Chapter 6: Sawmill Terminology

Sawmills and forestry companies use a range of industry terms that can sound foreign to beginners. Anyone in the lumber production industry should familiarize themselves with the terminology to close communication gaps and help avoid safety hazards.

Although there are plenty of lumber terms of the trade to learn, it’s good to start somewhere. Let this final chapter be your beginner’s sawmill dictionary. If you want to learn more, feel free to call us at 1-800-233-1969.

What Is a Cant Sawmill?

Several sources have different definitions of a cant. For example, OSHA defines a cant as a log slabbed on one or more sides. The Department of Agriculture defines a cant as a log that is squared on two or more sides. Others use the term “cant” to refer to a squared-off log.


stacked wood boards

Overall, a cant is a sawn log that is sent to another machine for additional processing or sold as a large slab to be used as a building log. A cant sawmill has the job of sawing logs to form cants for further manufacturing. The head saw is the machine used to turn logs into cants.

What Is a Sawmill Worker Called?

Sawmill workers may have several titles such as sawing machine setters, operators and tenders. They may also be called sawyers, lumber mill workers, timber mill workers, sawmill yard workers, wood machinists or wood processing workers.

What Is the First Cut Off a Log Called?

The first log cut above the stump is called a butt log or butt cut. Butt off refers to cutting a piece of a log due to a defect. Most of a tree’s value is in the butt log.

What Is a Stack of Lumber Called?

A unit of lumber is called a package. Another term for a stack of lumber is a charge, which refers to a stack that had been processed in a dry kiln. Otherwise, a stack of lumber is simply called a stack.

Other Sawmill Terms to Know

Whether you own woodland or a sawmill, work at a sawmill or are just curious about the wood manufacturing process, you’ll likely come across the following industry terms. Although the following list is non-exhaustive, it includes some basic words worth knowing:

  • Angiosperms: Flowering seed-producing plants, which include all hardwoods.
  • Annual rings: The growth rings of wood, with each representing one growing season.
  • Band saw: A continuous blade saw that produces less kerf than a circular saw.
  • Barking drum: A large drum used to remove the bark from logs by abrasive action.
  • Binder: A material such as a rope or chain used to bind loads.
  • Biomass: A term used to describe the woody material, which may include vines, grass and shrubs, of a single site.
  • Board: A wood product derived from a tree that has added value. Usually, boards are at least 1 inch thick and 2 inches wide for softwoods and less than 2 inches thick and at least 2 inches wide for hardwoods.
  • Board foot: A board of lumber that measures 12 inches long, 12 inches wide and 1 inch thick.
  • Bole: The main stem of a tree.
  • Bolt: A short portion of the stem, usually measuring 4 feet.
  • Boring: Starting a cut in the center of a log.
  • Buck: To cut a log into shorter lengths.
  • Chips: The small pieces of wood chopped from a log.
  • Circular saw: A traditional round saw used to process logs into lumber or other wood products.
  • Cross-cutting: To cut wood across the grain. The circular saw is frequently used for cross-cutting.
  • Debarker: A machine used to remove bark from logs.
  • Diffuse-porous: A term used to describe hardwoods with evenly distributed pores of uniform size.
  • Dry kiln: A closed temperature- and humidity-controlled chamber used to reduce the moisture content of wood.
  • Edgewise: Setting a piece of wood on its narrowest side so that its depth is greater than its width.
  • Feed rate: The distance a log is fed in a saw machine per unit time.
  • Flatwise: Setting wood on its widest side, so its width is greater than its depth.
  • Flitch: A two-side unfinished piece cut from a log that is usually further processed.
  • Grade: A quality rating given to wood products.
  • Grade stamp: A marking on a wood product to stand for product grade.
  • Grain: The direction of fibers along the length of a board or log.
  • Green: The term used to describe wood that has not been dried. Softwood lumber with a moisture content above 19% is considered green.
  • Gymnosperm: Plant species with naked seeds, also known as conifers.
  • Head rig: The machinery used to process a log into cants and flitches.
  • Husk: The head saw framework on a circular mill.
  • Kerf: The width of the wood removed during the cutting process.
  • Loader: A machine used to move logs or lumber to the transportation vehicle.
  • Log: A tree cut into lengths of at least 8 feet.
  • Log deck: A platform in the sawmill where logs are kept until they need sawing.
  • Log yard: The facility located next to the sawmill used for log storage or sorting.
  • Lumber: Wood that had been processed.
  • Planer: A machine that uses rotating knives to produce a smooth wood surface.
  • Porosity: The intensity of pores in hardwood.
  • Quartersawn: Lumber that is cut across the annual rings.
  • Rip-cut: A cut made in the same direction as the grain of the wood.
  • Saw guide: A device used for steadying a circular or band saw.
  • Sawline: The visible mark where wood has been cut.
  • Secondary processing mill: A facility that produces wood products such as furniture after the wood has been manufactured at a primary processing facility.
  • Shake: Separation of wood fibers along the grain or between annual rings.
  • Timber: A standing forest of trees that can be used for processing.
  • Timbers: Usually refers to logs or cants used in construction.
  • Top saw: The upper of two circular saws on a head rig.
  • Treated wood: Wood that had been chemically preserved.
  • Veneer: Thin sheets of wood that can be used in furniture or plywood.

The sawmill industry is tied to a vast range of subjects, from biology to engineering, so it can be tough to know it all. Learning some of the terms can help with communication accuracy and minimize confusion between workers, sawmill owners and clients.

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