Mind the fingers: Adam feeding a board through the profile machine to cut the rebate

Machining the Weatherboards

Friday April 29

An Early Idea

It was the idea right from the start to reference local apple crates: not just for the symbolism of the local fruit growing history, or the rustic, rural aesthetic, but for practical reasons too. Several trees had to be cleared for bushfire purposes and I wanted to make use of the timber for cladding the building: to literally make the building from the place. Apple crates are also modular, with short lengths of timber. I thought these shorter lengths would be valuable in being able to utilise more of the timber, especially when we would be milling the timber ourselves.

 

Easy does it: Steve and Josh loading the logs onto the truck to be taken away for milling

Easy does it: Steve and Josh loading the logs onto the truck to be taken away for milling

Testing Times

The trees were felled before the slab was poured in June last year. The logs just sat around for months, keeping to themselves, slowly drying out while mostly staying out of the way. In late October we milled a test run of logs. The original idea was to bring a Lucas mill onsite, set it up, mill all the logs before stacking the timber. However the mill was already set up just up the road at Woodbridge so Josh and Steve carted the logs away and a few hours later brought back the milled timber.

 

A truck load of timber: the result from the first round of milling

A truck load of timber: the result from the first round of milling

Prototype

From the milled timber we devised a profile to loosely match the size of boards in apple crates, but with a horizontal ship-lap for weatherproofing. Greg cut a couple of prototypes and we sat and watched as the boards shrank and warped and twisted as they dried out over time.

 

Marked up: the profile measured and drawn on a sample board

Marked up: the profile measured and drawn on a sample board

Rack ‘n’ Stack

It wasn’t until the end of December that more logs were cut and milled. I calculated how many short length weatherboards I needed and told my neighbor Josh who was doing the milling. Josh is a farmer – not a miller – so he didn’t cut many extra boards. The boards were dropped at Greg’s workshop where we would machine them later. I crossed my fingers that nearly all of them would be usable when we needed them in a few months time…

 

On Christmas Eve I found a spot shaded from the afternoon sun and leveled out a base. I then began to rack and stack the boards – each layer of boards separated by rack sticks to allow air flow. Over the following four months I would drop in every week or two to turn the boards and rotate them through the pile in an attempt to season them evenly.

 

A real leveller: flat space, out of direct sun, good for racking timber

A real leveller: flat space, out of direct sun, good for racking timber

 

Start at the bottom: each layer of boards are separated by a thin timber rack stick

Start at the bottom: each layer of boards are separated by a thin timber rack stick

 

Timber is a natural material. The boards were milled at 200 x 30 but ended up being between 180-195 x 25-28 after shrinkage. It would have been interesting to weigh the timber at the start when it was green, and then again once it had dried out (I only thought about this half way through the drying).

 

Stacked it: all of the boards racked and stacked

Stacked it: all of the boards racked and stacked

 

Ventilation: good airflow is needed to help the timber dry evenly

Ventilation: good airflow is needed to help the timber dry evenly

Machining

Now we had most of the windows installed we had some set heights to calculate to exact size of the weatherboards. An apple crate typically has four boards and this was the module we sought to replicate – either 4, 8 or 12 boards. Greg drew a 1:1 profile of the boards and we checked this onsite beneath the windows. We now had our sizes and profile sorted – onto the machining. But first I had the painstaking and heartbreaking task of sorting through the boards to see which ones hadn’t shrunk too much and were large enough. This knocked out around 10%. Not a great start.

 

To be sure: Greg checking the relation of the boards to the window

To be sure: Greg checking the relation of the boards to the window

 

The straight boards went straight to the table saw; the bent boards went to the docking saw. Some boards had long splits extending in from the end. This eliminated another 10%. Not going too well.

 

Docking station: Greg docking the boards roughly to length

Docking station: Greg docking the boards roughly to length

 

Most of the logs that had been milled were on the smaller side (around 500mm diameter, the minimum for the Lucas mill). Many boards were cut through the heart of the tree – this resulted in them cupping as they dried. Some could be thicknessed but others were too bowed. Another 20% lost. Not good at all.

 

Bowie: the seriously cupped and bowed boards or any boards cut through the heart of the tree were rejected

Bowie: the seriously cupped and bowed boards or any boards cut through the heart of the tree were rejected

 

Once all the boards were straight enough we sized them on the table saw, cutting them to the correct width – 187.5mm – wider than typical weatherboards.

 

Sizing: cutting the boards to width on the table saw

Sizing: cutting the boards to width on the table saw

 

After the boards were sized we ran them through the thicknesser (a large table planer) to get them to the right thickness of 26mm. We only machined the one face, leaving the outer face rough sawn.

 

3 of a kind: the first three boards sit on the thicknesser

3 of a kind: the first three boards sit on the thicknesser

 

The pile of useable boards was quickly dwindling by this stage as the reject boards started to stack up. Once the boards were docked, sized and thicknessed it was onto the profile machine. This cut the rebate one side of the board at a time – so each board needed two passes through the machine.

 

Passing through: Adam feeding a board through the profile machine to cut the rebate to create the ship lap

Passing through: Adam feeding a board through the profile machine to cut the rebate to create the ship lap

 

It might have been a labour intensive activity to machine the weatherboards while maintaining a rough sawn appearance, however it only took a few hours. There were a few more rejects at the final machine stage, and some more once we started using the boards onsite. I estimate we could only use about 50% of the boards – hence only 50% of the cladding we needed. Not having nearly enough boards was a big disappointment, but something we had to deal with.

 

I learned a lot about timber and milling that morning in the workshop – the next batch should be much better. There are still a couple of very large trees onsite yet to be milled – hopefully these will prove to be more stable and provide more useable timber.

 

Costs: Timber – $0; Machining – TBA (3-4 hours)

 

Disclaimer: Any advice contained within this blog is of a general nature only and cannot be relied upon. Details provided are in good faith and relate specifically to this project. Any author will not be held responsible for advice or information presented.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew – Thanks for the info – I too have some large trees on my site in the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney in NSW – radiata pine up to about 35 m in height. My neighbour has even more. He ended up destroying most of those he removed, but now regrets it as he would now like to have crafted some large structural internal beams out of them. What he has left on site he has decided he will use for fence posts, gate posts, and as part of some retaining walls for some low level landscaping on his site.

    We discussed using onsite trees for our timber last year, and that we could save money if we did. I researched the use of an Alaskan Saw Mill (which uses a large chainsaw, and a specially designed “jig” or frame, to mill logs on site in a low capital cost but time intensive way). After looking into it, I decided it might be cheaper, quicker, and less stress if I just got my MGP10, LVL and I-beams / HyJoists from Bunnings (a large category killer hardware store here in NSW). So, I’ll maybe use some on site trees I remove for fence posts or gate posts, and the rest for firewood.

    Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Thanks for sharing your experience – much appreciated.

    Keep your updates coming – I look forward to them. Don’t forget to update us about the costs / budget, which is very important in my case as there is very little info out there on costs of owner building (in NSW), and I have a very, very, very tight budget (so that I can have an allowance for a significant budget overrun of about 30%)

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