Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Milling the Homestead Necessities

By Anneli Carter

Anneli Carter, author and co-owner of Deer Isle Hostel
A few years ago a major piece of our homesteading puzzle fell into place when we bought a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill. Up to that point we'd been dependent on the lumber yard and its supply, as well as friends and acquaintances with occasional stacks of lumber for us to rifle through or logs to mill somewhere else. Because we don't have any heavy equipment to transport logs with, anything cut on our land had to be moved by someone else, first to a mill and then back here.

Now, on every first day of a new building project we start where all building projects ought to start: in the woods. We select the trees that fit our intended purpose, fell them, haul them with our people-powered log hauler and turn them into lumber right here in our yard. Last year we built a timber-framed hut from a red oak that started to shade the garden; that entire frame didn't travel more than 300 feet from the stump to the mill to the site.
Building at Deer Isle Hostel

But not all logs have to come to our yard. The mill isn't so big or heavy that it can't be loaded onto our trailer and hauled behind our Subaru. This week we have the Wood-Mizer set up a couple of miles down the road at a friend's place. He's a tree feller and has stacked up a pile of cedar, black locust and spruce – really nice red spruce – that's all ours as a trade for milling the hardwood for him. We get the perfect lumber for our next projects and he gets the perfectly matched lumber for the sauna he'll build at his place.

Anneli operating her Wood-Mizer LT15 sawmill
We bought the portable mill to provide our own building material and to make use of the trees that need to come down around our yard. The gasoline it takes to run the machine is a tradeoff, but for us the gains are so many that the emission footprint still is much smaller than it would have been if we had to go somewhere to buy what we now can produce. In addition, the by-products have turned out to be just as valuable to us as the lumber. 
Slabs from the LT15 sawmill

For one thing, the sawmill gives us slabs (the off cuts with bark on one side). Tons of slabs and for anyone cooking on a small wood stove, there's nothing better to get your tea water boiling than some dry spruce slabs. We get enough for ourselves, and then more. We give slabs to neighbors and friends and in return we get something else, like warm spaces to start tomato seedlings in or help to look after our chickens if we go away somewhere.

Sawdust can be used for many
homesteading applications
Then there's the sawdust. It might not sound like much compared with the $1,000 pieces of locust we cut this morning, but I don't know what we would do without the sawdust the milling provides us. I don't know what we did before we had the mill as we use the sawdust in our outhouses, to pack the root crops in for storage and in our chicken house. We go through perhaps 60 feed sacks of it every year, a resource we would have to go somewhere to get if it weren't for our mill. 

To say the sawmill is a piece in the homesteading puzzle might be a slight understatement as in some ways it's a key factor. It enables us to progress with our building projects without necessarily having the money it otherwise would take, it ties us to our community with labor- and resource trades, and it makes it easier for us to store food, keep our chicken house clean and have nice outhouses for the Hostel guests. Some of the essence of homesteading right there: providing for yourself and your community using your own resources and making the most of what's around you. Who would ever have thought that a Wood-Mizer would to the trick?

Visit for more information on homesteading or to order Anneli's new book.