An acquaintance was clearing some trees from his land, and I asked him to save a section of big leaf maple so I could mill it for an electric guitar.

The piece ended up being roughly 9" x 9" x 36". I figured I'd let it dry then saw into boards. Now, about a year later (and after learning much more about woodworking), I realize I should have had it milled before drying. It has cracked some as it dried, but should still be usable.

My problem now is I don't know how to go about milling it. It's bigger than I had asked for and I don't have the tools to break it down.

Here is what I have:

  • Circular saw (7.5")
  • My grandpa has a 10" table saw
  • Handsaw (18-24")

I'm not sure I like either of those options. Seems like the blade could bind, and while the piece is too heavy to kick back on a table saw, it could burn up the motor, or toss the circular/break my wrist.

Do I chalk this up to beginner's mistake and scrap the idea, or is there something I could still try (bandsaw, chainsaw, etc.)?

Note: This question is different from What is the process, from start to finish, for milling a tree into boards? in that this question is about milling a chunk of wood that is small enough not to require or justify the size of tool (e.g., bandsaw mill or chainsaw mill) which is usually used to mill large tree trunks. As @bowlturner pointed out in a comment, it also may be too small for some such mills.

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    You don't have to do this yourself. You could find a professional service to mill this for you. – Matt Apr 30 '15 at 16:18
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    Cracks in the wood used for making guitar necks sounds perfect for a guy named guitarthrower! ;) – FreeMan Apr 30 '15 at 16:25
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    I'm of the same mind as Matt- you'd need a big honking band saw, a chain saw then a big band saw, a chainsaw mill, a portable mill, or.. any number of large, expensive tools. Were it me, I'd ask the folks at my local wood working stores (Rockler, Woodcraft, etc) If there's a mill they know that will take a random chunk of wood. If they don't know, ask them if there's a local wood working club- one of those guys will likely a) have a big band saw, or b) know someone who does. – TX Turner Apr 30 '15 at 16:26
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    Neither a circular saw nor a 10" table saw will give you anywhere near enough enough depth of cut to go through a 9" chunk of wood, even if you try to cut halfway through from either side. A 7.5" circular saw has less than 3.5" depth of cut, and a typical 10" table saw has only slightly over 3.5" depth of cut. Regardless of any other issues, you need a different tool. – rob Apr 30 '15 at 18:06
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    @rob, I'd say the biggest difference is that here we're dealing with a 3' log, vs full sized logs. My mill can't cut something that short without making a jig to hold it. It's small enough to be processed inside a shop from start to finish. – bowlturner Apr 30 '15 at 18:30

To make the first 'cut' I would split it in half. I personally would use my wood maul and just split it. I've had years of splitting wood for firewood and could do a pretty even split down the middle.

So, what I would recommend would be to use a large mallet or a round ended maul and pound it into the wood to split it. To make things a little easier you could take your skill saw and cut a line across the end, making several passes to get it to the max depth of the saw. Then use the wood wedge to finish splitting it.

Once you have the two halves, you should have an easier time cutting it into boards. The table saw could square it up and probably do most of the work needed. Though a band saw would work better to make it into boards.

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    You need to be aware of the grain in the cut piece. When you split a log, it will want to follow the grain in longer pieces, which could leave you with an uneven split. – Adam Zuckerman Apr 30 '15 at 16:40
  • @AdamZuckerman true, but if it is real bad, it probably won't make good wood for a guitar either. A decent maple log should split pretty well. – bowlturner Apr 30 '15 at 16:42
  • @AdamZuckerman Even if the piece doesn't split cleanly down the middle, it will split neatly along the grain and that will leave stronger pieces of wood for whatever future use. If, of course, specific dimensions are needed, splitting may not be the best bet. – FreeMan Mar 17 '16 at 16:27

Building a bandsaw sled and using a bandsaw with 10" or larger resaw capacity is the first power tool solution that comes to mind. Matthias Wandel has a nice article detailing how to do this.

bandsaw sled

Since you mentioned you only have access to a circular saw and table saw, the cheapest solution, aside from finding someone with more tools, would be to rip the block of wood into boards with a handsaw.

rip handsaw

(Source)

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    Cheap, and think of the workout you'll get! – FreeMan Apr 30 '15 at 21:10
  • I could lose a few pounds. :) given the size of the wood, what would be a good length of saw to make this more efficient (i.e. I wouldn't want to attack this with a 12" saw). I do have a hand saw (somewhere in the 18-24" range. I'll edit my question with that and maybe do a test. – guitarthrower Apr 30 '15 at 22:00
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    @guitarthrower 18" would certainly work, but 24" would be better. That's assuming your handsaw looks like the one pictured in my answer and doesn't have a spine like a backsaw. A saw with teeth in a rip configuration will cut faster than a crosscut saw. You could also use a traditional bow saw. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_saw – rob Apr 30 '15 at 22:41
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    +1 for extra manly answer. OP should consider dropping $25 into something like a Stanley 20-065. I'm able to cross-cut 24" diameter logs in under a minute with it. Awesome tool for ripping up rough lumber. OP will definitely want an "aggressive cut" or rip saw for this job at 24" or greater. – DevNull Feb 25 '16 at 16:39

I'm of the same mind as Matt- you'd need a large capacity band saw, a chain saw then a big band saw, a chainsaw mill, a portable mill, or.. any number of large, expensive tools.

Were it me, I'd ask the folks at my local wood working stores (Rockler, Woodcraft, etc) If there's a mill they know that will take a random chunk of wood. If they don't know, ask them if there's a local wood working club- one of those guys will likely a) have a big band saw, or b) know someone who does.

Additionally you may find out that the center of it isn't as dry as the first few inches. So you may be milling it into rough sizes and waiting another 8-10 months.

It is possible to do quite a bit of milling with a bandsaw if you build the support tables and guides needed to handle a large hunk of wood. You might need a riser and longer blade to allow enough height for the log, depending on the size of the saw and how the it came configured.

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