History of Saw Milling
The saw is an instrument which serves to cut into pieces several solid matters; as wood, stone, ivory, etc. The best saws are of tempered steel, ground bright and smooth; those of iron are only hammer-hardened, hence, the first, besides their being stiffer, are likewise found smoother than the last. They are known to be well hammered by the stiff bending of the blade; and to be well and evenly ground, by their bending equally in a bow. The edge in which are the teeth is always thicker than the back, because the back is to follow the edge. The teeth are cut and sharpened with a triangular file, the blade of the saw being first fixed in a whetting-block. After they have been filed, the teeth are set, that is, turned out of the right line, that they may make the kerf, or fissure, the wider, that the back may follow the better. The teeth are always set ranker for coarse shep stuff than for hard and fine, because the ranker the teeth are set, the more stuff is lost in the kerf. The saws, by which marble and other stones are cut, have no teeth: these are generally very large, and are stretched out and held even by a frame.
The lapidaries, too, have their saw, as well as the wokmen in mosaic, but of all mechanics, none have so many saws as the joiners: the chief are as follows. –
The pit-saw, which is a large two-handed saw, used to saw timber in pits; this is chiefly used by the sawyers.
The whip-saw, which is also two handed, used in sawing such large pieces of stuff as the hand-saw will not easily reach.
The hand-saw, which is made for a single man’s use, of which there are varous kinds; as the bow, or frame saw, which is furnished with cheeks: by the twisted cords which pass from the upper parts of these cheeks, and the tongue in the middle of them. The upper ends are drawn close together, and the lower set further apart.
The tenon-saw, which being very thin, has a back to keep it from bending.
The compass-saw, which is very small, and its teeth usually not set; its use is to cut a round, or any other compass-kerf: hence the edge is made broad, and the back thin, that it may have a compass to turn in.
The pit-saw, is that which is chiefly used in the employment properly dominated sawing. The teeth are set rank for coarse work, so as to make a fissure of about a quarter inch. To perform the work, the timber is laid on a frame over an oblong pit, called the saw-pit; and it is cut by means of a long saw fastened in a frame, which is worked up and down by two men, the one standing on the wood to be cut, and the other in the pit. As they proceed in their work they drive widges, at proper distances from the saw, to keep the fissure open, which enables the saw to move with freedom. This, though profitable, is a very laborious employment, and hence have been introduced saw-mills, which, in different countries are worked by different means, as by men, by horses, by wind or by steam.
A saw-mill, worked by men, consists of several parallel saws, which are made to rise and fall perpendicularly by means of mechanical motion. In this case a very few hands are necessary to carry on the operation, to push forward the pieces of timber, which are either laid on rollers, or suspended by ropes, in proportion as sawing advances.
Our common saw, which needs only to be guided by the hand of the workman, however simple it may be, was not known to the inhabitants of America when they were subdued by the Europeans. The inventor of this instrument has, by the Greeks, been inserted into their mythology, with a place among those whom they have honoured as the greatest benefactors of the earliest ages. By some, he is calle Talus, and, by others, Perdix. Pliny ascribes the invention to Daedalus; but Hardouin, in the passage where he does so, reads Talus rather than Daedalus. Diodorus Siculus, Apollodorus, and others, name the inventor Talus. He was the son of Daedalus’s sister; and was, by his mother, placed under the tuition of her brother, to be instructed in his art. Having, its is said, once found the jaw-bone of a snake, he employed to cut through a small piece of wood; and, by these means, was induced to form a like instrument of iron, that is, a saw. This invention, which greatly facilitates labour, excited the envy of his master, and instigated him to put Talus to death privately. We are told, that of being asked, when he was burying the body, what he was depositing in the earth, he replied, “A serpent.” This suspicious answer discovered the murder; and thus, adds the historian, a snake was the cause of the invention, of the murder, and of its being found out.
The Egyptians and the Greeks
The earliest known depiction of re-sawing is found in an Egyptian painting that shows a wood carver with an adze and a carpenter ripping a board into thinner boards using a hand saw.
The saws of the Grecian carpenters had the same form, and were made in the like ingenious manner – as ours are at present. The earliest type of reciprocating saw is the “tension” type. Tension saws are those which have a narrow, thin blade strained in a frame of wood or metal. The oldest and most generally known form of this kind of saw is the Buck or Wood Saw (also called a frame saw).
The origin of the Buck Saw goes back into the very beginning of history. It is claimed by students of antiquity that frame saws were common in Egypt many centuries prior to the executing of the drawing at Herculaneum. There is no doubt that it is one of the oldest forms of saws.
This is fully shown by a painting still preserved among the antiquities of Herculaneum (above). Two genii are represented at the end of a bench, which consists of a long table that rests upon two four-footed stools. The piece of wood which is to be sawn through is secured by clamps. The saw, with which the genii are at work, has a perfect resemblance to our frame-saw. It consists of a square frame, having, in the middle, a blade, the teeth of which stand perpendicularly to the plane of the frame. The piece of wood which is to be sawn extends beyond the end of the bench, and one of the workmen appears standing, and the other sitting on the ground. The arms, in which the blade is fastened, have the same form as that given to them as present. In the bench are seen holes, in which the clamps that hold the timber are struck. They are shaped like the figure 7; and the ends of them reach below the boards that form the top of it.
Hippocrates is said to have invented the first cylinder or drum saw, for use in the operation of trepanning the skull.
The most beneficial and ingenious improvement of this instrument was without doubt, the invention of saw-mills; which are now generally driven either by steam, by water, or by wind.
Mills of the first kind were erecetd so early as the fourth century, in Germany, on the river Roeur or Ruer, for so Ausonius speaks of water mills for cutting stone, and not timber, it cannot be doubted that these were invented later than mills for cutting out deals, or that both kinds were erected at the same time. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierapolis_sawmill)
Historian, Pliny, conjectures that the mill for cutting stone was invented in Caria; at least he knew no building incrusted with marble of greater antiquity than the palace of king Mausolus, at Halicarnassus. This edifice is celebrated by Vitruvius, for the beauty of its marble; and Pliny gives an account of the different kinds of sand used for cutting it, for it is the sand, he says, and not the saw, which produces that effect. The latter presses down on the former, and rubs it against the marble; and the coarser the sand is, the longer will be the time required to polish the marble which has been cut by it. Notwithstanding these facts, there is no account in any of the Greek or Roman writers of a mill for sawing wood; and as the writers of modern timers speak of saw-mills as new and uncommon, it would seem that the oldest construction of them as been lost, or that some important improvement has made them appear entirely new.
The earliest mills were driven by wind power, but a 13th century manuscript shows a water-wheel saw. [No source of manuscript mentioned.]
John Joachim Becher says, with his usual confidence, that saw-mills were invented in the seventeenth century. Though this is certainly false, as there were saw-mills in the neighbourhood of Augsburg, Germany, so early as the year 1337, as Von Stetten has discovered around 1779 by the town-books of that place. In his own words, in answer to a request made that he would be so kind as to communicate all the information he knew on that subject:
“You are desirous of reading that passage in our town-books, where saw-mills are first mentioned; but it is of very little importance. There is to be found only under the year 1338 the name of a burgher called Giss Saegemuller; and though it may be objected that one cannot from the name infer the existence of the employment, I am of a different opinion; especially as I have lately been able to obtain a proof much more to be depended on. In the surveyors’ book, which I have often before quoted, and which, perhaps, for many centuries has not been seen or consulted by any one, I find under the year 1322, and several times afterwards, sums disbursed under the following title: “Molitori dicto Hanrey pro asseribus et swaertlingis”. Schwartlings, among us, are the outside deals [parts] of the trunk, which in other places are called _Schwarten_. This word, therefore, makes the existence of a saw-mill pretty certain. As a confirmation of this idea, we have still a mill of that kind which is at present called the Hanrey-mill; and the stream which supplies it with water is called the Hanrey-brook. Since the earliest ages, the ground on which this mill, and the colour, stamping, and oil-mills in the neighbourhood are built, was the property of the hospital of the Holy Ghost. By that hospital it was given as a life-rent to a rich burgher named Erlinger, but returned again in 1417 by his daughter Anna Bittingerin, who had, above and under the Hanrey-mill, two other saw-mills, which still exist, and for which, in virtue of an order of council of that year, she entered into a contract with the hospital in regard to the water and mill-dams.” There were saw-mills, therefore, at Augsburg so early as 1322. This appears to be highly probable also from the circumstance, that such mills occur very often in the following century in many other countries.”
When the infant King Henry VI sent settlers to the island of Madeira, which was discovered in 1420, and caused European fruits of every kind to be carried thither, he ordered saw-mills to be erected also, for the purpose of sawing into deals [parts] the various species of excellent timber with which the island abounded, and which were afterwards transported to Portugal. About the year 1427, the city of Brelau has a saw-mill, which produced a yearly rent of three marks; and, in 1490, the magistrates of Erfurt purchased a forest, in which they caused a saw-mill to be erected, and they rented another mill in the neighbourhood besides.
Norway, which is covered with forests, had the first saw-mill about the year 1530 (see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_Sawmill_Museum ). This mode of manufacturing timber was called the new art; and because the exportation of deals was by these means increased, that circumstance gave occasion to the deal-tithe, introduced by Christian III in the year 1545. Soon after, the celebrated Henry Canzau caused the first mill of this kind to be built in Holstein. In 1552 there was a saw-mill at Joachimsthal, which, as we are told, belonged to Jacob Geusen, mathematician. In the year 1555, the bishop of Ely, ambassador from Mary Queen of England to the court of Rome, having seen a sawmill in the neighbourhood of Lyons, the writer of his travels thought it worthy of a particular description. The Rapid development of the early saws is seen in the fact that a gang-saw mill was built on the Danube in 1575. Gang-saws, consisting of a number of blades to cut a log into boards with one operation, have been generally regarded as of later origin than this. However, in a work of Jacobi Besony (produced in Lyons, 1878) are illustrating two types of gang-saw mills, the blades in one having teeth on both edges. These were only isolated instances, the average mill of the period having but one blade. In 1596 the first saw-mill was erected in Holland at Saardam and the invention of it is ascribed to Cornelius Cornelissen. Perhaps he was the first person who built a saw mill at that place, which is a village of great trade, and has still a great many saw-mills, though the number of them is becoming daily less; for within the last thirty years a hundred have been given up.
America’s first saw-mill was built at the Falls of Piscatauqua, on the line between Maine and New Hampshire, in 1634. Unauthenticated records, however, claim that as early as 1633 several mills were operating in New York State.
A mill in Sweden was erected in the year 1653. At present, that kingdom possess the largest perhaps ever constructed in Europe, where a waterwheel, twelve feet broad, drives at the same time seventy-two saws.
In England saw-mills had at first the same fate that printing had in Turkey, the ribbon-loom in the dominions of the church, and the crane at Strasburg. When attempts were made to introduce them, they were violently opposed, becasue it was apprehended that the hand sawyers would be deprived by them their means of getting a subsistence. For this reason, it was found necessary to abandon a saw-mill erected by a Dutchman near London, in 1663.
Before the arrival of William Penn in 1681 saw-mills had already been erected along the Delaware by the Dutch and Swedes.
In the year 1700, when one Houghton laid before the nation the advantages of such a mill, he expressed his apprehension that it might excite the rage of the populace. What he dreaded was actaully the case in 1767 or 1768, when an opulent timber-merchant, by the desire and aprobation of the Society of Arts, caused a saw-mill, driven by wind, to be erected at Limehouse, under the direction of James Hansfield, who had learned, in Holland and Norway, the art of constructing and managing machines of that kind. A mob assembled, and pulled the mill to pieces; but the damage was made good by the nation, and some of the rioters were punished. A new mill was afterwards erected, which was suffered to work without any molestation, and which gave occasion to the erection of others. It appears, however, that this was not the only mill of the kind in Britian; for one driven also by wind had been built in Leith, in Scotland, some years before.
The next great progressive step was the invention (or re-invention) of the circular saw. While the hand-saw is as old as history itself, the circular saw, as now used, is a comparatively recent innovation. Circular saws were used for cutting the spaces between the teeth of clock wheels long before they were used for cutting is Patent No. 1152, granted to Samuel Miller in England, August 5, 1777, although it is claimed that similar saws were in use in Holland nearly a century before. In any event, circular saws are believed to have been introduced into England for practical wood-cutting purposes about 1790.
Sir Samuel Bentham is credited with helping to revolutionise the production of the wooden pulley blocks used in ships’ rigging, devising woodworking machinery to improve production efficiency. Bentham’s 1793 patent for woodworking machinery has been called “one of the most remarkable patents ever issued by the British Patent Office”. Fifty years later in a woodworking machinery patent case the Crown Judges said “the specification of his patent of 1793 is a perfect treatise on the subject; indeed the only one worth quoting that has to this day been written on the subject”.
In 1803 there was a steam saw-mill in New Orleans, which met the fate of the early English mills, being burned by hand-sawyers.
In 1804 a man named Trotter secured a patent on a circular saw, and Sir Samuel Bentham (who later invented a circular saw made in segments) made a circular saw for the British Admiralty prior to 1800. Historians credit T. Brunei with first bringing circular saws into important service. He employed them for cutting ship’s blocks an application adopted by the British Admiralty Board in 1804 for the Portsmouth Yard. Brunei patented a veneer-saw in 1805, marking another advance.
The first circular Veneering Saw to run by power was that invented by Isambard M. Brunei about 1805. He introduced it in the Chatham (England) dock yards and later in his works at Battersea, where it aroused great wonder among visitors. The speed of two-thirds of a mile a minute, which these saws attained, was considered marvelous in those days. It is interesting to note that the Egyptians, whose primitive saws we have described, practised the art of veneering as early as 1490 B. C., during the reign of Thothmes III, who is believed by antiquarians to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
While a successful saw-mill was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1834, and others were established at subsequent dates, little progress was made in wood-cutting machinery until John McDowell put up a plant at Johnstown. He at once gained prominence by making the first frame-saws supplied to Glasgow, as well as England, including the British Government.
These mills were all of the vertical reciprocating type, the saws being strained along a strong rectangular frame driven along suitable guides by a crank on a revolving shaft, usually below the frame.
A sliding carriage, which automatically moved a certain distance at each stroke, carried the log. After each cut the log was moved laterally, the distance corresponding to the thickness of the lumber being cut. Old-time sawyers will remember when logs had to be moved with a bar after each cut.
Saw-mills, as they are now constructed are of two kinds, according as the saws employed effect their operation by a circular or by a reciprocating motion. Circular saw-mills are the most simple in their construction. Mr George Smart, at his manufactory for hollow masts, on the Surrey side of the Westminster Bridge, had several of these. In one of the simplest, a wheel is turned by a horse, which gives motion to a pionion on a horizontal shaft; a spur-wheel is fixed on the shaft, and turns a pinion on another horizontal shaft, on which a wheel is fixed in the room above the machine, and the bearings for the gudgeons of the shaft are supported by the joists on the floor: by means of an endless strap passing around the wheel, and round a pulley on the spindle of the circular saw, a Rapid motion is given to the saw: it is fixed on its spindle by a shoulder, against which it is held by another moveable shoulder pressed tight by a nut, on the end of the spindles which is tapped into a screw to receive it. The saw has a circular hole through the middle, fitting tight upon the spindle, so as to cause them to turn together.
The ends of the spindle are pointed, and that point nearest the saw works in a hole made in the end of a screw, screwed in a bench of stout planks, and well braced together; the other turns in a similar screw passed through a cross beam mortised between two vertical beams extending from the floor to the ceiling: one of the beams can be raised or lowered in its mortises by wedged put above both above and below its tenons. In order to adjust the plane of the saw to the plane of the bench, there is a long parallel ruler, which can be set at any distance from the saw, and fixed by means of grooves going through circular grooves cut through the bench. In using the machine, the ruler is to be set the proper distance from the saw of the piece of wood to be cut, and as the saw turns round, a workman slides the end of a piece of wood to it, keeping its edge against the guide or ruler, that it may cut straight. We have witnessed the operation, which is as neat as it is expeditious and ingenious.
At this time saw sharpening was a secret process. The sharpener worked in an isolated room and sawyers were required to ring a bell before being permitted to speak to him. When a saw requires sharpening, one of the screws at the end of the spindle must be turned back: the spindle and saw can then be removed, and may be fixed in a common vice to whet it, in the same manner as a common saw; the outsides of the teeth are not filed to leave a surface perpendicular to the plane of the saw, but inclined to it, and in the same direction that each tooth so filed is bent in the setting: by this means, the saw, when cutting, first takes away the wood at the two sides of the kerf, leaving a ridge in the middle of it, that it may not have a tendency to get out of the straight line in any place where the wood is harder at one side than on the other.
The most important machinery of this kind was unquestionably at Portsmouth for the manufacturing of ship’s blocks; a full account of the machines is given in Dr. Ree’s most valuable New Cyclopedia, to which we refer our redaers, and from which we shall extract a brief description of one or two of the saws.
“The great cross-cutting Saw The tree subjected to the action of this machine is placed on a long frame or bench raised a little from the floor, and at the end of it is erected a frame, composed of vertical posts and cross timber, in the manner of a small and low door-way: through this frame the end of the tree is drawn by the capstand above mentioned, its end projecting as much from the surface of the frame as is intended to be cut off; and it is fastened in the frame from rolling sideways, by a lever, which can be readily made to press it and hold it down. The saw itself is a straight blade, fixed to a wooden handle or pole at each end, to lengthen it: one of these handles is connected to a joint to the upper end of a lever, bent like an L, and having its center beneath the floor: the horizontal arm of the lever is connected by a spear rod, with a crank on the end of a spindle near the ceiling of the room, the motion of which is regulated by a flywheel. By this means the saw has a reciprocating motion from right to left, nearly in a horizontal position, and exactly across the log it is to cut off, imitating in its motion the carpenter’s hand saw, considering his arm of the bent or L lever. The teeth of the saw are of course on the lower side of the blade, and are sloped so as to cut in drawing towards the lever. It rises and falls freely upon its joint at the end of the lever, and can be lifted up by the handle, at the opposite end of the blade, to take it off its works, which it follows up by its own weight. The machine being at rest, is prepared for work, by fixing the log in the frame as before mentioned, so that the surface of the frame intersects at the place where it is intended to be cross-cut. The saw, which was before lifted up by its handle, to be clear above the log, is now suffered to rest upon it, in the place where the cut is to made; and to guide it at first setting in, the back of the saw is received in a saw kerf, made in the end of a piece of baord, which is attached to the frame over the saw, but slides up and down in a groove to reach the saw at any height, according to the thickness of the log lying beneath it. Being thus prepared, the machine is put in action by a rope or strap which turns the fly-wheel and its crank. This giving a vibration to the bent or L lever, causes the saw to reciprocate horizontally across the tree, until it cuts through it: it follows up its cut by its own weight alone, but the attendent can at any time lift up the saw from its work, though its motion continues, by means of a rope which suspends the handle of the saw when required. As the saw gets into the tree it quits the guide above mentioned, which becomes the less necessary as the saw goes deeper; a saw having no tendency to alter its first course, when cutting across the grain of the wood. We admire the simplicity of this machine, which nevertheless executes its work with much accuracy and expedition. It might be very usefully employed in many situations where great manual labour is spent in cross-cutting large logs of timber.”
“The cross-cutting circular saw This machine is for similar purposes, and stands close by the former. It isa circular saw, whose spindle is so mounted, as to move in any direction parallel to itself; the saw all the while continuing in the same plane, and revolving rapidly upon its axis, cuts the wood it is presented to, and as it admits of being applied at first on one side, and then on the other side of the tree, a saw of moderate dimensions will be sufficient to divide larger trees, than could otherwise by done by it.” “The great reciprocating saw for cutting up trees lengthwise. In this machine the works vertically: it has an horizontal carriage, on which th etimber is fastened, this passes thorugh a vertical frame which grooves, in which another frame slides up and down in the manner of a window sash, and has the saw stretched in it. The saw-frame is moved up an down by means of a crack on an axis beneath the floor, which is turned by means of an endless rope. At every time the saw rises and falls, it turns a ratchet wheel round, by means of a lcick, a few teeth; and this has on its axis a pinion, working a rack attached to the carriage of the tree, which by this means is advanced: at every stroke, the saw makes a proper quantity of another cut. The saw-frame is adapted to hold several saws parallel to each other, for sawing a tree into several boards at once, when required.”
Here is a great video on YouTube showing the operation of an up and down saw.
William Newberry of London, England, patented the first endless Band-saw in 1808, although his machine was never developed further than the model submitted to the Patent Office. Although Newberry was the first of modern times to see the possibilities of the Band-saw, he cannot justly be said to have originated it.
The first circular saw in the US is supposed to have been produced by Benjamin Cummins, about 1814, at Bentonsville, N. Y. his facilities consisting solely of the ordinary tools and equipment of a blacksmith’s shop. The fate so often accorded great men was his, for he now lies in a lonely, secluded spot in the northwest corner of the cemetery of the little village of Richmond, Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Half concealed from view by lilac bushes is a marble slab bearing only this simple inscription: “Benjamin Cummins, born 1772; died A. D. 1843.”
Water and, later, steam was the motive power of these saws. Many years ago, 48-inch circular saws driven by “four horses walking around,” were used in the Western States. The output of these was from 500 to 1200 feet of lumber per day, depending upon the kind and quality of logs.
The general use of circular saws for manufacturing lumber is supposed to have originated in a patent granted March 16, 1820, to Robert Eastman and J. Jaquith of Brunswick. Me. Since then countless other circular saw-mill patents have been granted.
The early circular saws were very crude, with square mandrel holes, and were made only to special order. From 1840, however, progress was Rapid the development of the inserted tooth at about this time being one of the greatest progressive strides ever taken in saw-making.
For the Band mills, the great difficulty, however, in making a smooth, strong joint in the steel Band was a stumbling-block which arrested practical development until Newberry’s time. The next important improvements were by Thouard, also of France, in 1842, when he put the Band-saw on a commercially practical form, but it was not until Perine’s final improvements were made that it became profitable. Ferine, of Paris, is due the credit for the improvements which made the general use of the Band-saw possible. The old difficulty in joining the blade so that it would run over the wheels without breaking was not overcome until nearly forty years after Newberry gave this type of saw to the world.
Then, about 1846, Ms. Crepin, a French woman of great mechanical genius, secured in France a patent on a machine similar to Newberry’s.
This patent was later obtained by Ferine, and the saw greatly improved by him a suitable joint was perfected and the Band-saw became a practical reality.
No really satisfactory method of holding the teeth in place was devised until 1859, when a man named Spaulding, while experimenting in Sacramento, CA, discovered that curved sockets would hold the teeth firmly and securely. This method protects the plate also by reducing the tendency to crack.
Logs to Lumber. An aerial journey through the sawmill
These old Band-saws, although giving increased output over the up-and-down gang saws and circular saws of the day, were quite small, crude and limited in their work. The following typical incident shows the skepticism with which they were received:
“About 1860 a man named McCormick purchased a Band-saw in England. After a very short while in service it was removed because it did not do the work expected ( probably because of unskillful management). For many years afterward it surmounted the McCormick garden fence as a pointed reminder to unruly boys to keep out of the melon patch. One feature of the Band-saw which rapidly popularized it with the mill-men was its thinness, which meant smaller kerf and more boards from a log than with any other type of saw. The fear at first felt by the operators of this type of saw soon passed, and as its use extended, improvements came rapidly. The large proportions and perfection of form of the present-day Band-saws are strikingly shown in comparison with those.”
In 1876 a 6-inch Band-saw exhibited then at the Centennial Exposition by Henry Disston Sons was considered a wonder ; today the same firm is regularly making 18-inch Band-saws, many of them toothed on both edges to cut the log coming and going. This up-to-date, speedy Band-saw has increased the productivity of mills to a point never dreamed of by the mill-man.
One of the first Horizontal Band-saws of bygone days goes to Henry Disston Sons, due in no small part to their improved equipment and methods of manufacture, have added much to the efficiency of the saw. Through the medium of Disston Band-saws the heavy demands on a modern lumber mill are easily met, and so the old-time quest for a more efficient type of saw has ended.
The Modern (mid 19th century) Saw
We have now reached the point where the modern saws, the saws we know today, stand out as the most useul, the most necessary, the most wonderful of all man’s aids in conquering nature and furthering the needs and comforts of present-day civilization.
A comparison of the saws of ancient times and the saws of to-day is startling to the average man who has not paid close attention to the saw in its present state of perfection. From the primitive stone implements illustrated in the early part of this article to the multitudinous variety of saws employed today, many of which we purpose illustrating and describing, is a tremendous advance. It shows clearly the extraordinary progress made by man in the comparatively short time he has inhabited the earth as compared with its reputed 100,000,000 years of existence.
It is universally acknowledged that the standard modern saws for the entire world are those made by Disston. Therefore a description of the saws they manufacture for various purposes especially the saws they make for millmen, upon whom rests the burden of supplying the lumber requirements of the world will give the broadest conception of the saw as it is known to-day.
In an earlier part we stated that saws came principally under two heads; that is, reciprocating and continuous. These again may be divided into other classes.
First, we will consider those saws which come under the type of reciprocating, for saws of this kind are the more generally used.
The hand-saw, of which the Disston No. 7 and D-8 are distinctively the representative types, is now the companion of every mechanic who has anything to do with wood in his daily work. We may safely say that it is also found in a vast majority of the homes of the entire world.
Broadly speaking, the term hand-saws includes such saws as buck, hack, keyhole, plumber’s, back, pruning saws in different forms, and many others for special purposes. The cross-cut or long saw and pit saw may also be included under this head.
Although each of these types is of essentially different construction from the others, because of the nature of the work it is called upon to do, the principal and common origin are the same.
In general, modern handsaws cut on the “push” – Japanese and some other Oriental saws are constructed to cut on the “pull.” A Japanese saw, similar in appearance to a butcher’s cleaver, with a long straight handle into which the shank or tang is driven and secured by wrapping with finely split cane. While different in shape, the metal is much the same as that used in other countries. To rip a plank, the Japanese carpenter places the end across a support, stands on the plank and operates the saw with both hands in a series of quick pulls.
While the oldest civilized peoples in the world the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Japanese used a form of saw having the teeth inclined toward the handle, this form was not universal, as is evidenced by the saws exhumed from the ruins of Pompeii, and now preserved in the museum there. These saws cut on the thrust, just as those in use in Europe and America to-day.
Reference to old-time pit saws, as previously illustrated, show that this saw, as used today, has made little progress, in form at least, over the type used before power-mills came into existence. Quality of steel, style of teeth aid improved methods of tempering and sharpening have, of course, made it a more efficient saw, but these embrace about the only changes made since the days when King Solomon’s temple builders employed it in their work. Naturally, there is not much call for a saw of this kind now and it is almost obsolete.
The cross-cut or long saw fells the trees, cuts them to desired lengths, and then the circular or Band-saw transforms them into lumber more quickly and uniformly than two men and an old-time pit saw could.
With a modern mill of even medium capacity the output will be more in one day than these two men in bygone days could have done in months with their old-ashioned pit saw.
The demand for something better and more efficient, whicn the world’s progress has constantly created, was the source of all great inventions and improvements. The felling of timber by the axe, with its resultant waste, great expenditure of labor and loss of time, led inevitably to the development of cross-cut saws.
To the old up-and-down saw and the still earlier pit saw can probably be ascribed the direct inspiration.
Though saw-makers remember cross-cut saws as far back as they can recollect, the saws were always made of untempered steel. Henry Disston added their manufacture to his business. He, the first to give real strength and efficiency, also actually gave the cross-cut saw its first great start.
To-day the immense plant which Henry Disston founded is sending the cross-cut saws they manufacture, with teeth adapted for every sort of wood, to all the inhabitable parts of the earth, where there are forests to cut or lumber to be made.
One of the most important of the advances in cross-cut or long saw making was the introduction of the raker tooth. While many cross-cut saws are still made without the raker, it is really so necessary for quick clearing action that its use will probably become much more general. On green timber especially it insures faster cutting.
Making lumber from boards has been around for many millenia. Using logs to make shelter is probably one of the earliest tasks that the people of the African plains ever did. Leap forward to the last two hundred years, based on the number of patents filed worldwide from the late 1800’s into the first half of the 20th century, the saw milling business was a part of the industrial revolution. Inventions still come around and certainly there may be more to see in the future. What remains is the purpose, the efficiently and safely make a board from a log.
Portable Bandsaw Mill
This project is one of the first Pixel and Timber products of 2018. This powerful new tool borrows e-bike technology and the latest advances in thin kerf bandsaw blades to empower woodworkers to harvest their own lumber from urban trees felled due to disease, clearing or severe weather — turning an otherwise wasted resource into beautiful, sustainably harvested lumber.
Most of the time, when a tree comes down or is taken down in your neighborhood — due to disease, severe weather, or removal — it is diced into manageable logs and hauled away to the nearest landfill. The landfill waste associated with managing urban forests is significant. Reclaiming this otherwise wasted urban wood for use as lumber is an opportunity to both reduce urban wood waste and reduce the cost of creating beautiful wooden objects for use or sale.
For woodworkers, the idea that any amount of valuable hardwood — let alone beautiful character wood with a story behind it — is being deposited in a landfill is a travesty. According to the U.S. Forest Service Education and Resource Center, “reclaimed wood from all dead and diseased trees could equal nearly one quarter of annual hardwood consumption in the United States.” What isn’t dumped in a landfill is most often recycled for firewood or mulch. And for arborists, this waste is a missed opportunity to turn cost into profit. According to David T. Damery Brian C.P. Kane of the University of Massachusetts, “finished wood products can bring as much as 100 per pound of material at the retail market place. Contrast this with the 90 per ton cost for tipping fees when disposing of wood debris.”
The Portable Bandsaw Mill
The portable bandsaw mill is exactly the tool a woodworker needs to turn fallen timber into usable lumber. With their thin (1/8″) kerf, these saws provide maximum output from every hour of a users’ labor by reducing the waste of every cut. Smaller mills can be moved easily in the bed of a truck and are stored in a small barn or large shed.
Despite its name, however, a portable saw mill still must be transported by truck or as an integrated trailer. And these devices force a user to maneuver a log to the mill — often requiring a skid steer to extract fallen urban wood from difficult-to-reach locations. It also costs a fair amount and can’t be easily moved to where a tree has naturally fallen. Due to its size, cost and the ancillary equipment required to support it, such a device is better suited to a user who wants to operate it as a business or as part of a larger business.
Because professional arborists and sawyers may be cutting thousands of board feet per year, to their profit, and are already likely to own the trucks, forklifts, or front end loaders used to transport the raw logs, the portable bandsaw mill is the right tool for professional users who can justify its cost and size. The woodworker who simply wants to extract otherwise wasted urban wood would find it hard to justify the cost and footprint of even the smallest commercial bandsaw mill.
The Alaskan Saw Mill
The Alaskan saw mill is a simple jig that attaches to a chainsaw, enabling it to rough cut boards at fixed depths along the length of a fallen log. The Alaskan saw mill provides a portable and low cost alternative to the portable bandsaw mill and couples this to extreme portability. This simple device allows a user to hike to fallen trees — inaccessible to vehicles — and extract boards without the high cost of owning a bandsaw mill and the heavy equipment required to feed it. For users who already own a professional chainsaw, the Alaskan saw mill is an affordable method for occasional milling and likely the best device currently available for woodworkers seeking to sustainably harvest urban wood.
The downside of the Alaskan sawmill is the wide kerf — often 1/4″ or more — associated with its chainsaw foundation. This means that for every four cuts taken out of a log, an entire 1″ board is wasted to sawdust. For the arborist making the decision between paying to waste drop this wasted wood at a landfill and making a profit on it, this inefficiency may be a non-issue. For the hobbyist trying to make the most out of every log and hour spent outside the woodshop, kerf waste of this magnitude can be an issue.
Just as fishermen who start with a spinning reel often switch to fly fishing and eventually to the purity of single fly Tenkara, woodworkers too eventually gravitate toward ever greater levels of purity in their work. The recent explosion of slab-based wood products is just one example of this phenomenon. Examples of live edge and slab furniture — those which celebrate the natural beauty of a large slab of wood — abound in craft ale houses, restaurants and condos as well as every copy of Dwell published since 2010 (along with perfect, albeit perpetually barefoot, children and bowls of green apples). For woodworkers wishing to embrace the purity of this type of work, merely purchasing (at exorbitant cost) a large slab can be dissatisfying. The desire to cut their own is a constant longing.
Every craftsman has had the experience of buying a crappy tool and then begrudgingly buying the nice one that you should have bought later, after the crappy one fails. Experienced woodworkers have learned this lesson a hundred times. Those who make it a more serious hobby rarely fail to buy the very best tool they can afford, with the knowledge that it will save them time, money and frustration in the long run. With easy access to information and education, more amateur craftsmen are learning this lesson at ever earlier stages in their practice. Further, frustration with the proliferation of cheap, plastic junk is making zealots out of those who have already learned this lesson. Whether they are experienced or new woodworkers, any user of a Lee Nielsen hand plane will appreciate the rugged elegance of a design that marries high quality materials and processes with a simply functional design.
Two exciting technologies that contributed to the development of this device are the proliferation of bicycle hub motors and extremely thin kerf bandsaw mill blades. The availability and increasing affordability of these two technologies make them perfect for adaptation to a new device targeted at a very tiny market — one in which producers can’t financially justify the invention of purpose-built motor technology, for example. The e-bike market has exploded over the last ten years — largely around advances in battery and hub motor technologies. Bicycle hub motors — permanent magnet DC motors with integrated planetary gearboxes — offer a low rpm, internally powered wheel with durable mounting components (e.g. 10. 12mm axles). And thin kerf (.025035 in.) bandsaw blades are likely to allow the use of smaller diameter bandsaw wheels (without causing blade fatigue and failure) and lower torque motors.
Our design for a portable bandsaw mill marries thin kerf blade technology with dual 500. 3000w bicycle hub motors and a simple structure inspired by a traditional frame saw. This device allows users who are not professional sawmill operators to mill urban wood on-site with neither the heavy machinery of a portable saw mill nor the kerf waste of an Alaskan saw mill, providing maximum leverage to a user with a minimum footprint.
Electrical: To compete with high powered Alaskan saw mills, this design takes advantage of emerging hub motor technology from the e-bike market. Brushless DC motors are paired with an integrated planetary gearbox to deliver extremely high torque at relatively low RPMs. Hub motors are available in multiple levels of output ranging from relatively low power 500W (2/3 HP) to 3000W (4 HP). Providing higher torque than their gas-powered contemporaries and used in tandem with a thin kerf blade, this device should deliver all of the power of an Alaskan saw mill with less kerf waste and much less noise. The device will be wired and able to be powered from a truck, building, portable generator or e-bike battery pack. A Shore 80A urethane wheel is cast around each hub motor (with a mechanical bond through each spoke hole) to increase its diameter and enhance friction on the blade. The motor controller and inverter are housed off-board in a IPX6-rated enclosure cast in glass-filled urethane.
Mechanical: The frame of the device is inspired by a traditional frame saw. it utilizes a 1.25″ square woven carbon fiber tube as its main compression member. A pair of machined aluminum forks bookend this tube and pivot around an end cap which incorporates an auxiliary handle. Tension is applied to the blade by a rod that runs above the main tube and is threaded on both ends into a pair of opposing aluminum tie rod ends. A flat plate is mounted to the compression tube and can be adjusted up or down to determine the thickness of the slab to be cut. The plate is long (like a jointer plane) to ensure a cut that is consistently parallel to its guide. Adjustment rods can be moved independently and pivot at their base for angled cuts. Square carbon tubes ensure alignment, and a small window in each clamp allows operators to see depth markings (not shown).
Usability and Safety: The vertical handle is for pushing the saw along the length of the log and houses the trigger which activates the device. The horizontal handle steadies it. For safety, the device can only be operated when both triggers are depressed. This prevents an enterprising operator from trying to manhandle the saw by himself and ensures that both sides of this high torque device are secure before it’s started. A pair of mirrored bearing sets guide the cutting portion of the blade and prevent it from riding off of the wheels. A pair of matched covers protect operators from the blade. Each cover is cast in glass-filled urethane to capture and absorb the energy of a blade that comes loose (rather than letting it rattle through a steel guard and into its operator).
Saw milling machine
There are few places more dangerous than a saw mill. They have large cutting blades in motion throughout the day, they have large tree trunks being split constantly, and they have lots of vulnerable workers who can easily be cut, crushed, or squashed if they aren’t careful.
But, all is not lost. A saw mill can be nice and safe if both the owners and the employees understand some very basic safety guidelines and take steps to follow those guidelines. Let’s take a look at some of them, really quickly, so we can be certain we are keeping the sawmill accident-free.
Use those warning signals!
Saw mills should have a large number of warning signals in place to help alert employees to potential danger. If your mill doesn’t have any, your employees may be in danger. important than securing those warning signals is knowing when to use them. Instruct your employees to sound a warning alarm even if something only appears to be dangerous. It is much better to be safe than sorry, and a safe working environment can only occur if both you and your employees are wary of danger. So use those warning signals, and use them often.
Don’t skip out on the blade guards
A number of machines at a saw mill have sharp, pointy blades (obviously) – that’s just part of the saw mill experience. To prevent unwanted death by laceration, most mills make use of blade guards that serve as a barrier between mill personal and the moving blades. These guards can fall into disrepair if they are not properly maintained, potentially turning into a serious injury risk. It’s sound advice to be absolutely certain that your mill’s blade guards are not neglected. Inspect every machine that involves a blade regularly. If it looks like an accident is possible, fix those blade guards or install new ones.
Lumber piles shouldn’t fall
One lumber pile falling down overnight every once and a while cannot be helped, but a pile should never be stacked haphazardly on purpose. Saw mill foremen are usually careful to instruct their employees on proper lumber stacking techniques, but sometimes aren’t as able to ensure that the employees consistently use those techniques. Checking the stacks regularly can help lessen the risk of accidents occurring, but making sure that the logs are stacked correctly from the beginning is priority number one. Watch your employees as they stack and offer constructive criticism afterwords. Lots of little pushes towards the right direction add up.
Check Machine Hydraulics
One of the best ways to practice saw mill safety is to complete any repairs in a timely manner. Issues with the hydraulic systems in a saw mill can lead to nasty results that may injure employees or damage sensitive equipment. Get in touch with Smith’s Hydraulics if you have any problems fixing hydraulic issues, we’re professionals and a family company, we can help you out for sure.
Ultimate Guide to the Best Portable Sawmill
From childhood it’s always been a dream to build our own home. specifically a timber frame house.
Call us dreamers, but we never gave up the hope.
A couple years ago we decided to purchase rural land and, among other things, begin learning to make our own lumber and beams.
We had dabbled with chainsaw mills to see if we could make it work and reduce cost. Did we forget to mention debt free was also part of the vision for this home?
While the chainsaw mill proved formidable, the sheer size and volume of beams and lumber needed made us realize if we wanted to mill a precise frame in a timely manner and with reasonable labor, we were going to need a portable sawmill of some kind.
We hope that this page can serve as a resource to others looking to do research on the best portable sawmill for their needs.
We’ll share which sawmill we chose, things we’ve learned from that choice and our experience with the sawmill so far… the good, bad and even downright ugly.
The Best Portable Sawmill: A Consideration Guide
If you’ve been researching portable sawmills for more than five minutes you’ve realized that portable sawmills can be had in many different sizes, configurations and even different designs.
Suffice it to say we’ve learned there is no such thing as the best portable sawmill; all sawmills have their pros and cons.
Here are some of the major considerations you’ll encounter when deciding which portable sawmill is right for you and your needs.
How will you be moving logs?
I’ve got a bomb to drop on you; LOGS ARE HEAVY.
When folks peeped our logs and then our portable sawmill they said, “You and what army and gonna get those up on that mill?”
Probably the first thing I’d ask someone looking to buy a mill wouldn’t be about the mill at all; It’d be about logs!
Our average log while milling our timber frame was a 20″ green Douglas Fir, 28 feet in length and weighed in at approximately 2000 lbs.
Have you ever tried to push a 20′ long car with cant hooks and knots on its wheels up a ramp? Good, now that we’re on the same page…
One major awakening that happened within a day of getting our mill was the sobering realization of moving logs to the mill.
Formerly, we’d only moved logs 30 yards or less using mostly block and tackle or let gravity to do the work.
Then we brought our chainsaw mill the log from which we could easily move the slabs we created.
Mind you, all we created was 1.5″ rough-sawn slabs. I doubt we could have carried anything over 2″ thick; slabs that thick are just too heavy, even for two people.
When you’re looking at a mill you first need to think about how the heck you’ll get the mill to the log like a trailer mounted mill with good road access or you’ll use heavy equipment.
Can you move logs by hand?
Unless you’ll be making very small lumber (under 8 feet in length) and working with logs under 20″ in diameter, moving by hand is not only a chore but physically dangerous!
You can do it, but do so with full disclosure!
Can you drag logs on the ground?
If the bark is left on initially the bark can provide protection but you’ll be forced to debark the log before milling or risk doing crazy damage to your blade(s).
Debarking is a good idea anyway as bark is full of blade-gobbling matter.
If you can lift and carry the logs you can often get by without debarking which saves a lot of labor! Blades are cheap compared to a chiropractor.
Moving logs with equipment.
This wasn’t exclusively for moving logs but for a host of things including building our home, snow removal and digging our water system to name a few.
Moving logs was high on the list, however.
Even for this 15,000 lb machine, a 28 foot long 24″ green Douglas Fir log proved formidable.
With practice we got it down to a few minutes to load a log without jarring the mill, risking injury or damaging our grapple.
What about log loading ramps and cant hooks?
When our mill first arrived we purchased log loading ramps which included cant hooks.
It took us ONE log to realize for our use, primarily beams for our timber frame home, this wasn’t just hard work, it was potentially lethal.
In one afternoon we had attempted to safely move a 20 foot 18″ green Larch (Tamarack) butt from our flatbed to the mill using ramps and scared ourselves silly.
One wrong move is all it takes.
Consider bringing the portable sawmill or chainsaw mill to the log.
If you can’t move logs then you’ll want to FOCUS on a mill that you can bring to the logs themselves.
For going-to-the-log applications we’d FOCUS on circular saws or chainsaw mills.
Their portability and ability to be set up in difficult locations make them a clear favorite.
Have equipment or small logs (under 16″)? Then a bandsaw mill might be just right!
There’s more to consider of course, but to get the most from a bandsaw mill being able to safely move logs is vital.
Keep in mind that having a mill in a fixed setup and moving the log is far more efficient overall. Moving the mill to the log has many inherent inefficiencies.
Plan to make lumber, beams or both?
The second question I’d ask someone looking to buy a mill would be about the primary use of the mill.
I say primary because most all mills are pretty versatile and can make a lot of cuts with some creativity.
It’s about what you plan to do day-to-day that really should be the FOCUS.
This will make it far less confusing when shopping for a mill as the different mills have clear strengths.
Bandsaw mills are great for large beams.
For us lumber is important, but not as important as the beams we’d be using to make our 36’x36′ Douglas Fir timber frame house.
What made this frame challenging to mill was the length of the longest timber at 27 feet (final dimension in the frame is 25 feet 6 inches, but we always over saw!).
This one fact put the circle saw family out of contention. For many of them the longest cutting length is 24 feet.
sawmilling one log. full speed. all the sound.
Then let’s look at the largest beam we’d need to cut at 8 inches by 15 inches.
Even for the largest, non-production circular sawmill available, 15 inches is a substantial cut and would require creativity to produce.
With a 10″ kerf you’d need to make two passes and hope they’re spot on!
We needed 8 of these pieces… So while it’s within the abilities of the circular mill, pieces this size are by no means a strength.
Most entry level bandsaw mills have no problem with this beams of this dimension.
For us the bandsaw mill with it’s “limitless” track extensions, ability to make large and long consistent cuts for the beams made it the clear winner.
The cost of the timbers made it very worthwhile for us to mill all our own beams.
Circular saws may be better for lumber.
For lumber production a bandsaw mill often requires more steps to produce lumber than a circular saw.
Additionally the circular sawmill can cut in both forward and back passes (bandsaw mills cut only on the forward pass) cutting operator fatigue in half.
There’s another perk to circular saws when it comes to smaller lumber under 10″.
Because of how the mills are designed, you can “flip” the blade from a vertical position to horizontal. This feature makes it possible to literally “carve” a laundry list of pieces out of a log.
On one pass you might want to harvest 8″ tall pieces. You only need two pieces of lumber say 2 inches by 8 inches, you could use maybe a couple 8 inch by 8 inch beams and maybe a couple 4 inch by 8 inch pieces you could later trim to 4 inch by 4 inch pieces.
That’s all doable quickly with the circular sawmill. The same cuts would take quite a bit more processing with a bandsaw mill.
For mass produced common dimensional lumber it would be a close tie.
The bandsaw mill would require more effort for the same product as the log must be rotated to make additional cuts.
Remember that the circular saw blade could “swing”? That ONE feature removes the need to re-position the log.
Length to be Milled
We’ll hit it again in case you jumped straight here!
For us, the primary use of our mill was to cut the timber frame for our home. Our longest timber was 27 feet.
Just this one fact put our needs outside those of even the largest non-production circular sawmills.
We were forced to FOCUS our research on bandsaw mills.With their “limitless” track designs you can cut to nearly any conceivable length.
Of course at some point the curve of the earth begins to become a factor…. you get the idea.
If you intend or at least need to have the option for long lengths, let’s say over 20 feet, you might want to consider a bandsaw mill.
Circular sawmills are however available and capable of cuts upwards of 25′, but you begin diminishing the strengths of that type of mill such as portability.
Width to be Milled
As we looked at the timbers needed for our mill we wanted to consider our largest timber.
This turned out to be our carrying beams measuring 8 inches by 15 inches.
While this is feasible with the larger, non-production circular sawmills, it would require creativity.
This just put one more vote for us in the bandsaw mill direction.
For most circular sawmills, the largest single pass cut depth, vertical or horizontal, is 10 inches.
If you’re looking to make mostly dimensional lumber or posts under 10 inches you’d be set.
Can you cut larger? Yes, but more effort and skill are needed and the process becomes a bit cumbersome.
Most bandsaw mills can easily handle cuts in the 28-inch range and the top-of-the-line mills can make 36-inch cuts.
Something worth noting is the design of the mill head, however.
So while a 36-inch cut is possible you will be limited on the depth of that cut.
Most mills have drive belts which have a cover that intersects the “throat” of the cut.
When cutting at maximum width you’ll be limited on depth.
Sorry guys, you can’t cut a 10 inch by 36 inch slab… DARN!
Here we’re not so much discussing slabbing. We’ll touch on that now!
When we talk about choosing a sawmill most of us want some versatility.
Slabs, however, require a lot more thought and the right equipment to do well, creating quality pieces that have high value and maybe most importantly, reduce effort.
When most people are talking slabs, we’re looking at single pass cuts 36 inches and larger.
Most bandsaw mills aren’t set up for cuts this size.
Most max out around 36 inches and at that width their depth can be limited.
This is in part due to their inherent design and also somewhat attributable to physical limitations of the blade length.
There are people who have built massive slabbing bandsaw mills however, so it can be done!
For mills on the market, however, the selection gets quite narrow.
If your slabs are 36″ or less, bandsaw mill is a great option!
For a dedicated slab machine, or to keep your slabbing options open, a circular sawmill with a slabbing conversion can be a great option!
This opens the door to cut slabs up to 9 feet.
Wait, there are still logs out there that big?
SERIOUSLY! Gonna need a crane for that sucker!
Production Business vs. Hobby
When maintaining profitability matters, choosing the right mill takes on a whole new level of seriousness.
While side jobs and “favors” can be done with most any mill, profitability is often ignored.
Hands down, profitability often comes down to a couple of things: reducing labor and increasing production.
It really depends on your “niche” though.
Portability over complexity could be more profitable if you’re frequently milling on location.
Either way, bandsaw mills here really start to shine.
With features like hydraulic loading, hydraulic turning, debarkers, automated head drivers, programmable repeatable cuts and board returns much of the “heavy” lifting is done by the mill.
Quickly, any of the weaknesses of the bandsaw mill are equalized and production soars while operator fatigue drops.
With the ability to have the mill basically “set up” on a trailer the time it takes from arrival to milling is just a few minutes reducing “windshield time” and increasing billable time!
Expect to see handsome cost increases for features like those on a production mill, but this cost is quickly realized in profitability.
For hobby mills, maximum features at a budget friendly price point is often desirable.
For this you’ll once again find bandsaw mills shining bright.
Models are available that can be expanded as needed keeping the initial investment low.
These entry-level models often have less automation and require more effort to operate.
A tradeoff to reduce both purchase cost and also overall maintenance costs.
Portability, Mobility Setup
When discussing one feature of sawmills it’s hard not to touch on others because they’re all so intertwined.
We’ve touched on portability a couple times now when thinking about our ability to move, or not move, logs.
This also came up when we talked about running a business versus a hobby mill.
Portability can range from “toss it in the back of your pickup” to trailer-mounted with hydraulic stabilizers!
A host of factors need to to be considered.
We wanted to ability to anchor the mill for a prolong period of single-location milling as we cut our 118 piece timber frame from 55 logs.
After all that was done, the mill turned into a road block, restricting access and use of our property (only because we have yet to mount it to its trailer).
We also wanted the ability to travel to mill for ourselves and help others.
Sometimes moving logs is much harder or less convenient than moving the mill.
For this reason we opted for a mill that can be mounted on a trailer as well as stand alone.
For “arrive and saw” operations the trailer mounted, tow behind, bandsaw mill is hard to beat.
Towable behind most full sized pickups (ya know to carry all the other stuff you’ll need to run a mobile mill!) and setup requiring under 15 minutes you can be milling more and assembling less.
If chasing logs that can’t be moved is your thing a circular sawmill is the way to go, but it’s quite a specialty and keep in mind that you’ll need special accessories to open the door to slabbing.
Why else would you go all that way to a log you can’t move?
Several mills offer a lower cost entry level stationary option with the ability to add a trailer package later.
One of the trophy that belongs bandsaw mills is their narrow kerf at under 1/8″. Why is this so important? Two reasons!
WasteWe never saw it (no pun intended) coming, but we created a MOUNTAIN of sawdust with our chainsaw mill making lumber from just ONE pine tree.
We harvested enough lumber for our hot tub deck decking.
For every 4 boards we cut we turned one potential board into sawdust or about 20% waste. The kerf on our chainsaw, even with a narrow kerf ripping chain, is right at 3/8 inch.
The larger 10 inch circular saw mills feature a 5 tooth blade with a kerf at 1/4″.
The kerf on a properly “set” bandsaw blade is under 1/8″. 1/3 the kerf of our chainsaw mill and 1/2 of a circular saw mill!
Even with this “thin kerf” we still managed to create over 10 cubic yards of sawdust when milling the 55 logs that make up our timber frame.
WOW! Unless you’re in it for the sawdust, anything you can do to reduce waste is more lumber in your….uh…? Kiln. IN YOUR KILN!
Aside from a sharp blade/chain the next factor that dictates effort required is the width of the kerf.
With the chainsaw mill a “fast” cut on a 8′ long 16″ log took about 3 minutes.
That same cut with a sharp bandsaw blade would take under 30 seconds. E.F.F.O.R.T!
When you’re at this for 3 straight weeks, 12 hours a day, that effort becomes apparent VERY QUICK!
Using the same math it would have taken us approximately 4.5 MONTHS to mill our frame with a chainsaw mill!
And it would have been WAY less accurate.
NO. THANK. YOU!
Hands down bandsaw mills provide incredible value for the dollar!
Used units can be found for several hundred dollars.
Those on a budget can own a fantastic little mill.
High production, automated, feature rich models will require a much larger investment topping 70,000!
If that mill generates an income this investment will provide a healthy return for years or generations to come!
Circular saws are harder to acquire, often require more shipping and have an overall higher acquisition cost starting in the 8,000 range.
To be fair, an entry level circular sawmill is a formidable machine.
To gain access to the larger 10 inch circular saw mills expect a much larger price tag.
When contemplating budget consider a few things beyond the features.
What about upkeep, maintenance, repairs, warranty and resale?
All of those contribute to what the vehicle industry calls “true or total cost of ownership”.
It’s a way of looking at not just the price you’ll pay at the showroom, for example, but to actually operate, maintain and ultimately the price you’ll be able to fetch if you decide to sell.
It’s not a secret that the companies who’ve been around for decades and their core business is sawmills are going to provide a better “after sale” experience.
Some of these companies even provide amazing support to second hand owners of their mills.
It’s really a tribute to their longevity when an early generation of their mill is still in operation.
What better way to build a legacy than to support these owners!
Often lower priced “hobby” mills come with little or no support, can be more difficult (or VERY DIFFICULT) to service, repair and maintain and resale value is weak for all the same reasons.
If your skill set leans toward DIY and you’re up for the challenge this might be less intimidating than someone who needs or wants a more “plug and play” mill.
Parts, Serviceability Warranty
Sawmills break. Fact. After-sale serviceability is perhaps more important than anything!
Hit something metallic in a log, break a belt or drop a log in the wrong spot, all real and common things that happen.
The ability to get your mill repaired and back in service without major headaches should be considered in the buying process.
The best companies don’t just make sawmills, they’ve got as many or more people dedicated to servicing, repairing and improving their products.
Some even keep all service records for customers so when they sell the mill the new owner has an entire service history.
Kinda like that guy who kept all his oil change receipts on that Honda Civic for 300,000 miles?
If you plan to use the mill professionally or operate VERY remote, having easy maintenance and serviceable parts on hand is imperative to success.
Downtime is money for any sawyer, but when parts are out of reach and the job must get done you won’t regret having a machine built with service in mind.
Then again if milling is your hobby, maybe grinding, welding and fabricating is too?
So if you love to tinker, all you need to know is will your grounding clamp fit on the steel! It is made of steel, right?
Steel SHOULD not, in nearly every case, dull from exposure to wood.
However other things like heat (friction) and debris like rocks and dirt from moving logs, whether barked or not, will most certainly dull any blade over time.
Many sawyers lament that they went all day on a blade and then all of a sudden hit something and BAM; the blade was dulled in an instant.
An all too common experience with sawing logs.
Sharpening is probably the most frequent and most challenging maintenance required to keep your mill running cool, cutting accurately and productivity high.
Bandsaw blades requires an additional process called “setting” the teeth.
This establishes a slight opposing bend to alternating teeth establishing the “kerf” to be slightly thicker than the blade to prevent binding during cutting.
This needs to be done each time the blade is sharpened and must be very consistent.
Inconsistent “set” will create inconsistent and undesirable cuts.
Thankfully the cost of sharpening for bandsaw blades is quite affordable to have done professionally by a service like Woodmizer ReSharp.
At around 7 per blade you simply ship the blades in a box, they sharpen, set and ship them back to you in about a week.
Blades that have excessive damage or are at end-of-life are simply recycled.
We purchased two boxes (15 each box) of blades.
Once we consumed the first box (cut over 20 logs) we sent it in for sharpening and used the second box in the mean time.
If you’re sawing constantly like we were we’d go through a box in about a week, roughly the time it takes to send in a box for sharpening.
Circular saw blades can be sharpened on the mill by the owner with jigs provided by the saw manufacturer.
Keep in mind that circular blades have a much higher overall cost than bandsaw blades.
Hitting something like a rock, spike, fencing or conduit (yes, people hang conduit on trees!) can render a blade junk, beyond sharpening.
If you plan to be sawing logs or materials that have a high probability of containing debris then a bandsaw might be the only way to go due to reduce blade cost.
Engine Type Altitude
The second you’ve committed to which platform you’ll choose, bandsaw or circular saw, you’ll suddenly realize there are now many more options that must be chosen.
One of the biggest decisions, and hardest to later change, will be engine type and power output.
Currently the most common power plants available are single and two-cylinder four stroke gasoline engines ranging from 10hp up to 25hp.
Some companies do offer a single cylinder two stroke diesel option on some mill models.
Electric models are also available if you’ll be installing your mill near a power supply.
When looking at power plant options consider blade width, production speed, hardwoods, longevity and NOISE!
You’ll want to take your time considering where you plan to saw (altitude reduces power) as well as noise (urban nor suburban milling might restrict decibels allowed) before making your selection.
We chose the 25HP Kohler on our mill for it’s excellent cost/value/power/efficiency balance.
We can saw large logs, at higher altitudes (above 5000′ above seal level) and maintenance costs are very low.
Noise is acceptable and we aren’t anticipating excessively high hours of operation over it’s lifetime.
Portable Bandsaw Sawmills
- Ease of loading
- Ease of transport
- Availability very good new and used units
- Longest milling length
- Deepest / Widest single pass cut upwards of 36″ wide and 16″ deep
- Available diesel engine
- Blades are affordable, quick easy to replace
- Very narrow kerf 1/8″ or less
- Hydraulic systems available to increase production, reduce labor
- Hook up and tow portability
- Available automated milling features
- Production speed making lumber
- Production speed creating wide mix of output from single log (2×4, 4×4, 4×6 etc)
- Moving large or old growth logs onto mill can be impossible
- Blade sharpening not easy for mill owner
- Sensitive to foundation, easy to mis-calibrate
- labor to operate (rotate log, cuts only on forward pass)
Portable Circular Sawmills
- Ease of sharpening, can be done by mill owner
- High production, cuts in both directions
- Creates “circle sawn” look, which is value added
- Set mill up around massive logs, mill in place, no need to move log
- Production speed creating wide mix of output from single log (2×4, 4×4, 4×6 etc)
- Less labor, no rotating log to make cuts
- Available slabbing attachment for up to 60″ wide slabs
- Length of cut limited to 18′. Longer length compromises portability./li
- Depth of cut limited by diameter of circular saw, often 10″ or less in single cut
- Portability and Setup
- Thicker kerf = more waste, more effort
- Blades are costly if damaged by metal or stones in logs
Look for Demo Models
Many manufacturers attend regional events open to the public including agriculture shows, home shows, construction trade shows and logging conferences.
At these shows they offer demonstrations and a chance to test some of their equipment.
It is common that the units used at a show are available for sale at a reduce rate given their previous use, but have all the same warranty benefits of a new machine.
At those same shows it’s common to find show specials offering a reduced price for sales made at the show. Just ask!
Refurbished Portable Sawmills
Many of the companies who’ve been around for many years have units that either were leased, sold with financing and later had to be reclaimed due to default or a customer may have returned a mill shortly after purchase for one reason or another.
These mills are then serviced and available for sale with a limited warranty. They probably sell fast though!
Buy Used (From Someone Wanting to Upgrade)
Many first time sawyers start small and over time either find themselves wanting to pursue sawing professionally or their needs change and are looking to upgrade.
Sales reps have such a close relationship with their clients that they might be aware of someone who is ready to upgrade once their current mill is sold.
Just ask if someone knows of someone looking to upgrade!
Call Local Dealer Ask About People Who Want to Sell
There are times when a mill is for sale but maybe the owner doesn’t know much about it or would rather let someone else handle the sale.
Whether a family member is deceased or maybe someone is simply too busy this can be a great way to find a used machine not listed elsewhere.
Must-Have Portable Sawmill Accessories
- Equipment / tools to move logs
- 3000 lb Log Grapple
- Bed extensions if you’ll be milling long logs
- Trailer package if you plan to mobile mill without requiring disassembly
- 2 (yes 2) Cant hooks. One person can create more force with two hooks. Less damage. Less effort.
- Laser Level to level long logs or logs with lots of taper
- Log ramps if you don’t have equipment
- Taper wedge (prevent log from rolling off mill and help adjust/hold tapered end)
- C clamps to prevent taper wedge from moving on bed
- Spare blades
- Spare belts
- Engine cover
- Hour meter, if one isn’t included to aid in maintenance intervals
- Blade tension alignment tool
- Blade tension gauge
- Belt tension adjustment tool
- Operation manual
- Various wrenches for retightening and adjusting mill
- Impact driver to speed up assembly or maintenance
- Framing square for marking beam on butt cut
- Loggers tape measure for quickly measuring long logs and log diameter
- Large air compressor to remove sawdust from track, drivebelts and head height adjustments
- Wood stickers to stack lumber and beams
- Chainsaw to cut up and remove waste slab wood for firewood or chipping
- Board foot or cant size calculators for maximizing log yield
- Moisture meter to monitor drying
- Quality construction work clothes that can stand up to sawmilling
10 Bandsaw Mill Tricks for EASY ACCURATE Cuts
- Blow off entire track after each cut
- Slow down on your first two cuts, make sure they’re square. Less waste. Less effort.
- Square off the mill deck for accuracy
- Fasten or secure the mill to prevent frequent mis-calibration moving logs
- Change your blade right before your final cuts
- Calibrate the mill before final cuts
- Push cants off the mill forward to process into firewood
- Think ahead about what lumber you’ll actually use down the road, instead of making random thickness cuts
- When decking logs, place log butts at the mill head end for easier leveling
- Use a floor jack to raise tapered end to centerline to maximize usable board footage
- Keep in mind your mill head max cutting diameter includes cruck, taper, bow and knots!
Enjoy this post? Follow our home build!
While we enjoy sawmilling and timber framing, most of our time is spent doing other tasks on the build such as icf construction, installing our radiant floor heating, drilling concrete, soaking in our diy hot tub… you get the idea Learn about our entire build here.