Portable Sawmills

Avoid trips to the lumberyard. Cut your own wood and mill it, too, with a portable sawmill.

by Jim Ruen
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

There is something almost magical about pulling a fresh-sawn board away from a log after running it through your own sawmill. Maybe it’s the beauty of the fresh-cut wood or perhaps it’s realizing you may never again have to buy a piece of milled lumber. It could even be a desire to use 2-by-4s or 1-inch planks that are actually the correct dimensions. For me, it was the idea that I could add value to my trees—even those untouched by professional loggers.

“There is a personal satisfaction to being able to cut your own wood and then use it effectively,” agrees Eddy Whichard, sales manager of Lumber Smith, LLC. “Portable sawmills aren’t for the faint of heart, but they are a tool a good woodworker can use to supplement his supplies.”

In addition to trees in your own woodlot, quality logs are often free for the asking. When trees have to be removed or have fallen, homeowners and municipalities alike can face costly chipping or landfill fees. When storms hit, there are often no workers to handle downed trees, much less sawmills that will take them. Portable-sawmill owners are able to utilize these otherwise-wasted resources as no one else can.

If adding value by sawmilling on site makes sense for the pocketbook, it also makes sense for the environment, suggests Erik Granberg, CEO of Granberg International.

Most portable sawmills come in two basic styles: the chain saw with attachments and the mini band-saw mill. In both cases, the log is held in place while the saw rig passes over and through it, versus stationary mills where the log passes through the saw.“With a portable sawmill, there is no big equipment making tracks through a woodlot,” he says. “You leave a small footprint and no waste. The sawdust, bark and everything but the select lumber is left in the forest to decompose and feed new growth.”

Portable Chain-saw Mill

Granberg International has been turning chain saws into portable sawmills for almost 40 years.  Its Alaskan MKIII works with chain-saw bars 24 inches or longer, while the Alaskan Small Log Milling Attachment works with bars of 20 inches or shorter. Add the Mini-Mill, introduced in 1973, and you can quickly turn a log into feet of lumber boards.

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Chain-saw milling attachments are metal frames that help guide the chain saw in horizontal or vertical cuts. Initial cuts use guide bars to ensure an even cut. Subsequent cuts may use guide bars or rest on the flat face of the slabbed log.

Chain saws, depending on their power head, can be adapted to two-man milling rigs with extended bars. Granberg has custom-made bars and milling attachments up to 8 feet long for extra-large-diameter timber.  Extended bars are also ideal for cutting curved logs and crotch ends to create structural arches or unique tabletops.

Cost was one reason I went the chain-saw mill route when I got the urge to make lumber. The Small Log Milling Attachment and Mini-Mill from Granberg only set me back about $250, and both fit the 18-inch bar of my Stihl 029 chain saw. Their metal frameworks added only a few pounds to the chain saw’s total weight. Carrying them to site by foot required a second trip for guide rails, but it didn’t overload my back, and it certainly wasn’t a problem for my ATV.

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