by Christopher Cunningham
The worst of the winter storms here in Seattle produce some very good wood for salvage. High winds drop a lot of limbs from my neighborhood’s hardwood trees and wind-whipped waves bring fresh driftwood to the local Puget Sound beaches. City crews often cut locust, cherry, and alder windfalls into short lengths and leave the wood in the roadside brush; yellow and red cedar occasionally get added to the driftwood that piles up above the high-tide line. Some pieces of wood are too good to pass up—I’ll often collect locust for cleats and parrel beads, and yellow cedar for carving and modelmaking.
The hardest part of putting this found wood to good use is making the first two cuts to turn round logs and irregular driftwood into dimensional lumber. I’ve freehanded pieces through the bandsaw, but the cuts aren’t straight, and working unstable round shapes on a bandsaw scares me. I found some gizmos on the web—bandsaw log milling sleds—that make the job of getting straight cuts on logs a lot easier.
The sleds are guided by a hardwood strip milled to slide in the miter-gauge slot on the bandsaw table. A piece of plywood serves as the sled’s base. I used 9mm plywood, thick enough to do the job without taking up too much of the bandsaw’s capacity. On top of the plywood I secured two blocks of ash, each with a couple of holes to fit a pipe clamp. The diameter of the pipe is just over 1″, so after drilling the holes with a 1″ Forstner bit, I had to use a rattail file to open them up to get a slip fit.
The fixed jaw of the pipe clamp is threaded onto the end of the pipe, and by backing the pipe off halfway I could thread in a short length of pipe to provide an extension to slip into one of the 1″ holes in the ash blocks.
Running the sled through the bandsaw trims the slightly oversized base to size and after that, the pipe clamp is taken apart and reassembled between the two blocks. With the driftwood or windfall clamped in place, I’m ready to saw.
Bandsaw blades can drift to the side when using a fence that is parallel to the blade or when using the miter slot as a guide, so I minimized that three ways: I centered the blade on the crown of the bandsaw wheels, used extra blade tension, used a sharp blade, and went with a slow feed rate to minimize deflection caused by pressure and heat.
My sled is short because the wood I mill will be used for small pieces; fire-wood lengths are what I often find. Shorter cuts make blade drift less of a problem. The blade might go 1/32″ into the sled or veer away by as much but that’s not enough to worry about.
After making the first cut, the newly sawn flat surface is placed on the base of the sled for the second cut. With two cut surfaces at right angles to each other I can continue milling with the sled or move the work to the tablesaw.
The sled has turned my bandsaw into a mini-sawmill, and I can work salvaged wood faster and with greater safety.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
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