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About a month ago, I had a black walnut tree felled in my back yard (downtown Lansing, Michigan).

The tree had to come down for many reasons:

  • juglone from the roots was poisoning the neighbors' yards as well as my own;
  • the walnuts were a safety hazard in autumn (at least one dog seriously injured);
  • the tree hosted venomous caterpillars;
  • at least one neighbor was severely allergic to the pollen.

I did not want the wood go to waste, so I had it sectioned for milling, and my original purpose was to create stair treads and risers (4 floors, basement to attic) as well as some hardwood flooring in a grand stairwell of my 1911 American Foursquare. I used a metal detector probe on the entire length of the tree, and found a single drywall screw, which I removed.

Two of the arborists that I got estimates from (for felling the tree) wanted more than $2,500 to bring it down, but only if they could take the timber. Ultimately, I found an arborist that brought the tree down for $1,500 and was willing to section and leave the timber.

After it was felled, I learned that the value of this wood (33" diameter at stump; 28" at 8'; 26" at 16', containing 1,250 board feet) could be worth between $10,000 and $15,000 if milled to veneer. I have two 9'6" butt logs at 28"+ an 8'6" butt log at 26" and six 8' branches that are 10" to 12". Counting the rings, the tree was much younger than I expected (40 to 50 years, so dating from 1970-1980; only of note because I received a lot of "don't do it, its been there for over 100 years" comments).

Some considerations:

  • I don't know if I'm doing the math right on the board feet.
  • I'm not certain how to price veneer vs. lumber.
  • I don't know how to determine whether 10" logs are suitable for veneer or lumber.

I'm having a hard time valuing this timber, and I don't want to make a mistake. I feel that I have two choices:

  1. mill the timber for the stairwell to add a unique feature to the house;
  2. sell the timber for veneer to fund other home improvements.

I already sold 1.5 cord of the walnut for firewood for $150 (from branches less than 6" diameter), which was probably half of what it was worth. This whole experience has left me feeling like anyone dealing in wood is a scam artist, and I don't want to make a bad choice with the timber.

This isn't a "what should I do" question, but rather a "help me value this" question.

I want to quantify the board feet and quality of the logs (veneer vs. lumber) before I make my decision on whether to sell or mill the logs.

Black Walnut from several angles

sectioned logs from top end

diameter at stump

To summarize:

  • How do I calculate board feet from these logs?
  • How can I determine veneer quality vs. lumber for individual logs?
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    While your logs certainly have value, remember that there is a lot of expense in turning your logs into veneer or boards. The wood must be transported using special equipment and transportation costs, must be milled and dried, stored and marketed by whoever you contract with. I suggest that you contact several hardwood timber milling yards and get quotes from them. The offer will be much less than its final value, but the best offer made is what it is worth. – Ashlar Jul 1 at 1:04
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    Um, sorry about this, but first off you should have come to us about five weeks ago because now you've lost as much as 20% of the value of these pieces just from them sitting there like this (end grain unsealed)! And for max value the trees should not have been sectioned — length is a premium, over many other things in lumber. – Graphus Jul 1 at 8:03
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    With the preponderance of sapwood the max value yield from this tree is much much lower than you hope. In walnut the sapwood isn't just not valued, it is considered a detrimental feature and old-timers would literally saw all of it off (ALL of it) and use it as firewood! And as veneer the sapwood has little commercial value. – Graphus Jul 1 at 8:05
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    Told you you'd get better info over here! ;) – FreeMan Jul 1 at 13:39
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    Urban timber is inherently risky for mills, so your chunks of tree are not really going to be seen as all that valuable by mills. Some mills may even accept this timber for a fee. Most will not. – jdv Jul 1 at 23:12

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