Woodworking dopers--some advice, please

We’re going to be building a home in a couple of years, and we’re in the planning phases. I want to buildthis staircase (just the stair treads part of it) out of wood we cut from the land. We’re going to have to cut a 800 foot long road throughthis land to get to the build site, and then clear the actual area for the house, so even though we’re going to save as many trees as we can, I think we’ll have enough wood to work with. Most of the trees are oak, some white, some red. We’ll be doing most of the construction ourselves.

So, my question is about how to make those treads. I’m assuming we’d have to take a log, cut it into a basic square, bigger than our final size, then dry it and plane it down. But how to dry them? How much shrinkage should we expect? This is something we’ve never done before.

The staircase will be going up into a loft, not a main living area, so it can be steeper and narrower than a normal staircase. If it’s going to take a year (or more) to dry the wood adequately, that’s OK, we can put up a temporary one until it’s ready.

So, any advice on this? Is this doable? Thanks!

The pieces in your link are all hearts, pith. Sawmills marketing grade wood sell this remainder to pallet mills or use it as fuel for drying kilns or power generation. As you can see, it’s very reactive to drying stresses, with deep cracks that will be sock snaggers and dust collectors.
You should saw your trees ASAP after felling. Leave at least two feet for margin on the length. Slabbing cuts get rid of the bark and most of the insects, though you’ll need to inspect for deep borers which survive for years unless the wood is kiln dried, something not practical at that dimension.
Saw 4/4 and/or 8/4 'til you approach your size. Leave a margin at least 1/2" all 'round if using a circle mill. Increase the margin if using a portable band mill, and increase margin if sawing in multiple tread length.
If you cut the treads to near net length to speed drying, leave a couple inch margin, get them well off the ground, and cover from rain/snow while permitting airflow and preventing mould. Sealing the ends isn’t necessary.
The reason for generous margin is twist that takes place during drying. It cannot be prevented, nor can the cracks. Drying at that size will take many years-an old rule of thumb is one year per inch.

What he said, plus, the treads should be at least 8" wide. 6" can be OK going up, but dangerous coming down, especially if carrying something. Keep in mind that you won’t always be young enough to easily manage steep and narrow stairs.

Frankly, it would be a lot easier to achieve that effect by cutting one log into a bunch of two inch thick disks and letting them dry. The disks will dry much more quickly and you can discard those that check or warp too much without losing a lot of material. You can then cut the disks into squares or rectangles to maximize their visual appeal. You then build a tread/riser combo out of good quality material and rabbet the block into the end of the stair to make a ‘cosmetic log’ that can be dropped in place. This avoids the problems of drying a thick log, the difficulty of working with thick, heavy pieces, the warping issues, etc., etc.

My father always taught me that for the best climbing stairs, the combo of rise and tread (run?) should total 18 or 19.
As in a 10 inch rise, would be a 8 or 9 inch tread. For an 8 inch rise, an 10 or 11 inch run works great.
Get outside of that, and the stairs just won’t feel right as you walk up them.
Looking at that picture it looks like those might be 10X10 which would take a looooong time to dry.

So does this mean that I could just go to a lumber mill and get some 10x10s for a reasonable price instead of using our own wood (which is nice and romantic and all, but if the end effect is the same…)

I don’t know what this means. Would you mind elaborating?

So for 10x10s (or 11 x11s for the margin) we’re talking a decade of drying time? Why is kiln drying impractical?

How sensible! Will definitely consider this, but the real thing does still appeal. There will be a little half bath under the stairs, and it would be neat for the ceiling of that room to be the underside of the logs. I know that could also be done with “cosmetic logs” but I think the cracks and fissures are part of the appeal.

Yeah, I was thinking they’re 10x10, and it looks like about a 2" overlap, so an 8" rise, 10" tread. I don’t think it will be too steep.

Thanks for the help, guys. We’ve never attempted to mill any sort of lumber, so the lingo is a bit foreign.

I refrained from making stair related dimensions- rise vs. run, the width of treads- since you will most likely need to conform to local building codes, and perhaps the vagaries of unimaginative inspectors. To my knowledge, they all allow equal division of rise to avoid uneven traverse.
A very comfortable industrial regulation was 7-11, an easily remembered rise/run that goes with Rick’s tip.

  If you're sawing your own trees, save the expense of purchase and trucking, but yes, all the mills around here will saw whatever you want. The mobile sawmills have the advantage in saving transport, but will involve less accurate cutting and usually more material handling.

 4/4, pronounced four quarter, equals one inch, 5/4 equals one and a quarter inch, and so on. I've heard many explanations some of which make sense. Maybe Cecil will cover this.  Many sawyers will allow margin on top of nominal so an inch is often an eighth heavy. This avoids dispute over board footage counts which is often the unit of charge, as opposed to hourly fee.

  Having done some timber framing, the fact is lumber in that dimension doesn't really dry but reaches equilibrium. A couple years and you could start working it, preferably in a shop at the same humidity as installation. Kiln drying is impractical mainly because of time in kiln vs. commercial rates and lot schedules. Kilns can be made on site but require knowledge and expertise in making and operating, moreso if solar powered.

  Brossa's suggestion IS sensible, but I think the appeal of the thing is the combo of perceived ruggedness and mass with the beauty of polished variation of grain and colour that could only be wood. Any artifice in building would be better suited to more sophisticated constructs, IMO.

Actually, where we’re building is outside city limits, and requires no inspections except on the septic system. Hard to believe, I know, but true and convenient. Since the stairs will not be used on a daily basis, I’m comfortable with the 8-10 rise-run.

I guess I’m still not quite getting this, sorry. We’ll probably use something like this to do the rough cuts if we go with this.

What if we cut out the center of the blocks, leaving an end on but a hollow middle, and attaching angle brackets to the inside angle to keep the wood from warping as it dries? Dumb idea?

 Still gonna warp, and sounds labour intensive. Don't fret the warpage, most takes place the first year- but do heed humidity changes.  Best success if you can mill near net and then acclimatise in house with final plane established at installation.

**Carson O’Genic **has already answered your questions most excellently. But, I would like to add that, you really might want to consider finding a local sawyer before you invest time and money into an Alaskan sawmill setup. Ripping logs with a chain saw is time consuming and labor intensive unless you invest in commercial-duty equipment.

Woodweb’s sawing and drying forum has a good listing of sawyers. It is also a good forum in which to ask this same question and get some expert answers.

Woodmizer also maintains a lister of owners of their mills who are available for hire. Although, with the timber in the picture you showed, you may get the hankering to own one of their hobby mills. A lot of people have bought those mills when they were ready to build a house and put it to good use.

Isn’t this one of those construction projects made with green oak? - that is, unseasoned timber, used in over-engineered size, in the full knowledge that cracking and splitting will occur - and seasoned/dried in situ.

Can anyone comment on the log cabin question or Mangetout’s question? I’m still kind of set on doing this. I’ve also asked this over on this site in case anyone is is curious what some hard core loggers had to say about it. (Some disagreement there.)

Thanks again for the help.

If that is a green wood project, the picture was taken immediately after completion since those nicely aligned planes and angles would not be so after one heating system.
Now, if the wood had been either immersed or injected with PEG (polythene glycol), the inevitable shrinkage could be minimised. Simply speaking, PEG replaces water in the cells, but it seems an impractical process in your case. Note that timber so treated will maintain it’s weight.
Even lacking building mandates, you wouldn’t want the hazard of a twisted tread, which is why I recommend sawing near net and waiting at least a year.
There’s no reason this can’t be done. The problem is effort vs. expectation; knowledge can ease the former and attune the latter.

The exposed side of the stringer looks strange to me. It’s obviously veneer, since there’s no way that could be a single piece of wood given the grain direction. If it were me, even if I used veneer, I’d orient the grain so it matches the grain of the actual stringer.

You may find that drying the wood you cut is not really going to be possible. Not for finished carpentry anyway. You’ll probably need to have it commercially dried.

Second, Typically, making one large step from one piece of wood may not work out. You might want to consider laminating several 3 to 4 inch wide pieces together. Otherwise they may warp or split in the years to come.

IIRC, wood is dried to about 6 to 7%. I don’t know how you would even measure that on your own.

Here is a PDF link that might be helpful

By all means, consult a lumber yard in your area about the drying process before building.

Edited: That link really doesn’t cover it, but if you search the Woodworn institute’s site you’ll find the answer. http://www.wicnet.org/