Free Lumber the Hard Way





Introduction: Free Lumber the Hard Way

About: I have been working with wood since I could stumble into the shop with my dad. About a year ago I moved into a house with no space for a full shop so I decided to take up all hand tool wood working. That sta...

This is not the easiest way to make lumber but it is is the cheapest I know of using the cheapest tools. You don't even need a chain saw. You can get a sledgehammer and wedges from garage sales for less than $10 or even make the wedges out of wood. the scrub plane can be made from an old hand plane. and that is all you need. to make this happen.

This is a comparatively wasteful method, but it will provide the highest quality of lumber possible as it is riven and quartered cut so it is extremely stable for furniture and whatever you want to make with it.

For the logs, you just need to go to Craigslist or Gumtree to find piles of logs for free listed as "free Firewood" Or "Fallen Tree" You want the log to be as straight grained as possible with few or no branches if possible. Sometimes you can even ask them to cut the logs to the length you want. I usually ask for 3-4' long unless I have a project in mind that needs longer.

Tools Used

Splitting Wedge -

Sledge Hammer -

Making a scrub plane -

Step 1: Split in Half

First, we want to split the log in half. you do not want to just use a splitting ax as that will not provide a smooth split.

Start by driving in a few wedges across one end of the log in a straight line. You want to make an even cut at the start that will follow all the way down the log. After driving all the wedges into full depth then come down the side of the log with the wedges to spread the crack straight down the tree. Eventually, it will crack in half.

The more you do it the better and smoother the cut becomes.

Step 2: Split in Quarters

Next, we want to do the exact thing again and cut it in quarters.

Start at one end then carry the crack down the side. this will give you 4 quarters you can start to pull boards from.

Step 3: Rive a Board

Next, we want to split off the first board start the same way with wedges in a line but put them parallel to one side of the quarter. but do not drive them in very far as the crack will naturally want to split off a wedge shape.

When they are in 3" or so then start putting in wedges along the inside of the log. not on the bark side. This will create a weakness that the log that the crack will follow. but again only drive them in 2-3" deep along the side.

Last go to the other end and draw the same line mirroring the first end, and drive wedges in there. now you can drive all wedges in evenly tell that board pops off and splits away.

Now you have a rough piece of lumber. continue pulling boards off the other quarter's telly ou have all you can get from the logs.

Step 4: Scrub and Dry

Now, if you want to dry them like this you can but they will dry faster if you remove the extra wood.

I put it in the vice on my bench and use a scrub plane to remove the waste that we do not want on both sides. It is easier to plane the wood when it is wet but I still like to leave the scrub marks and keep it rough sawn tell it is dried.

Last you need to seal the ends so that it dries evenly. I just use old latex paint that is in the basement. but AnchorSeal is the professional stuff for that.

Last, set them aside to dry usually 9 months to a year tell they are ready to use. or even faster if you have a kiln.

not only was this wood free but it is the highest possible qualtity, extremely stable!



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31 Discussions

I thought I posted a question but I didn't see it in the posts so I will try again. It was basically, Is there a significant or scientific benefit to splitting vs cutting i.e. with a chainsaw or mill for that matter? In the quality i.e. stress of wood drying curling spliting.

2 replies

Splitting the wood insures that you have contenuoue fibers running from one end of the board to the other. so for things like lader rungs it is a HUGE benifit. also haveing riven lumber is much more stable and will not expand and contract as much a flat sawn lumber. the down side is there is a ton of waste.

Great instructable, but you lose me on the planing.

I enjoy the hammer and wedge work, but my hat is off to you for the detailed stuff. Privileged and lazy. give me a thickness planer!

1 reply

LOL there are times I wish I kept mine. but I do so love the wood curls!

My hat off to you. Lots of work but in the end it will be well worth it.

1 reply

So true. There is something to be said for taking a project tree to furniture.

Generaly, but unless you use a moisture meter you do not know. Also, there are huge variances in wood types and drying conditions. In my basement with a fan, I can dry 2-3" of oak a year. that same wood outside here would take 4-5 years to properly dry. that rule of thumb is ok for guesses when you do not know the conditions, but can be wildly off.

I am confused on the term Quarter saw so I wikkied it, and found my understanding was wrong . Thanks for posting this as it made me look it up and see it properly here is a nice vid on quarter sawing

2 replies

yup. what I am doing here is not really quarter sawing, as actual quartersawing will cut through fibers if there is any twist where as Riven will spiral with the wood if there is a twist. there are large benefits to both.

I'm not sure I want boards, but this has given me some good ideas about what to do with a trunk of a tree that fell down and is too large to move easily. I might split it into chunks for carving, craft projects, or firewood. I wonder if I could hollow out one side and use it for a boat. Hmm.

2 replies

If u find a tree thats quite large and dead for a while, The middle could be hollowed out already?? I've never tried it. Just saw one the other day picking up some free Firewood and thought to myself, WOW that would make a cool Canoe one day...LOL Not sure how it would work.

Hi and thanks for the great coverage of traditional timber conversion. I teach woodwork amongst other things and got some end sealant here in the antipodes (Australia) from Mobil called CER-M. Not sure if you can still get it but it is like the latex paint and controls the drying rate. Worth painting painting the ends despite what some people say!

1 reply

nice. the stuff in North America is Ancor Seal. but much the same.


1 year ago

What types of wood are best for this process? I have a lot of Florida live oak around but the grain is very twisty (if that's a word) so it might be tough to get straight slices. I read that the settlers used to use live oak for the bow of the boat and match the grain to the arch.

Well anyway what wood do you prefer?