What Is A Portable Sawmill?
A portable sawmill is a track that clamps to a log, allowing you to make straight cuts with your chainsaw. Bigger, more expensive and more efficient units come with a bandsaw or circular saw sized for milling logs. Some have cradles to hold logs, but some cut logs in place.
A portable sawmill can be a great asset to the homesteader with a small woodlot on their hands. Portable sawmills can be easily moved from site to site on a trailer that you can pull with your pick-up truck.
What are the different types of sawmills?
Portable sawmills fall into three general categories: chainsaw mills, circular sawmills and band sawmills. They are available in a diversity of styles and operating systems, and are priced to fit any budget.
From a cost standpoint, chainsaw mills are inexpensive, and thus very appealing for homestead and farm use. Prices start under $100. But these mills are relatively slow, which means you can use them for major projects only if you have lots of time. Even with the special chains used for lumbering, they still make rough cuts; further milling is required for finished surfaces.
A chainsaw mill has 20 percent more kerf (width of the blade cut) than a band sawmill.
Most chainsaw mills require heavy-duty power heads. Your current chainsaw may not he powerful enough to run it, and a new chainsaw — which can double the cost — may be needed. Special-purpose chains and bars are required as well.
Circular sawmills stand opposite to the direct to band type sawmills. They have a few differences but obviously the end result remains the same. It all boils down to which type you prefer working with over the other. A circular sawmill has a large saw blade that you’ll pass your logs thru. It’s not much different that a large table saw. The key difference in a circular vs bandsaw model really comes down to waste.
A circular saw blade is about 2.5 times thicker than a bandsaw blade. This causes the blade to cut away more of the log and turn it into saw dust. Using these blades is going to cause your waste to be higher because each pass of the blade is going to cut away about .15″ more of wood.
Obviously if more wood is being cut away, more saw dust is going to be created as well.
Another pro for the circular setup is that you can get higher production out of these saws versus the bandsaws. You can cut quite a bit more wood in a day using one of these saws over it’s counterpart.
Today’s portable sawmill industry is dominated by bandmills. Technology has made them available in such an array of configurations and operating systems that they’ve almost displaced circular sawmills.
Although slower than circular sawmills, bandmills are truly portable either with an integral trailer system, or inside a pickup truck. They are simple and safe to operate; produce less waste because of a smaller kerf; create smoother surfaces, requiring less milling; and are flexible enough to cut specialty lumber, such as shakes, shingles and clapboards. And they are much more affordable, starting around $3,500.
Depending on your needs, they come configured as small, manually operated mills; as midsized units with power heads and basic hydraulics; and as industrial strength mills, with power heads, built-in de barkers, hydraulic log-handling systems and computerized networks.
Bandsaws are the direct alternative to circular sawmills. With bandsaws the differences that set them apart are pretty much just having a blade which is a thin band of metal. That metal is welded together which in turn forms a circle. This is where the model is somewhat similar to the circular sawmills but you can also see where the differences lay in structure.
When choosing a bandmill, the one thing you don’t have to worry about is its cutting quality. Virtually all modern bandmills produce the same high-quality surfaces, requiring little final finish work. Configuration and cutting speed are the two important variables within each class.
To get a bit more technical, bandsaws have a thinner kerf. A kerf translate into the size of the width once the wood is cut. Also with a bandsaw you see far less dust and debris while cutting. This can be optimal if you want to avoid any possible breathing irritation. With less dust and debris you see far less waste accumulation when it comes to bandsaw models as opposed to circular.
One of the positives of a bandsaw setup is that you’ll have less sawdust. However, these boards typically need more planing to get them smooth because of the movement that occurs with a bandsaw blade while it’s cutting thru the log.
Another positive for a bandsaw mill is that it requires much less horsepower to operate which translates into less fuel being used to operate.
How To Use A Portable Sawmill?
Before you begin operating a portable sawmill, it is important to ensure it is in good working condition. This means that all the moving parts are lubricated and that no broken or worn-out parts need to be replaced. It is also essential to ensure that the sawmill is properly level and that the cutting blades are sharp and properly aligned.
Once the sawmill is set up and ready to go, the first step in operating it is to select the log that you want to saw. This should be a relatively straight log, and that has no knots or other defects that could cause the sawmill to bind or stall. Once you have selected the log, you will need to position it on the bed of the sawmill so that it is lined up with the cutting blades.
Once the log is properly positioned on the bed of the sawmill, you can begin cutting it into lumber. This is done by turning on the sawmill’s motor and then adjusting the cutting blades so that they are lined up with the log. As the blades begin to cut into the log, you will need to guide the log through the blades using the sawmill’s bed rollers.
As you guide the blade through the log, it is important to pay attention to the sawmill’s cutting speed and to make sure that the log is being cut at a consistent rate. If the sawmill’s cutting speed is too fast, the log may become jammed in the blades, which can cause damage to the sawmill or to the log. If the cutting speed is too slow, the log may not be cut evenly, which can result in uneven or low-quality lumber.
Once the log has been cut into the desired size and shape, you will need to remove it from the sawmill and stack it safely and securely. It is important to stack the lumber in a way that allows it to dry evenly and that prevents it from warping or twisting.
Safety is an important aspect when operating a portable sawmill; some key safety practices to keep in mind include:
- Always wear protective gear, including safety glasses, ear protection, and gloves.
- Keep all loose clothing and long hair tied back to avoid getting caught in the saw blades.
- Keep the sawmill’s blades sharp and properly aligned to reduce the risk of binding or stalling.
- Never attempt to remove a jammed log while the sawmill’s motor is still running.
- Keep the sawmill’s motor and blades properly lubricated to reduce the risk of overheating or mechanical failure.
Advantages to Owning Portable Sawmill
If a landowner is thinning eastern red cedar trees or other invasive trees from woodlands or pastures, the mobility part of the portable sawmill is valuable, because it is often more costly to move timber to the mill than to move the mill to the timber.
Owning a small sawmill also puts operations in the hands of the landowner, rather than waiting for a custom order to be completed by another sawmill. While there are common expenses involved in operating a mill — including labor, replacement parts and repairs, routine maintenance, fuel and lubricants, insurance, and transportation — these are not uncommon expenses for farmers to incur on any of the equipment they already own.
Cutting the waste of potentially valuable wood products is perhaps one of the greatest advantages of the portable mill, because of the storm, insect and disease damage witnessed in recent years around the country.
Mills that are small and mobile offer an easier way to cut downed and dead timber into usable lumber, and to save those damaged logs of valuable size from the burn pile. For woodworkers who value specialty wood products, a small mill offers the ability to mill out these unique timber products closer to where they are cut.
While many farmers purchase portable mills because they have had a large storm event and have a lot of downed timber to work through, or they want to expand a woodworking hobby and save expense by producing their own lumber, they can often make extra income by custom-milling small orders on the side.
In many areas, woodworkers and small landowners with woodlands are looking for custom milling, so owning such a mill could provide additional part-time or even full-time income.