Swing blade woes

      What are the drawbacks to this type of mill? April 29, 2003

There have been numerous bandsaw woes discussed here, such as diving blades, sharpening problems, alignment problems and poor customer support.

Other than log dogs for small logs and a couple things that the manufacturer fixed right away, I don't recall many woes for swing or multi-blade mills. This may be due to bandsaws significantly outnumbering the others, or is it because other mills are less complex and easier to maintain?

We have all read the posts on which is best, but for those of us still trying to make up our mind which way to go, a little honest feedback on maintenance, repairs or problems from swing and multi-blade owners would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor C:
The only woe that I can think of - I am not sure it is even one - is finding a local and credible "Saw Doctor" to handle re-tipping and occasional re-tensioning for my blades. Other swing owners have been a great help. There seems to be a large discrepancy in talent and expected compensation of the people in the blade business. If I could find a person more local to me for emergencies (a metallic blade collision disaster) I would not require more than 2 blades in inventory... in light of this, my metal detector is my best friend in preventing down time.

I do not regret purchasing a swing mill over a band mill for the types of custom milling that I am contracted for. It has far exceeded my expectations.

I've had my swing mill for about two years now and to echo the post above, I really don't have any complaints. When it was first delivered there were a couple of minor problems but the factory (Peterson) was quick to take care of them. The mill is easy to operate, simple to maintain and most important to me, safe. After I fell the tree it never leaves the ground again until I take the boards off the mill - I really like that!

I too am agonizing over which to buy - swing or band. The special Wood-Mizer is running now for their LT27 seems real good. But like you said, the sharpening and diving blade problems bother me. On the other hand, the swing mills do look spindly, and would seem to move side to side rather easily. And what about holding 12" logs and recovering most all of the log? Is it easy to "chock" those smaller logs and not get them thrown at you?

I have operated a Lucas Mill for approximately 3 years now. I have cut everything from 5'6" diameter by 15' long burr oak to 8" diameter by 4' long spruce and a lot in between, including pretty dry Osage orange.

The frame is sturdy and stands up to a lot of use. I am not an expert by any means. I can tell you that the big ones are a lot more fun. The small ones seem to take more energy. This is from moving the "rails" up and down between each log. We use an industrial backhoe/loader with a 5,000 lb. lift capacity to make moving larger logs easier, but you still have to move the rails up to get the log under them or the carriage and one rail off.

I have never seen a Petersen mill in action, so I can't say anything about their mill. I will say that there is a lot of sawdust at the end of the day. However, the thickness and width of the board stays the same for the length of the board, unless you strike metal, and I don't mean gold. The cost of blades is more than a typical bandsaw blade but they last longer without striking metal. When the tips are gone, they can be retensioned and retipped. We have had blades retensioned and retipped 8 times and they are still cutting fine. As long as you watch what you are doing, a blade will keep its tension before it will need to be retipped. The problem of retipping is finding a good sawblade man that can do a quality job with both aspects and can return the blade in a reasonable amount of time. When you do find one, they seem to be 3 states away.

The decision is still on how much you have to spend, your log size and what widths you want. With Lucas, you can always buy a slabber attachment, though.

All of the minor problems I have experienced have been my own fault, like not having well placed tracks. Peterson provided good training, and I took right off from there. I got tricky with my skids. I will be taking them to the Bangor Forestry Expo. I used the log dogs from Peterson and also some notches. The shootout is a really good place to see all the different kinds of mills in action. Sawmill and Woodlot magazine sponsors the shootout and puts out an issue devoted to it. I decided on a Peterson when I went to the show in Massachusetts last year.

Have been sawing with a Peterson since May of '02. Saw a lot of utility poles for farm hay wagons, pole buildings. I made a V jig out of 1x6 treated boards that I place poles in and have no problem with them staying in place when sawing.

Swing blade woes? Not enough logs, not enough time to saw. I've got 50 some hours on my Lucas 618 cutting everything from power poles to ponderosa pine, Doug fir, western larch, poplar, to northern red oak and white birch. I calculate my recovery factor as 100%, because most of the logs I mill would go for firewood. My advice is to hire a mill on what you have to saw up and see for yourself.

From contributor M:
Sometimes simple is better. The swingblade is very simple and very effective, but it has its limits, pros and cons and misconceptions. For one, a custom sawyer moving the mill to every log is not my idea of a good way to earn a living - that shoots the don't-need-to-skid-the-logs-to-the-mill thing down, and then you will have to roll every log uphill onto your skids or blocks and over a pile of sawdust to cut. Without iron that peavey is hard work. If you hit metal, and you will, it's no big deal to put a new band on. Not so good for a circle blade - mud and dirt will cost you more money and time on a circle blade. Bandmills have debarkers and it's easy to put a new band on. They are more finicky and you can knock them right out of alignment, but a bandmill will get the job cutting 1x12 walnut way before a swingblade will.

If I had logs that were 28 inches or bigger all the time I would sell my bandmill and get a swinger. It's all about what *you* need to cut and what logs you will have available. Don't let technicalities cloud your judgment - get what will work best for your situation. I'd say hire a swingblade guy and you will know what is best by the end of the day.

From contributor C:
I need to respectfully disagree with the previous post about mud and dirt being a problem with swingblade mills.

Much like a "mud saw" on a bandmill, when the circular blade is rotating on a swingblade mill, in either direction of travel, the blade first enters the wood in the heart of the log and then exits the log through the bark. The only contact with mud and dirt is as the blade leaves the log - it is not dragged through the cut as on chainsaw mills and bandmills *without* debarkers/mud saws. Typically, the sawdust helps cushion the blade from harsh impact with the dirt/mud. A swingblade is its own built-in mud saw. Yes, the blade dulls sooner than in clean logs. But it is resharpened in 5 minutes on the mill with no dollars outlaid. Having said this, I still prefer clean logs and charge more for custom sawing dirty ones.

From contributor M:
I can see what you're saying, and it makes good sense, as in the back of the band blade exiting the log hits the dirt on that side in a passive mode. But don't you get the teeth cutting into the dirt on your last cut through the bark in the horizontal position? I like 'em clean, too.

How many people pack your swingsaws in? Raise your hands. How many people pack your band mills in? Raise your hands.

Just as I thought. Nobody packs their swingsaws in, and nobody packs their bandmills in. You all drive in with your saw, unless someone delivers logs to you.

Is there a difference in setup time? My neighbor next parcel over bought a swing mill at 69, and he thinks it's fine. Now at 72, he still thinks it's fine. He cuts from his own logs, and has a little tractor to pull stuff around. Now my neighbor's situation is more like a stationery mill, in that Jack basically only uses it one place, and brings his logs to it. I expect that most readers, however, will be bringing their mill to the log(s), as it were.

So given that Jack's situation is the exception, generally, you will be transporting your "portable" mill to the jobsite. Once there, how long does it take to engage your mill into the wood? Is that important? Depends on what you want to do with it. Jack mills for his own needs, and personal pleasure. He is not doing 40" oaks where a swingmill is indicated, but then he bought it because it was locally available as a stocked item. If WM was stocked here, he may have chosen differently. So does marketing and availability have impact on your decision? Probably. It did for Jack. It does for swingmills too. One company started it, and spurned its own competitor. Yep, they do it "down under" just like "we" do it up here.

Now I could pick up a brand new swingmill 10 minutes away, but I will be building my own bandmill. What I want, nobody makes.

You can not pack a LT40 very far but I have drug it in a 4x4 for miles up creeks and chained the whole outfit to a 4x4 tractor to get it up some hills to the log. Does that count? I can set up in less then 5 minutes and be sawing and can fold up faster. My thinking has always been if you can not drive up with the mill then you can not drive off with the lumber. I have a hard time getting people to pull slabs much less carry a 2x6x16 a 1/4 mile to the truck.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have had a Lucas swing mill for three years and have sawn up to 5000 board feet a day with only one helper keeping a steady pace.

My biggest problem has been adjustments, which no one else seems to have, so maybe it's just my rig. I have to adjust it regularly, though. I also have not been able to find a blade person, however I have only gone through two blades in three years and am still using the last (third) blade, supplied when I bought it, so at $40 to $60 a blade, I guess I can't kick a lot.

The other problem is that I'm limited in the width - 8.5 inches - that I can produce. There is another blade that will allow 9 1/4 inch... basically a 10 inch board that is slightly thicker in kerf, however. I get around this by flattening the top of a log and then slabing it with my old Alaskan sawmill. It works very well and gives me larger slabs when I want them, and then through them through my 18 inch Wood Master planer molder/sander.

I had bandmills out to cut for me, and stripping bark off large tress is a very dificult job when you have 50,000 board foot minimum you need cut. Even when the sawyer put a debarker on his machine, I had to spray down logs with a high power washer to insure blades weren't damaged. I have only once run into a fence insulator/nail in a tree from my 70 acre wood lot and that was a learning experience! I no longer saw the first 3 feet of any urban tree or tree along any fence row and road. That has seemed to make the difference for me. I can pack my 825 in my 1/2 ton pickup and pack it in anywhere with only 10 minutes setup/tear down time.

I have had several disk operations, so I cannot lift anything heavy, however this mill is not heavy and I can operate it alone for short periods and my 75 year old nieghbor out-cuts me! So as everyone says, it's what you want and if you want to pay for automation with high priced highdraulics.

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