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The scent of freshly cut trees brings a satisfying grin to any outdoorsman’s face. The Alaskan style chainsaw mill is a handy tool for turning logs into lumber for many homesteaders and contractors alike. Chainsaw mills are so popular because of their portability and budget-friendly features. Is it worth it though?
Chainsaw mills are relatively cheap compared to other sawmill types, and the quality is surprisingly good when you use a sharpened ripping chain. Considering that you can cut a tree down with a chainsaw and then split it into logs and beams where it fell makes a mill worth the time and effort.
There are several factors to contemplate before a chainsaw mill purchase. How much does it cost, and is the quality of lumber produced usable or sellable? Are the time and effort worth it? We will look into all these factors and more.
What Does A Chainsaw Mill Cost?
The cost of buying a chainsaw mill from an online retailer varies between $40 and $400 depending on the type of mill and the options that come along with it.
Lumber Cutting Guide Sawmill
A lumber cutting guide is a type of chainsaw mill that consists of a bent plate and a clamp, it is the cheapest and most basic type of chainsaw mill and can be purchased for $40. Cutting guide mills create a vertical cut down the side of a log rather than across the top.
Using a cutting guide requires a guide board for each cut and therefore takes some extra time to move and adjust the guide board in between cuts. It also needs the log you’re cutting to be elevated off the ground to create clearance for the chainsaw tip to prevent it from making contact with the ground.
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Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
Alaskan mills were originally designed and patented by Elof Granberg, an American inventor and founder of Granberg International. These are the most common style of chainsaw mill used out in the bush. Made from a few pieces of square aluminum tubing and two clamps that secure it to the chainsaw bar, alaskan mills are portable and lightweight.
The industry leader for toughness and dependability is still the American made Granberg Alaskan MKIV 50 years later. But competition has come to the market in recent years providing options between $150 and $300 from online retailers.
An alaskan mill is a little bit more complicated to setup than a cutting guide style of sawmill. It requires two clamps that need to be tightened individually, but once the chainsaw is attached and the first cut with a guide is completed there is no more adjustments to be made.
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Timberjig Mini Sawmill
The Timberjig mini sawmill is part of the Logosol Big Mill System but is designed to be a stand alone ultra portable chainsaw mill. Picking up on the two existing bar bolts, this small and lightweight mill works with almost any chainsaw.
The first two cuts with the Timberjig require the use of a guide to create a flat top and side. After those are complete the mill has its own built-in upper plate that rides along the top flat length of the log as a guide.
This setup is a bit more flexible with bar usage than an Alaskan mill because there is no outer clamp to interfere when cutting wider boards. The built in scale makes it easy to make adjustments to the cut depth on the fly.
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When considering the price, quality, and time, some may argue that supporting a local sawmill is preferable rather than purchasing a chainsaw mill. Those who own one will say it’s not always about the cost or simplicity of obtaining lumber but rather about the pride of milling a log to create a beautiful table or even a home.
The Quality Of A Chainsaw Mill Cut
People are frequently impressed at the cut quality from the chainsaw mill, even though they expect the chainsaw to cut with a nasty surface finish, which it does not. The cut quality from a chainsaw mill is comparable to that of a bandsaw.
Like any saw, the quality of the cut is dependent on the blade sharpness and proper setup. If your chainsaw chain is dull, loose or improperly setup you can expect it to show in the finish quality of the cut.
Bandsaws can cut just as well, but they will not always cut flat when the edge becomes dull or otherwise less than flawless. As the chain on a chainsaw dulls, the cut will stay flat; it will simply cut slower.
Kerfing In The Wood Surface
A chainsaw mill might not be the best option if you are trying to produce high-quality lumber at a high volume. Milling with a chain saw requires adding chain oil and fuel after each pass of an 8-10′ log and some quick file work on the blade every 2-3 passes.
Once you have finished cutting all the beams and boards, you sometimes need to plane down the edges to smooth out the kerf(commonly known as blade width) markings left by the chain. With practice and experience, millers produce fine cuts comparable to a finished grade lumber.
How Much Waste Does A Chainsaw Mill Create
Using a chainsaw mill instead of a band sawmill generates significantly more waste in the form of sawdust. It all comes down to the kerf. A chainsaw chain has a kerf of roughly 1/4 inch. It implies that you lose 1/4inch of wood to sawdust every time you cut.
A timber mill that uses a bandsaw, on the other hand, has a kerf of around 1/16 of an inch.
That’s around one-quarter of the waste produced by a chainsaw blade. To put this into context, if you wish to cut an 8 x 8 beam into 1-inch boards, you lose a whole 1-inch board to sawdust for every four lumber boards you cut. Chainsaw mills waste up to 4 times more lumber than bandsaw mills because of blade width.
The Time Needed For Cutting Beams And Boards
When considering a chainsaw mill, many people overlook the time aspect of using this type of mill. Large industrial wood mills and smaller bandsaw mills quickly break a log down into planks or beams. On the other hand, chainsaw mills are slower than bandsaw mills, but there are other things to consider.
Go Where The Logs Are
One of the best benefits of using a chainsaw mill is bringing it wherever you can go. The tools needed to move large logs from the cut site to a sawmill are huge and expensive. The portability of the chainsaw mill shines in this area since most don’t have the means to move large logs, and by cutting them into more manageable planks or beams, you can move large amounts of lumber with fewer specialized machines.
Many people grab their chainsaw mill, hop in their truck or ATV, and head for the woods. They don’t need large, expensive equipment. They can do all of the cutting with only their chainsaw and mill to start building right there in the woods.
Check out my recent article on selecting the right bar for your chainsaw mill
Initial Mill Setup And First Cut
The first cut necessitates the attachment of guide rails to your log. When making your first cut, guide rails provide a flat surface for the mill to slide across. These can be purchased or made from scratch using 2 x 4 studs and plaining them flat, but most people use a portion of an extension ladder. Consider debarking the log first since there will be a lot of debris stuck in the bark that will dull the chain faster.
The Labor Involved
To put it bluntly, you’re going to feel this one. It takes considerable effort when using a chainsaw mill. The chainsaw is heavy on its own, and when it is attached to the mill, it becomes even heftier and awkward, with most of the mass leaning to one side. Although the chainsaw does most of the work, you still need to push, guide, and control everything standing hunched over or on your knees.
A single cut can take anywhere from 5 minutes to hours. It depends on the length of the log, type of wood, its thickness, and the power of the chainsaw. For creating a single beam, you need to turn it three times.
Planks are more manageable since you don’t turn the wood, but you do more cuts. It’s nice to have a helper installing wedges as you cut to avoid pinching the blade as you cut.
Don’t forget that you need to remove the sawmill and the heavy beam or slab after each cut, intermittently sharpen or change the chain and top up the fuel and oil. It’s also good practice to allow your saw a few minutes to idle before shutting it off.
Best Chainsaws To Use
Most people interested in using a chainsaw mill already have a chainsaw on hand. If your saw is 55cc or higher you should be able to operate a mill cutting soft to medium woods. This will be dependent on the bar size you have and the width of your log
- Logs up to 18″ use a 55cc to 67cc chainsaw.
- Logs 18″ to 36″ use a 68cc to 85cc chainsaw.
- Logs 36″ & larger use an 86cc to 120cc chainsaw.
Here’s my recent article on selecting a chainsaw for use with a sawmill
What Type Of Chain Should You Use
The consensus between everyone using a chainsaw mill will tell you to use a ripping chain. A ripping chain is a type of chainsaw chain developed explicitly for cutting with the grain. Ripping chains are always micro-chisel or semi-chisel chains with a 10 degree re-adjusted cutting angle. These chains come in different lengths, gauges and pitch.
Some companies have their unique profile and configuration for their ripping chains. Granberg International, for example, is unique because they leave off approximately half of the tooth width, causing each tooth to remove a ¼ of the kerf. The Husqvarna factory grinds their chains specifically for dimensional boards and planks and advises only to use them in chainsaw mills.
Check out this helpful article I wrote on the best ripping chain to use with a chainsaw mill
Sharpening The Chain
Milling and cutting lumber is tough on chains, and they frequently need to be sharpened or replaced.
When sharpening the ripping chain, the top-plate filing angle should be 10°- 15° when sharp. In addition, the file should be tilted down by around 10°. This chain’s depth gauge height is also different.
For example, Oregon suggests operating them at .015” to .025” depending on wood, the saw utilized, and other factors. A depth gauge setting closer to .015” is recommended for the best finish and a beautiful smooth cut. Milling conditions might vary greatly, so experiment and fine-tune your ripping chain for best effectiveness.
Not So Optional Extras
Extra accessories like spare chains, fuel, oil, files, debarking tools, and other standard tools like a log peavey or cant hook are needed to operate the mill, but safety gear is not optional. When running a chainsaw mill for hours on end, you need protection like:
- Kevlar gloves
- Helmet with face shield
- Steel toe boots
- Hearing protection
If you already have a chainsaw and want to create some custom boards or furniture from trees on your property then using a chainsaw mill is a very affordable alternative to buying a full bandsaw sawmill. Most outdoorsmen like myself appreciate the effort that goes into turning trees into useful lumber rather than firewood.
Many DIYers, homesteaders, and building contractors use and even prefer the chainsaw mill. It is portable, affordable, reliable, and reusable anywhere worldwide. The initial investment in a proper chainsaw and mill will last you many years and offer you usable and resellable lumber, making it worth it.