Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
Milling Lumber

Rough spruce lumber

The term rough lumber generally refers to fully dimension lumber. Let’s use 2×4’s as an example. While this size lumber at the big box stores are measured at 1.5×3.5 inches, it’s generally called a “2×4”. Why? Well, there are historical reasons, but for now the simple answer is because when the board comes off the mill, it is 2 x 4 inches in size, after which it is planed on 4 sides and dried, thus reducing its dimensions. The lumber produced from this log is double rough, and I’ll explain why.

Lumber from this particular log is double rough because the log itself is rough. Meaning it is not a quality log, lots of knots (limbs). And its heavily tapered, as you can see here. This log was 15 inches in diameter on the small end (left) and 24 inches in diameter on the butt (right).

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
A heavily tapered spruce log.

Tapered meaning it was much wider on one end than the other. The tree was either sheared (trimmed) in the early stages of its life, or the growing conditions resulted in this occurring. Either way, not a quality lumber producing log. But it will produce lumber none the less. The sawyer just has to be patient in their cutting, to produce straight lumber.

The first step is to level the log, so that the centre of the log is parallel with the mill bed (see above photo). Next step is to cut away a section, turn the log 1/4 way, cut, turn, and repeat until four sides are somewhat flat. This is called slabbing the log. The rough shaped squared timber is now called a rough cant. Pictured below is Gina hauling away one of the slabs.

The goal at this stage is to start making more cuts to this rough cant and try and salvage some lumber from the ‘second slabs’. You can see in the photo below, a second slab in the lower right corner. I eventually trimmed that 1 inch thick board and made a 1×6 with it.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
First slabs off, rough cant shape.

Once a sufficient number of second slabs are removed, we are now left with a production cant. See picture below. This cant is 12-1/4″ x 12-/14″. At this stage I am looking at the end of the log to see how I can maximize the number of boards I can get from this cant. As I was cutting the second slabs (previous photo), I would of been thinking of what I wanted to achieve for the production cant. I was initially thinking of getting three sections 4″ wide, 5 2×4’s in each section, but I knew the top section would only produced two decent 2×4’s because of the wane (bark and curved shaped) near this end of the cant. A last moment of thinking made me realize if I cut that top section in half, I could get four 2×4’s. An extra two 2×4’s. Sometimes it pays to stop and reassess.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
Figuring out the best yield for rough 2x4s.

Onward with the slicing. We got the fourteen 2×4’s, two had a little been of wane on them. Also got twenty linear feet of 1×6, a six foot 2×6 and two 4ft pieces of 1×4. See photo below.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
A decent yield of lumber.


As with most logs that have some taper to them, a sawyer has the choice to simple cut the first four slabs and put the slabs in the junk pile, or, try to maximize the log yield by squeezing out every board foot possible from a log. That’s what I try to do. We end up with a lot of short pieces, from 3 to 7 ft long. Never to go to waste, they always get used up for one thing or another. The problem for me, who likes to be organized, is that a lot of short pieces can collect. Time to build a ‘shorts’ rack.

And here it is. A 48×32″ pallet with a 4ft high frame in the back, a 3ft frame in the front, and then connect it on the sides. Then I made some moveable dividers. You know, just to have it really organized. Might have to make a couple of these as shorts accumulate pretty quickly.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
Side view, shorts bin.

The bin holds a variety of widths and thicknesses, lengths ranging from 2 to 7 ft.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
Shorts bin of spruce lumber.

The full length lumber go in racks across the yard, stacked and stickered to allow for decent air drying and easy selection. Pictured below are the new racks we built for 8ft boards. Hemlock on the right, spruce on the left. 1″ thick boards on the bottom, 2 inch thick boards on the middle shelf, large timber like 4×4’s would go on top if we had any.

Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
Sawmilling rough lumber in Antigonish County and Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

That’s a day in the life we have here. If you have any questions are want to place a lumber order, reach out to us.

A Newfoundland born Canadian with a life long interest in woodworking, baking and anything else that peaks my curiosity.

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