Smallscale Sawmills

1. The most common approach to chamsaw mlBng begins with halving the log. A flat surface for the mil's rolers to folow must be attached to the log for this operang cut.

2. Once the log is halved, rod the top half over. Keep it on top of the second half so you can saw it at a more convenient height

At Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, logs arc still sawn in saw pits by hand. One sawyer stands in a pit, under the log. pulling the long, two-handled rip saw down on the cutting stroke, getting showered with sawdust. Another man stands over the log and pulls the saw back up. Up and down, up and down, it's dirty, sweaty, back-breaking work.

At the other end of the technological spectrum, logs are sawn in fullv automated sawmills with laser beams to show the sawver where the next cut will come.

Between these two extremes are some small, gasoline-powered. one-man or two-man sawmills. In this section. I'll review two general types ol small-scale sawmill. "Portable sawmills" are lightweight mills that you can cam bv hand. "Mobile sawmills" are lamer saw-

mills that you can tow behind a pickup.

Portable Sawmills

A saw that you can pick up and cam- has a lot ol advantages. You can take the saw to the log instead ol having to lug an enormous log to the saw. That can be an important consideration even if you're equipped to move heavy logs. A suburban tree can be carried out of a backyard as boards, without chopping up the lawn.

When you're not using the portable mill, it can hang in your garage or basement instead of being parked out-

forward. The saw folows the previously cut surface, producing planks of uniform thickness. A log of this size can be sawn up in an side. Portable sawmills are a lot less expensive than mobile sawmills.

There are two types of portable sawmill, chainsaw mills and a small bandsaw mill called the "Ripsaw."

Chainsaw mills—When it comes to chainsaw mills, you have several options. For $50 you can equip your present chainsaw with ripping chain for freehand sawing. At the other extreme, $3,000 buys a 50-in. capacity mill complete with two Stihl chainsaw motors.

If you own a chainsaw, try freehand sawing. I've found I can saw 3-ft. to 4-ft. "bolts" by standing them on end and securely bracing them. (A bolt is a log less than 8 ft. long.) The first bolt or two that I sawed gave me boards that required Vi-in. or so of planing on each side to flatten out. With experience, my boards improved to about '/* in. out of flat. If you cut your own firewood and come across a promising bolt, saw it into boards just for the experience. Ripping chain (see Sources, page 54) will greatly speed up the sawing.

The next step up from freehand sawing is a simple accessory- that clamps to the bar of a chainsaw to provide a flat surface perpendicular to the bar much like the bottom of a portable circular saw. Granberg International makes one called the Mini-Mill. At $79.95 the Mini-Mill is the lowest-price lumberrnaking aid I found.

For the first cut, you spike a plank to the log so you have a flat surface for the Mini-Mill to follow. From then on. the Mini-Mill follows a previously cut face of the log. I used one many years ago and didn't find it anymore accurate than practiced freehand sawing, but it did permit me to saw lumber more than 4 ft. long, my practical limit for vertical freehand sawing.

A more sophisticated chainsaw-mill approach is Granberg's Alaskan Mark III or the similar Sperber mill. With these mills, you saw parallel to a previous cut instead of perpendicular to it. Like the Mini-Mill, you start with a flat surface provided by a spiked-on plank, then use previous cuts as the reference surface for successive cuts. Because the saw cuts are parallel to the surface, these attachments are well-suited to live sawing logs that are to be kept together as boules.

These chainsaw mills are serious tools. Adequately powered, properly sharpened, run by two experienced operators, they will saw a 2'/>ft. dia.x 8-ft. long oak log into 2-in. planks in little more than an hour, including a stop to sharpen the chain. They are noisy, but not intolerable if you wear ear protection. Using them is good exercise, but you don't need to be Paul Bunvan to handle them effectively. Their only real drawback is a big Vi6-in. wide kerf. That wide kerf wastes a lot of wood. Bandsaw mills have a '/i6-in. kerf; a lot less wood gets chewed into sawdust.

Chainsaw mills come in various sizes. The small ones can handle logs up to Ilh ft. in diameter. The largest will saw logs more than 4 ft. in diameter. Prices range from $155 to over $600 plus the cost of the chainsaw motors to run them. More money buys a larger-capacity mill with a double-end bar that takes two chainsaw motors at once.

If big logs arc your thing, you should know that some large chainsaw mills are capable of sawing larger-diameter logs than many commercial saw mills. Yet. they'll fit in the back of a car and cost less than a snowmobile or a boat.

Portable bandsaws—The Ripsaw is a 45-1 b. portable bandsaw for sawing logs into lumber. A few years back. Delta introduced a similar machine, the Delta Lumber-maker, but it's no longer available.

Is a $79.95 metal

to a chainsaw bar to guide the saw

■ previous cut It does the job with i

■ previous cut It does the job with i

The Ripsaw portable bandsaw mfl can be handled by one nun and cuts a lumber-saving V.rin. kerf, bat it is Hrafted to sawing boards no wider than 14 In.

Several models of the Ripsaw are available, ranging from an electric-powered model that can saw boards up to 10 in. wide to a gasoline-powered model that can saw boards up to 14 in. wide. Prices, including the motors, range from $ 1.049 to $ 1,820.

Like the chainsaw attachments, sawing a log with the Ripsaw starts with attaching a board to the log for the first cut, then referencing the previously cut surface for each successive cut. Unlike the chainsaw mills, the Ripsaw cuts a '/ifr-in. kerf.

Portable bandsaw mills are relatively new and haven't had the widespread use that chainsaw mills have had. but the owners that I talked with were well pleased. The only complaints that I heard were about the limited board-width capacity and the need for frequent resharpening on hardwoods like hickory. A retired gentleman who owns both the Ripsaw and a chainsaw mill was pleased that he could use the Ripsaw bv himself. If vou can live with a 10-in. or 14-in.

r r sawing width, the Ripsaw is worth your attention.

Mobile Sawmills

The next step up from a portable sawmill is a mobile mill—a sawmill on wheels that vou can tow behind a m pickup truck. These mills are suitable for amateurs but do professional-quality sawing. They're more powerful and saw faster than portable sawmills. They're also more expensive.

I found nine manufacturers of mobile sawmills, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Some offer a choice of gasoline, electric or diesel power, while others offer only gasoline engines. There are two kinds of mobile sawmill, circular saws and handsaws.

Mobile circular sawmills like the Mighty Mite and the Mobile Dimension Saw use three circular saw blades—a main blade and two edger blades—that all cut simultaneously. As the saws pass through the log, the main saw cuts the face of a Ixxird while the edger blades cut the board to width. While these saws are limited to cutting a maximum board width of about a foot, they are unique in that they can make lumber out of literally any diameter log. These mills will cost you from $10,000 to $25,000 and arc particularly well-suited for sawing dimension lumber.

At the economy end of circular sawmills, Foley Bel-saw makes a $5,000 mill that you power with a farm tractor, but it isn't mobile.

Mobile bandsaw mills are horizontal handsaws that saw boards off the top of the log. The saw is suspended over the log and moves along a track from one end of the log to the other. When a cut is complete, you take the board off the top. return the saw to the end of the log, lower the saw for the next cut. and repeat.

Mobile bandsaw mills are ideal for supplying the special needs of a small furniture or cabinet shop. First, they cut wider boards than circular mills, typically more than double the 1-ft. limit ol the circular mills mentioned. Second, with their Virgin, kerf, you can saw 4/4 or thinner stock directly from the log and still have a pile of lumber bigger than the pile of sawdust.

A mofafle tircuftar sawrrai ike this MoiAe Dimension saw is a particularly good choice for sawing construction lumber.

The Mobile Dimension three-Made circular sawvnfl uk and edges one or two boards at a time, slicing them out of an evergrowing notch in the log. These saws work quickly to reduce huge logs to (fin tension lumber»

A mofafle tircuftar sawrrai ike this MoiAe Dimension saw is a particularly good choice for sawing construction lumber.

Turning a 28-in. cfia. oak log without HydrauBc log* hancttng equipment is not a one-man


Turning a 28-in. cfia. oak log without HydrauBc log* hancttng equipment is not a one-man


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