Know the Difference Between a Chainsaw, Band, Swing or Dimension Sawmill
Ronald D. Wenrich is a sawmill management consultant from Jonestown, Pennsylvania, USA. This Penn State graduate has logged timber, inspected treated forest products, been a mill foreman, procured wood, and is now a sawmilling specialist.
Q: Ron, there are dozens of manufacturers of portable sawmills. They produce a multitude of models and mill types. Can you give me give a quick review and cut through some of the confusion?
Ron Wenrich: I'm not familiar with all the manufacturers or the types of mills. But I do understand the basic concept behind each one. A lot will depend on how much cutting someone wants to do and how deep their pockets are. Many start out with a small mill and move up to larger mills if and when the bug hits.
Chainsaw mills usually are no more than a jig set up on a log and attached to the saw. This system will keep the cuts uniform. Chainsaws should be fitted with a ripping chain.
Q: Why would anyone purchase a chainsaw mill?
Ron Wenrich: The main advantage is their portability and cost. If you only have a few logs to cut, a chainsaw mill may fit your needs. Cost is generally only a few hundred dollars - but be prepared to eat sawdust. I know of a few people who like the "Alaska sawmill". You can often pick them up on an internet auction like Ebay.
Q: OK, what about band mills?
Ron Wenrich: Band mills usually run with a small 1 to1 1/2 inch band. The mill is driven by a gasoline engine in the 12-25 horse power range. Mill costs range from around $2,500 for the low tech end on up to $35,000 plus for the more automated models.
For the low tech models, a track is put down and the log rolled onto it. The band blade is pushed through the log. Higher end mills will have automatic feeds and some hydraulics to safely secure the log.
An advantage of these mills is a very thin kerf. Saw blade kerf is about 1/16th of an inch, which will allow for greater lumber production from each log. These mills are pretty safe. You can turn your log on these mills with relative ease. This allows you to recover grade from the outside of the log and make a square beam from the heart.
The disadvantage here is that most band mills are horizontal mills. This means that every board or slab will have to be pulled from the top of the log. This can take a lot of grunt work. Also, sawdust will lay on your top face which makes it a little harder to see the grade.
It is interesting to note that band mills seem to be popular on the East Coast while dimension mills are popular on the west coast. A lot has to do with the log size and the way lumber is sawn. East coast has more hardwoods.