Best sawmill for exotic hardwoods

      Bandmills vs. swing mills for a new operation. September 2, 2002

I am interested in purchasing a saw to mill mahogany and teak.

Which type of portable mill will be best for making large boards for shipment and resawing later at a stationary mill? Which mill is most durable and maintenance free? Which mill will easily produce 3000 to 5000 bf of lumber daily?

Forum Responses
You could make larger cants with a band mill, but it would be easier to pack a swinger into the bush to cut the log where it lies. The swinger can handle a much larger log than the band mill, but recovery is better with a band mill (less sawdust). My choices would be a Wood-Mizer LT40hd for the band mill, as that is very easy to set up anywhere and not as finicky about leveling. For a swinger, Iíd pick the Peterson. Much simpler mill than the Wood-Mizer, less to go wrong, sets up easy, cuts strait, sharpens quick, cuts smaller boards fast. Making 5000 bdft everyday will be a tall order with either of these mills. You will need support equipment (tractor, skid steer) and some grunts (strong backs) to help you. Can be done, though.

I suggest you watch each of them in action before even thinking about buying.

From contributor T:
The swing would be an advantage for larger logs (32-34"+). Also, less maintenance. On an expensive log, you may want to consider the kerf. I scaled a log today I bought for 153 bdft, got 224 bdft. 46% overrun. That meant I tripled my money when all was said and done. (Including markup, overrun...)

Those are very dense, heavy woods, so I would suggest either a very large swing or a Timber Harvester 36 HTE 25 or with the 40 horse diesel. You can be a lot harder on a TH than a WM without throwing it out of whack. I have had a couple WM owners watch me run mine, and I do things they wouldn't think of. 15-20 times a day, I slam the head into the stoppers on the end of the track. I do it accidentally, but it doesn't effect my adjustment. I check it once a month, if I remember, but have only adjusted 5-6 times in 2400 hours. Don't settle on a WM just because they have better fliers and trained salesmen. You might be better with a carbide tipped band, but if you go that route, you will definitely want larger than 19" band wheels. The larger TH have 25" wheels. That will extend your blade life. Most importantly, have fun and be safe.

If you go with a band saw, try a 1-1/2" cobalt band from Suffolk. With that dense wood, you will need a good band. That is another advantage the swinger would have.

With all due respect, if your knowledge and experience are at the level where you need to ask this question, teak and mahogany are probably not the materials to tackle first. I suggest you use the connections you have made and contract an experienced sawyer (or two) for this work. You would save the capital as well as a lot of your time and you could probably work with the sawyer and learn a lot more than asking the questions here. If the volume is there and if you can have this done right, you could have one sawyer reduce the logs to cants and another sawyer do the resawing, using the best equipment in each case. It might be better to just manage this work than actually do it.

I don't run a swinger but I would sure like to have one. I do run a band mill, though, and I would have to say that in the case of a swinger type circle mill, the old argument of kerf size doesn't seem as big of a deal. I have seen both a Lucas and Peterson in action and they will produce about the same recovery as any band mill because of the way in which they handle, or lack thereof, the slabs. Also, Peterson offers a narrow kerf for sawing hardwoods that is somewhat under 1/4 inch if I'm not mistaken. They also don't have the tendency of running out of line or following grain or soft spots.

From the original questioner:
I am leaning toward buying a used Woodmizer LT40 manual for a fairly stationary mill and a Peterson 10 inch to retrieve oversized logs.

I look forward to doing some of the operations myself, but I agree that I must employ experienced sawyers. At minimum, I need some serious training and my help will need the same training. Literature, research and comments have me believing I might be on the right track. Now I need to see these mills in action and find good used ones. Today, I am scheduled to view two operating Wood-Mizers.

When I was searching and looking at different mills, I didnít want to go with a big expense, so I went with a manual band mill. The guys I talk to said hyd. I should have listened to them - after working 8 hours in the melt shop and sawing for 5 or 6 hours, I'm really beat, even though I love to see the sawdust fly.

We started out with a manual WM in 84, used it until 97 when we switched to a WM HD electric. I still use my brotherís old manual WM once in a while. Using that old mill makes me appreciate the hydraulic one immensely. If you are going to make this your business, go hydraulic on any mill you buy. The extra cost will be more than made up in productivity and safety.

One of each and everyone will envy you. Thatís paradise, the best of all worlds.

From contributor T:
I can't emphasize enough. Look at other brands. Wood-Mizer is the biggest name out there, but not necessarily the best. I'm not saying run out and buy a Timber Harvester, but don't be bashful to ask around, and don't be blinded by the orange paint. Every mill has its flaws and advantages. Explore your options. If you still end up with WM, more power to ya, but at least you can say you looked.

As for mills, I really think you need to do more studying and actually observe different makes and styles. I realize your situation is unique to you, but I would start with one that was the most up-scale for its type that I could afford/justify. I would add support equipment before a second mill.

After some experience with that, you will know much better what you need to add to your operation.

My LT40HD has cut some big stuff - over 40 inches. Sometimes I have to rip out a section to get the head to pass the first cut. Why not get one of the Alaskan chainsaws for cutting the really big ones down to size?

From contributor R:
Martin & Co, in Nazareth, PA has a mill set up to cut exotic hardwoods. I'm not sure they are still cutting, but it was billed as the most accurate mill in the US. I went through it about 15 years ago.

They cut teak, rosewood, and Sitka spruce for guitars. In the down time, they cut other types of wood. They even cut white oak in thin slices, and put back in log form with stickers in between the layers. Those went to the export market.

They used a conventional band mill.

From the original questioner:
The Alaskan chainsaw sounds like a reasonable replacement for the swing, especially since it could cut down initial investment.

Handling 300 to 1000 lb pieces of wood needs some equipment of some sort if you go the chainsaw route. The same goes for a manual mill. I shelled out for a hydraulic mill and grew into the loader.

I have three mills. Each is designed to a specific task and each is housed at a different site on the farm. (Two Mobile Dimension sawmills and one very large stationary head-rig that saws up to 24' x 4' logs. The head-rig runs with a 52" saw.)

Contributor R, that would be THE CF Martin company, right?

Stickering and putting back into log form is something I haven't seen for a very long time, except in books. I understand it is still done particularly for musical instrument woods. I would be interested to know why, other than tradition.

Stickering the log back into log form makes it easier for a craftsman to "bookmatch" boards. A guitar/dobro maker here is very concerned about being able to bookmatch the tops and backs of the instruments. A term I've heard for sawing through and through without edging, in preparation for putting the log back together, is "flitch sawing".

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