The scientist Carl Sagan once remarked: “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe”. Most of us don’t think about things quite that deeply, but technically he’s right.
Take a look around you – how much of what you see can you make a passable facsimile of yourself, starting from raw, natural material? Almost any technology less than a hundred years old is probably out. If we’re talking about anything made of glass, you’d have to head to the beach to shovel up some sand. If you’re a painter, you’d start by gathering plants or rare minerals for pigments.
Carpentry is one of the few exceptions to this rule. If you just want to knock together a table that looks reasonably nice and won’t fall down, of course, you’ll probably want to get your wood from the store, maybe even have them cut it to size for you. Your local hardware store will probably not have a section like this, though:
While the ideal for the carpenter of yesteryear was to get everything as square and level as possible, many people now consider natural lines and textures more attractive. If you enjoy making furniture and ornaments as gifts for friends, or even make an income from selling them, this is something you should take note of.
If cutting your own rough boards directly from the log sounds like something you’d like to try, this entry-level chainsaw mill might be for you. Basically, it’s just a bracket on which you can mount your chainsaw: it guides your cut so you can produce even boards or beams of between ½” and 13″ thick. If you use a lot of wood, have access to some logs, and know the basics of seasoning, this can potentially save you a ton of money.
Unlike a rotary sawmill (which tends to cost much, much more), it’s portable, meaning that you can cut up a log where it’s felled. Also unlike a circular type, it wastes a lot of wood in the form of chips and wood dust, and doesn’t necessarily produce the best cuts.
There’s definitely a learning curve involved here: you’ll need a steady hand and probably at least a 50cc saw, or you’ll have to plane and sand out a lot of deep scratches. Since the mill uses the wood itself as a guide, it’s also really important to get the first cut along the log as straight and flat as possible. There’s no easy way to do this without a guide rail of some sort, but luckily these aren’t all that hard to jury-rig yourself.