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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Local Lumber

by Paul Fischer

My Great Uncle Walter was an experienced woodworker, and the first to show me the magic of transforming a rough board with a planer: three razor knives spinning 10,000 rpms to reveal wood grain with fancy names like bird’s eye, blister, curl, dimple, fiddleback, flame, ghost, quilted, spalted, fleck, and ray.

Growing right here in west central Wisconsin are more than 20 species of Northwoods trees such as Maple, Red & White Oak, Ash, Cherry, Black Walnut, Butternut, and Red & White Pine. One could likely get the idea to make something with wood, whether you’re experienced like my great uncle or a novice just starting out. Whatever project you might dream up, acquiring the lumber from a local source can be an adventure, not to mention considerably more affordable.

You might be surprised at how many sawmills there are in the region. You can find them online, or ask the local lumberyards in smaller towns. For the last 12 years I have been using local lumber from multiple sawyers and sawmills. I have met a man who had built a portable sawmill on a 20” I-beam, complete with hydraulic controls. In another case, an older gentleman was sawing wood with a 100-year old iron circular saw mill. His small grey-haired wife quickly and easily threw the newly sawn boards in big piles. I know of a skilled and thoughtful sawyer who charges a very reasonable hourly rate to cut your timber into any dimensions you desire. He also cuts trees into beams and boards to make timber frame homes from local wood. As you tap into local resources, you, too, will surely make many unique and interesting discoveries.

Non-standard lumber cuts can be very artful indeed! I had the great fortune of making a long sideboard bookcase for a customer with Maple that had been horse-logged from their own land. When the boards were milled, some holes drilled for Maple syrup taps were present, and we used them creatively.

I mentioned the affordability of local lumber. Not long ago, after seeing an ad in a local classified, I purchased several 22’ Red Pine trees for $10 each. They were sawn into 6’ x 6’ beams, and I built a large porch with them. Red Pine trees grow pretty straight, and are available from landowners if you inquire.

A portable sawmill and sawyer can be hired. The equipment can be pulled to the site where some trees have been felled, and then sawn into boards. I know one sawyer who charges an hourly rate; but it seems that most bill per board foot. Once wood is milled into boards, it needs to dry to a favorable moisture content to ensure stability.

Using local lumber may require some new tools and the acquisition of new skills – things which should pay for themselves in short order. Knowing exactly where the boards for a project come from is akin to knowing where your food comes from, and goes a long way toward making you feel more connected with your environment and the people in it.

Paul Fischer is a Woodworker who designs Shaker, Arts & Crafts, and Scandinavian inspired projects of all types. He maintains a collection of reclaimed and local lumber in his shop, next door to the 1924 brick schoolhouse that he’s remodeling. Learn more at

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