View Full Version : Sawmill report.

11-28-2006, 05:24 PM
I picked up the mill yesterday. They put it in the back of the Tacoma with the forklift. When I got it home I backed into the barn and got it out with an overhead block, but it's heavy. I thought about this and decided that I'd get it onto a section of track, then back the tiny trailer up to it with another section of track on it and the tail tilted down, and roll the saw carriage up onto the trailer. This worked just fine until I went to attach the tongue to the back of the lawn tractor to move it to sawing location. What I'd done to secure it to this section of track wasn't holding it from rolling forward once the tongue was down, and I had just enough time to straigten up and reach for the thing, so that it wouldn't go ass over teakettle, land sideways and break. The cross bar hit me in the lower left ribs. I think I heard a crack. I yelled a bit. I have a strong desire to maintain a good vertical posture. I have taken two advil and a quart of Edy's Grand Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream, and that seems to be helping.

Anyway, I got the tracks set up and saw on them, and sawed about 200 b.f. of wood from three 8'+ logs in about two hours, plus an hour for set-up. Edges aren't perfect, and the blade tends to wander at knots, especially when I don't have the adjustable guide in close. Because I'm set up on grass the track isn't perfectly even. It will be tempting to pour a concrete pad for it to live on. The other thought is to have a wooden strongback that it fits on, complete with a log rack to load from, but I think the slab will be just as good.

One of the log dogs is clearly not what's supposed to be there. The two dogs don't match. I'd ordered a third, which is on the way, and that will solve some of the problem, but I'll want to replace that funky one.

Overall I'm happy. I knew this wasn't the top end, but it cuts fairly smooth and fast enough. I want rough lumber for barn and outbuilding repairs. This will do it.

Now about that rib...


Milo Christensen
11-28-2006, 05:42 PM
Now about that rib...

Ouch. Is the pain aggravated by bending or twisting the torso?

Memphis Mike
11-28-2006, 05:55 PM
You're gonna cut your arm off.

11-28-2006, 06:00 PM
That is cool Dan. I am envious--I see so many good trees here in MA getting sawn up for firewood, it makes my wood-junky brain cringe whenever I think about what I could do, for free, if I had a sawmill like yours! Good work, post som pics if you mill any really pretty lumber.

Memphis Mike
11-28-2006, 07:27 PM
Even worse as long as his beard is, he might get his beard caught in it and rip his dang head off!:eek:

Leon m
11-28-2006, 07:29 PM
It will be tempting to pour a concrete pad for it to live on. The other thought is to have a wooden strongback that it fits on, complete with a log rack to load from, but I think the slab will be just as good.


I'd go with the strongback,they can be moved ,a slab can't.

My 2 cents.

11-28-2006, 10:39 PM
I cracked/broke plenty of ribs.... My own even. I did one last weekend, and it hurts to think about laughing.

11-29-2006, 08:16 AM
Was this mill bought used?

11-29-2006, 10:13 AM
Can you mill me some 3+" x6+" x 5' hardwood planks? maple, birch, red oak in descending order of preference.

When you heal, of course. :D

and can you use some cypress chips for bedding? :eek: Supposed to repel fleas.

Cheers, Hugh

11-29-2006, 04:19 PM
Well the rib isn't broken. It seems to be just "soft tissue" around it that's abused. Bending and twisting can hurt. Breathing doesn't. I can basicly do anything I'd normally do, but I groan a lot more while doing it. It'll heal. Meanwhile, Ibuprofin is my friend. I took it easy today by driving 4 hours round trip to retrieve my (dead and cut up, some parts smoked) pigs. (Jamie, if you're out there, BAAAAAAAACOOOOOOON!)

Hugh, yes, red oak, I think I might be able to spring you a couple things.

Doug, no, it was bought new.

Reverend and Blowhard, the head is of more use without the arm than the arm is without the head. But I plan on keeping both.


11-29-2006, 04:40 PM
New...And the dogs don't match?

11-29-2006, 04:48 PM
Yep. I'll have a word with them about that. They make several models, and I assume the odd dog is from a different mill design.


Phil Heffernan
11-29-2006, 06:40 PM
Dan, yer the real deal...Cuttin' your own lumber...What a cool thing to do!

A tip o' the hat to ya Boy-o


12-01-2006, 09:47 AM
Yesterday I found out how amazingly the blade can wander when it gets gummed up with pitch: about a half inch. It just started to dive into the log at one point. I think it was partly because I was trying to make an 8" log into a wany edged 6x6. Taking thin slices of bark off must be how to accumulate pitch on the blade fastest.

So now I just need to install the lube package that will drip water and pine-sol on the blade as it runs. And I need to clean that one blade.


Dryer lint
12-01-2006, 09:52 AM
we need pictures

12-01-2006, 10:51 AM
Gummy blades are almost as bad as dull blades. You also might be running at slightly too low tension.

Dryer lint
12-01-2006, 11:50 AM
the sawing ive had done the guy drips some kind of kerosene mixture onto his blade

Ken Hutchins
12-01-2006, 12:45 PM
Dan, get the saw tuned up to cutting straight with hardwood which should not gum up. Then cut pine. Another help if the problem persists is to debark before cutting, only necessary to debark the side the blade enters the log from. I usually find the logs cut in winter are less likely to need debarking, spring cut logs really need it.

12-01-2006, 12:46 PM
Kero will void the warantee on the driven wheel tire and maybe a few other things. They recommend pine-sol.

Too wet to saw today anyway. I guess I'll go to town in a bit.


Memphis Mike
12-01-2006, 12:51 PM
Have you cut your arm off yet?:rolleyes:

12-01-2006, 01:19 PM
Not yet, but I'll send it to you, middle finger extended, when I do.



Leon m
12-01-2006, 02:07 PM
So what'd you dicide about the strong back/slab ?

Bob Smalser
12-01-2006, 02:10 PM
....sawed about 200 b.f. of wood from three 8'+ logs in about two hours....Edges aren't perfect, and the blade tends to wander at knots, especially when I don't have the adjustable guide in close. Because I'm set up on grass the track isn't perfectly even...

... the blade can wander when it gets gummed up with pitch: about a half inch. It just started to dive into the log at one point. I think it was partly because I was trying to make an 8" log into a wany edged 6x6. Taking thin slices of bark off must be how to accumulate pitch on the blade fastest.

...So now I just need to install the lube package that will drip water and pine-sol on the blade as it runs. And I need to clean that one blade.


First, those tracks don't have to be level, but they have to be both dead flat and parallel with each other. Firmly shim them up to a sight line. If they aren't both parallel and flat after the log is loaded, fixing that alone will solve a number of problems. Concrete slabs aren't panaceas, either...you'll also be amazed at how easily sawdust packs beneath the base and throws it off. Check this twice a day.

How many blades do you have?

There's a reason 8" logs are generally made into firewood....too much soft, dirty bark in proportion to clean, harder wood that provides a hard kerf to stabilize the blade during entry and exit into the log. Don't expect much from them in terms of uniformity and surface, even after you get everything working properly.

It's almost impossible to get all the tooth-dulling dirt out of the bark. Many sawyers powerwash their logs first, and just as many have given that up because the one extra blade sharpening an 8-hour day that powerwashing saves isn't worth the extra time. Debarking is a major task in winter, and you'll likely need a chainsaw attachment to do it. Even then it'll take longer than all the other tasks going from tree to lumber combined.

You can expect to use up to 5 blades in a day with small logs and dirty bark...so if you haven't already changed it, dull teeth are part of the problem. So is lack of lube....don't saw without it. If you're still getting wander at knots with a clean, fresh blade after reducing your rate of feed as you feel the knots, then look at your blade tension. 6.5hp isn't enough to maintain the same rate of feed in knots as in clear wood.

Check the turnaround time at your sharpening service and buy sufficient blades accordingly. Or buy your own sharpening equipment. Either way you can expect a significant further outlay.

12-01-2006, 03:23 PM
Thanks Colonel.

I was told that a blade would last about 700 bf. I have three of them, but figure'd I'd probably need to get more fairly soon. Woodmizer has a mail order sharpening service, which, if you do ten blades at once, averages about $8 per, shipping included. I don't know turn around but I think it's about two weeks. That was recommended by the dealer. They could sell me a sharpener, but it costs more than the saw. I'm sure there are other ways.

Katey's dad has a method for dealing with the problem of dirt in the bark. He never lets the log be dragged. He has a log arch made of old horse rake wheels. I'll need to come up with something myself pretty soon.

The track runs slightly downhill where I set it up. I noticed it was slightly skew when I checked it yesterday and fixed it (for the moment). Another thought I had was to install a set of piers that the tracks could sit on, a couple inches tall. It would be less concrete and more space to let sawdust out. But I'll probably just keep setting up on sod.


Bob Smalser
12-01-2006, 04:07 PM
1) ...I was told that a blade would last about 700 bf.

2) ...about $8 per, shipping included. I don't know turn around but I think it's about two weeks.

3) ....He never lets the log be dragged. He has a log arch made of old horse rake wheels. I'll need to come up with something myself pretty soon.

4)... install a set of piers that the tracks could sit on, a couple inches tall.

1) Half that in small logs.

2) A good deal, 8 bucks a blade. As is 20 bucks for a new blade. Buy a case. Otherwise you'll spend another 3 grand in gear only to spend the evening sharpening after supper.


3) An arch of some kind is necessary to get the log end up, but won't make much difference in dirt in the bark. Just rolling the log over will pick up enough to dull blades. A post-hole digger frame on a 3-pt hitch works adequately for logs less than 6000lbs.


4) Sawdust will jam between the ground/slab and any track bearer system you use, throwing it off. I'd leave it on the ground and saw up some wedges sized to level things up as required.

Steve Redmond
12-01-2006, 04:36 PM
A few comments on a very interesting thread

I built my own sawmill and log arch. The log arch was made from a mobile home trailer axle. My tractor (1951 John Deere Model M) is too light to drag logs over about 1000 lbs using a posthole frame without dangerously lifting the front end in the rough hilly area we live in -- and the front axle pivot is too light to weigh down the front end much, so the log arch was essential.

I like it very much -- much cleaner to work with (though I bark my logs anyway) and it really makes a difference hauling up hill -- the load is much easier to haul and traction is better, besides the safety issue.

Also you can back up, which you can't do dragging. This means I can "parallel park" right up next to the mill which greatly reduces the handling chore.

You can build a band saw sharpener from a compound chop saw.

I also use a "yankee yarder" for winching logs to the arch -- again the tractor is too light for a hitch winch -- at least in my opinion.

The wavy cut issue is almost always a matter of a dull blade. And even the cleanest log contains wind blown silica in its bark. You can dull a blade in one cut, even if the log looks clean, depending on what's in the bark.

I debark in spring cut logs using an axe, because the bark slips so easily. I use the axe head to wedge off once a strip is started. I've used the chainsaw method in the past, and only use it when the bark won't slip. Winter cut logs are better wood, but more work.

If you run along the projected cut two chainsaw cuts about 2" apart with the saw tip, you can strip off the bark between with a homemade bark spud (from a car leaf spring) -- make pull handles either side if you want like a drawknife, or make a long harpoon style handle like a slick -- depends what's comfortable to you.

If you want to lubricate with pine sol and water mix, go get a Sears plastic garden sprayer, and strap it to your rig with the nozzle pointing at the blade cut.

You want to run about 5000 sfpm with good blade tension and a sharp blade. I use a ten horse engine run at 2800 rpm for long life. A 3450 air cooled engine won't last at max rpm, and 10 hp is none too big.


12-01-2006, 05:15 PM
I use one of the "expensive setter/sharpeners" but buy a Suffolk stone and they'll send you plans for a $30.00 manual band sharpener. (google will find photos)

Pinesol/Water mixture for coolant cut with windshield washer fluid when its below freezing. I don't like to mill half frozen logs. Clean the band on the machine by running coolant full bore for 10-15 seconds. Let band run another 45 seconds it should be 95% clear. Hit it with WD40 or wipe oil of choice before stowing band.

700bdft? I'd be happy with a 400bdft average w/debaker on the mill. Current rotation is 24 bands 8 sharp ones in the truck at all times. I expect to swap out 4-5 time a day. Takes about 3 minutes to swap. 5 minutes per to sharpen setting is the time killer. Lots of folks modify there mills no reason why you can't mount a beater router on your mill to be used as a debarker down the road.

As the band heats up it looses tension. A hydraulic tensioner with gauge is a nice modification. If band is slipping beginning of cut. Drive belt tension may be to loose or band under tensioned. If the band falls off the end of the cant -- realized by backing band back up to cant after completing cut and hitting it instead of gliding over.The guide alignment may be off (or band is dull,set off, check with known to be good band) If you want I'll email some documents over that covers some of this stuff.

Determing tension of band. If you don't have a gauge on the mill. Use a caliper and hookes law. Clamp the caliper to the band open at 6". Determine the root area of your band and using hookes law back out the strain required to get 40,000 psi using E=30x10+6. Make a mark or get a feel for the right tension. Retension once blade heats up. Back off when taking breaks for longer than 10 minutes. Picasson method works well also keep tensioning till it feels right.

I figure I can get 2800 bdft out of the band before its done at $21.00 per when buying in boxes of 12. The cost per bdft is low. Swap early and the bands will last longer.

Good luck

12-01-2006, 06:16 PM
This is all really interesting but far more complex than I imagined.
Suddenly, the prices I pay for pecan, mesquite, and sycamore boards from a small local mill seem quite reasonable, and I have more respect for the guy who keeps that mill running.

Steve Redmond
12-01-2006, 06:24 PM
Great info.

When I say I debark spring wood, I mean debark the whole log. This sounds like a lot of work but it really isn't as bad as it sounds. It strips off in whole sheets if you handle (pry) the axe right. I find it's actually easier than trying to cut just a strip with the chainsaw and spud.
Depends on the season timing and log species -- at least I find it so.

You have a super clean log then. I definitely get a lot more cutting without changing blades if I do. It's a tradeoff -- what you want to spend time on ---- sharpening and setting or cleaning the log. I don't do production sawing, what I do would be impractical there. I'd have a fully automated rig and automatic sharpener and set if I did.

One thing I have noticed -- if you are running lubricant and have a narrow debark strip, the nozzle can tend to wash dirt onto the blade while running and dull it faster. This depends on the rig and spray setup, but is something to watch out for.

I had thought about making a debarker from an old circular saw with a couple of stacked carbide rip blades (like the old dado sets) rather than the router. But I suppose the router would give you a wider kerf, which would be better in regard to washing dirt into the cut. The main problems would be retaining the bit in a typical high carbon router collet with all that flying dirt and moisture, and for either method, making a good enough follower/roller.

One other thing -- I trim the ends of the logs with a chainsaw before cutting -- dirt beds in there, too. I find it makes a difference. I therefore leave the ends rough when dragging, and square up on the mill. Again, this is not production practice, and I'm sure, a waste of time for that. But it works for me.


Steve Redmond
12-01-2006, 07:00 PM
Yes, it's work. But there's the satisfaction of using what you have, and cutting it the way you want.

When I built my house (mostly with wood I cut) I used logs that had been left behind in a big pile by a former logging company owner. There must have been a hundred thousand board feet of white pine, left to rot in a pile. Luckily the bark had slipped naturally, and the borers hadn't gotten into it. 2/3rds of those logs were salvageable.

The trees they had left standing were exposed and there were a lot of windfalls, scarred bumper trees, and widowmakers as a result. (This was a really bad operation, and they owned the land, then unloaded it). I had a lot of cutting to do to clean it up. Included in five of those widowmakers was black cherry.

I have about $1400 into the mill I built. Well I don't know if you've priced cherry lately, but it isn't hard to slice up a thousand dollars worth of boards in a few minutes of sawing. So there are both personal rewards and monetary ones as well.

Cherry is wow stuff when you saw it. You look at every board and go wow, look at that. It smells good too ---.


Bob Smalser
12-01-2006, 07:56 PM
For those considering this, I said on the first thread that mills are always tradeoffs. Carbide circle mills eliminate all bother about dirty logs and complex and expensive sharpening, but they trade off the ease of milling wide boards to do it....and they are 6 grand and up.

I've used them all, beginning with an old Foley Belsaw carriage mill on the farm. All mills are compromises. The type of sawmill that best fits your needs depends on the lumber you mill the most, and how easily you can handle the logs. Production depends on horsepower and log handling. All mills can be set up to overcome their weaknesses, it just takes more time and labor.

Chain saw mills produce wide flitches for the occasional sawyer. Logs are milled on the ground. Both milling and sharpening are relatively slow but make the least expensive milling package of them all.

Band saw mills produce wide boards from Eastern Hardwoods for furniture best. Logs have to be lifted or rolled onto a carriage. Sharpening is slow and requires major equipment.

Dimension mills produce framing lumber from large logs best. Logs are milled on the ground. Sharpening is fast and inexpensive.

Swing Blade mills adjust to follow grain the easiest to produce accurate boat wood from large logs rapidly. Logs are milled on the ground. Sharpening is fast and inexpensive.

Ronald D. Wenrich is a sawmill management consultant from Jonestown, Pennsylvania, USA. This Penn State graduate has logged timber, inspected treated forest products, been a mill foreman, procured wood, and is now a sawmilling specialist.

Q: Ron, there are dozens of manufacturers of portable sawmills. They produce a multitude of models and mill types. Can you give me give a quick review and cut through some of the confusion?

Ron Wenrich: I'm not familiar with all the manufacturers or the types of mills. But I do understand the basic concept behind each one. A lot will depend on how much cutting someone wants to do and how deep their pockets are.

Many start out with a small mill and move up to larger mills if and when the bug hits.

Chainsaw mills usually are no more than a jig set up on a log and attached to the saw. This system will keep the cuts uniform. Chainsaws should be fitted with a ripping chain.

Q: Why would anyone purchase a chainsaw mill?

Ron Wenrich: The main advantage is their portability and cost. If you only have a few logs to cut, a chainsaw mill may fit your needs. Cost is generally only a few hundred dollars - but be prepared to eat sawdust. I know of a few people who like the "Alaska sawmill". You can often pick them up on an internet auction like Ebay.

Q: OK, what about band mills?

Ron Wenrich: Band mills usually run with a small 1 to1 1/2 inch band. The mill is driven by a gasoline engine in the 12-25 horse power range. Mill costs range from around $2,500 for the low tech end on up to $35,000 plus for the more automated models.


For the low tech models, a track is put down and the log rolled onto it. The band blade is pushed through the log. Higher end mills will have automatic feeds and some hydraulics to safely secure the log.

An advantage of these mills is a very thin kerf. Saw blade kerf is about 1/16th of an inch, which will allow for greater lumber production from each log. These mills are pretty safe. You can turn your log on these mills with relative ease. This allows you to recover grade from the outside of the log and make a square beam from the heart.

The disadvantage here is that most band mills are horizontal mills. This means that every board or slab will have to be pulled from the top of the log. This can take a lot of grunt work. Also, sawdust will lay on your top face which makes it a little harder to see the grade.
It is interesting to note that band mills seem to be popular on the East Coast while dimension mills are popular on the west coast. A lot has to do with the log size and the way lumber is sawn. East coast has more hardwoods.

Q: I've heard that bands can be a major part of a mills expense and will cause down time and headaches. Is this true?
Ron Wenrich: Blade expense can be a little high. Bands run between 12 and 20 dollars each. You can get from 400 to1000 board feet between each sharpening. If you don't have a sharpener (they cost about $3500), then you have to send your blades off to be sharpened. A blade can only take 5 sharpenings before they are thrown out. You can expect blade costs to run about 15 to 20 dollars per thousand board feet of lumber sawn. Dirty logs can increase this blade wear problem and your overall expense.

Also, band mills don't do as well cutting the denser hardwoods, like hickory. Blades have a habit of wandering and some people complain about wavy cuts. Often this has to do with feed speed. There is an associated learning curve with each mill so you don't just jump in making perfect boards immediately.

The primary distributors of band mills are Woodmizer, TimberKing, Timber Harvester, Baker, and Cook. Woodmizer has regional offices in many parts of the country and has good customer service. Timber Harvester offers some very instructive videos pertaining to milling. I've heard people swear by each of these mills, as well as swear at them.

Q: OK, what about swing mills?

Ron Wenrich: Swing blade mills were developed in New Zealand, by a guy named Peterson. These mills sit on a frame that is put over the top of a log. They use a circular saw and the teeth are tipped with carbide. The saw can be set in a vertical or horizontal position and cuts in both directions. You run this at the entry level with a 13 horse power engine but can get up to a 27 hp model. There will be an automatic feed introduced for export in the near future.


Swing mills generally offer a slabbing unit. This is basically a 5 foot chainsaw bar that will cut slabs. This is great if you have a use for wide tabletop planks.

Advantages of swing mills include the ability to edge your lumber before you make your final cut. This is a real labor saver. Blade cost is fairly low and sharpening can be done on the mill. The mill can be set up over the top of any log. You can cut it where it lays but you still have to carry your lumber out.

Disadvantages include a wider kerf. That means less lumber and more sawdust. Logs can't be easily turned. There is a limit to the size of boards and beams that can be sawn. The Lucas saw only has a depth of cut of 8 inches. To make anything wider, you have to make a cut from both sides of the log. Then you risk that the cuts don't quite match up and you have a step in your lumber.

Peterson of New Zealand claims to have developed the original design and is a primary maker of swing blade mills. They often bring containers of mills to the US and have seminars on using their mill. The mill will fit in the back of a pickup but it needs to be a big one.

The Lucas mill is is no longer associated with Peterson Sawmills and is sold by Bailey's. Brand X is another and made in Montana. New units cost from 10 to 15 thousand dollars US. Used swing mills can be found for half that cost.

Q: Dimension mills are a little different than the normal portable. They have major advantages but also have some disadvantages. Give us some help here.

Ron Wenrich: Dimension mills are multi saw mills. They have one horizontal blade and 1 or 2 vertical blades. The advantage is that you can make a dimension cut that can produce a 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 in one cut. These units quite often have large motors. Some run with a VW engine. They are somewhat portable but are limited when compared to other portable mill types.


Advantages are that these units feed on their own. You don't have to push the saw through the cut - the mill has an automatic feed. On the return, a dimension mill brings the finished lumber to the operator. The saw blade cost is low since sharpening is done on the mill.

With an added track, up to 60 foot logs can be milled. The disadvantages of using this sawmill type include turning logs and maximum board size and kerf.

Dimension mill manufacturers include Mobile Dimension, Might Mite, and D & L Doublecut. The one I really like is Mahoe from New Zealand. It is small and portable.

Q: Ron, the final decision to purchase a mill just may come down to where the production and the pocketbook are in agreement. What kind of production can you expect from each type of mill?

Ron Wenrich: For production, a chainsaw mill can mill 200 to 400 board feet per day, a band mill can mill 800 to 2,000 board feet per day, swing mills can produce 1,500 to 3,000 board feet per day and dimension mills 2,000 to 4,000 board feet per day. A lot depends on log size, species and products being cut. For small timber, band mills seem to do a better job. For large timber, the circle mills seem to be better.

And here's how I move difficult logs in spots too tight for tractors and truck winches:



A winch or comealong can be tunneled beneath the log to roll it.


And the farm jack and wedges can move almost anything with precision.