Take Control Of Downed Trees With A Portable Sawmill

When a summer storm or winter blizzard brings down a tree, you're left with quite a mess. A portable or semi-portable sawmill can help clean things up.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Look up “how long do red pine trees live,” and you’ll discover they can live for 350 years. Do the same for Scotch pines and you’ll uncover various numbers, all of them spanning centuries.

Trees can live for a long time, but these lengthy lifespans require ideal conditions. They need good soil, protection from pests and disease, etc. And unfortunately, the red pines and Scotch pines on my farm seem to be lacking the conditions they need to live long, happy lives.

Tree Troubles

The red pines are planted in windbreak rows to shelter the farm buildings. These sit atop a hill that rises above much of the surrounding area.

Although the trees aren’t very old (~80 years or so), many have seen their lives cut short during summer thunderstorms or wintery blizzards. I guess they can only break the wind for so many years before the wind breaks them instead. We usually lose at least one red pine per year.

Read about 5 trees that work great as windbreaks. 

Similarly, the scotch pines haven’t fared too well.

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They’re actually native to Europe, and I’ve read they tend to struggle a bit when growing wild in North America. Certainly the scotch pines on my farm are rather scraggly. They often grow lopsided with misshapen crowns, and perhaps as a result they’re prone to snapping and falling during windstorms.

This is a roundabout way of saying I typically have a couple of decent-sized conifers to clean up each year. Add in the trees that get cut down from time to time for other reasons, and my farm annually produces a surprising amount of timber without ever really intending to.

What ‘Wood’ You Do?

So what to do with all this wood?

Well, branches can be run through a wood chipper to generate a readily usable product. They can also be hauled to brush piles where they’ll slowly decompose and provide a habitat for small wildlife critters.

As for the logs? They can be cut into short sections and split into firewood. Or—and this is my preferred option—they can be taken to a sawmill and turned into lumber.

Installed on my farm is a semi-portable sawmill. It’s positioned on top of a small sandy hill with the slope falling away from beneath the blade. This is so sawdust will drift downhill and not accumulate as quickly.

Powered by the PTO of a tractor, the sawmill sits on a solid foundation.Wooden decks provide easy walking access to all elements of the sawmill.

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From Tree to Board

Using a tractor with a forklift attachment, 8-foot logs can easily be stacked in position at one end of the portable sawmill. Then you can transfer them one by one on to the track. From there, simple controls allow the logs to be quickly cut into crisp boards of varying sizes, depending on their target use.

What could be better than taking the fallen trees on your farm and turning them into a useful product? You’re cleaning up a mess and getting free lumber to boot. It won’t be pressure-treated and weather-resistant, but it will be perfect for use indoors or for building raised garden beds, where you’ll be willing to sacrifice longevity to ensure the lumber is safe for growing food.

If windy conditions tend to bring down trees on your farm, or if you’ve got a woodlot you’d like to put to use, consider adding a portable sawmill to your arsenal of farming equipment. Lumber isn’t cheap, and if you’re a DIY-minded farmer constantly building one thing or another, the money you’ll save sawing your own lumber might soon pay for the sawmill itself. Talk about a win-win situation!

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