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I just cut a log that I want to mill into boards.

(In case the best technique depends on the size, the log is only about 4 inches in diameter, and I want to mill one or two small boards from it, just thick and wide enough to make a picture frame or something like that.)

Should I paint the ends of the log and let it dry like that or should I mill roughly the board that I want and then let it dry to final moisture levels?

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    Just a couple of points to add to the great Answer provided by @WhatRoughBeast. When you say you were going to paint the ends of the log, yes you would generally want to do this if you were drying in the round (as you do for stickmaking for example) to maximise yield, and just in case you don't realise it's vital you do this to the milled boards. And follow-on question, are you intending to use actual paint and if so what kind? Paint is not generally the best option for this purpose.
    – Graphus
    Jan 17 at 14:45
  • I didn't know that you should paint the ends of milled boards too, so thanks for that tip. I was going to use paint because I have gallons of it around, but what would you suggest instead (and is it better enough to justify the extra expense)? I think most of my supply is latex paint, but there's probably some exterior oil paint too, which I guess would be better? Jan 17 at 16:46
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    I'm so glad I mentioned it then. If you don't coat the end grain you can lose a great deal of material being dried, and occasionally an entire board O_O It's absolutely vital this is done ASAP after milling, within minutes ideally. As to using paint, it's best not to. But IF you must definitely not latex! (Despite the crapton of posts online saying you can use latex paint for this grrrrrr) An exterior oil paint (likely an alkyd enamel) would be vastly superior to latex, but melted wax is even better. The type of wax doesn't matter, any old candle stubs, canning wax, toilet wax rings, anything.
    – Graphus
    Jan 18 at 8:38
  • This is very, very helpful, thanks. You are continuing my education in how not to make fancy firewood. Jan 18 at 13:07
  • Welcome, that's what we're here for. And yes, drying improperly does lead to making fancy firewood LOL
    – Graphus
    Jan 18 at 13:50
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Generally, it's far, far better to rough-mill while green, dry in a stack with stickers to allow airflow and if necessary considerable weight to put on the stack, then do final shaping with the moisture content near the desired environment.

First, it's much faster to dry the relatively thin rough boards.

Second, drying induces strains in the wood. By rough-milling and stacking the boards during drying, these strains will be (largely, most of the time) relieved. Milling a dry tree trunk is an invitation to wild distortions of the wood once it is free to move.

Frankly, I don't know if 4-inch diameter trunks would be all that badly affected. What I think is clear, though is that the wood won't look all that great. Early growth generally produces wide rings, and the very core (called the pith) is not normally used, and curvature of the rings is likely to cause ...unfortunate... wood movement in response to seasonal changes in relative humidity. Unless you quarter-saw each trunk to get two boards, one on each side of the pith (and so about 2 inches wide or less) you're going to get a lot of seasonal warping and cupping. This may not be an issue for things like picture frames, but you need to be aware of the possiblity.

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