves in the cabin and also to add more where there were none. He liked the rustic look so much that he had me install custom butcher block counters as well.

He’s Finally Done Talking!!

If you enjoyed learning about milling then stay tuned for From Log to Shelves; Part 3 Building Rustic Shelves, where you’ll be shown how to make multiple different types of roughcut shelves with the boards we just milled.

Stay safe out there and watch out for ornery spring bears!!


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