Advice for a Sawmilling Beginner

Here's a truckload of good advice for the man who just bought his first bandsaw mill. May 14, 2006

I just received my new LT-15 and will probably start cutting this weekend. This is a new venture for me. I have some logs - compliments of Katrina - that need to be sawed. I purchased an extra bed section to be able to cut 16'. Any advice from other LT-15 owners or anyone else would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
My advice is to take your time and not expect to make a mountain of lumber the first day out. Also, if you run into real problems, call the great guys at Wood-Mizer. They are there to help you out.

From contributor B:
You should have fun with this machine. I had one for a short time in 2000 and the drawbacks for me were my 63 years of age and manhandling the logs and especially the squared cants. Also it was pretty hot to run in the summer. I am in central NY so you will undoubtedly run into hotter weather. Wood-Mizer guys are great when you have problems. I bit the bullet and bought an LT40HD.

From contributor C:
Keep your work area neat. Don't let the slabs pile up in a big nasty pile; deal with them on a daily basis, at least. Set up a couple of saw horses off the end of the mill to pile the flitches (unedged boards) on, so they can be easily dragged back on the mill for edging.
Sticker all of your boards. Use ear and eye protection. Get an oil can and use oil on all the moving parts of dogs, and on the winch and cable. Find somebody who likes sawdust.

Periodically, sight down the rails to make sure the angle iron is dead flat, and not bowing up or down as your mill settles, especially after the big logs. Readjust as necessary.

After dogging the log into place the first time, and before making the first cut, use various tools as necessary to clean off any dirt from the logs. You can eyeball the path of the blade into the bark and chop off the strip of bark with a sharp axe, wire brush, stiff broom - whatever works best. And most important, concentrate on having fun and sawing good quality lumber.

From the original questioner:
My biggest challenge will be patience. If the weather holds out, I should be able to start on my log pile Saturday. Kinda feels like waiting for Christmas!

From contributor A:
I hope you bought a couple of good LogRite cant hooks with your mill. They are a must for working a manual mill. We have an HD mill and have three LogRite cant hooks. I'd suggest a 30" mill special (pictured) for turning smaller cants and at least one 48" or 60" for turning logs and big cants.You can get these in great LogRite cant hook through Wood-Mizer in orange to match your mill.

From the original questioner:
I do have a cant hook. The first few logs will be the challenge since they are the largest I have - 23" inside the bark. The rest are about 12-15". Since I ordered the mill, word got out quick. I pastor a Southern Baptist Church here in Picayune. I have had a number of phone calls to cut wood. I told my wife I should have ordered the LT-40 and made money before cutting wood for my shop. Right now the sawyers can't cut all of what the storm blew down. By summer I'll know if the LT15 is the last mill or a stepping stone for a larger hydraulic mill.

From contributor D:
I also emphasize the hearing protection but want to add steel toe boots because there will be one mean log cant that will find your toes for sure. 12" high top boots can protect the shins better too. While working around my manual mill I am always bumping into the sharp edged steel parts with my ankles and shins while working the logs. On windy days I wear a tree sawyer safety helmet that has a screen on the front to keep sawdust off my face. I move all my logs around with a 50HP farm tractor with forks and I wouldn't want to work a manual mill without some kind of machine lifting help. Even with the tractorís help my back still is very tired after a full day of sawing. I've also found that 2 Aleve pills at breakfast before a long saw day helps diffuse the sore muscle issues. Another tip is to have a large wire brush to take dirt areas off the log.

From the original questioner:
I have access to a John Deere 850 to move the logs. I also am using a sloping hill to my advantage. I have two cross ties that will sit beside my mill and level. This will put my mill just under the logs. I'll use a peavey and roll them onto the bed. I like the idea of two Aleve at breakfast. I have an old Craftsman 18" chainsaw that I was going to use to debark the logs before sawing. I don't use the saw anymore since I purchased a Stihl.

From contributor D:
If I find some clay or dirt embedded and I forgot my wire brush or debarking rod I'll place the dirty side on the blades exit. So far it's worked out well and I have not ruined one blade with dirt, but steel nails and screws are a different animal. Buy yourself a medium priced metal detector and scan the log away from the metal mill parts. I've spent a few days in the gulf cutting Katrina trees, and had to shut my eyes on all of the Pecan trees I sliced into short pieces. Oh, did that ever hurt.

From contributor E:
Do yourself a favor and cut some lumber for yourself before you start cutting for others, to get the hang of it. I know when I started it took me some time before I was cutting good lumber. Also I would start with the smaller logs first - the 30 inchers take some time. Have fun and do keep your slab pile under control.

From contributor F:
I bought an LT-15 a few months ago and I've been having a great time - this is good clean fun! I got it just for personal use (farm, siding, woodworking). My first logs were 18-22" poplar, then white oak, maple, and persimmon. In addition to a couple of cant hooks, I use a long steel pry bar. I find it useful to slide a log or heavy cant that's almost but not quite in position. I ran a water hose from the barn to spray off mud, but on a few logs I even stripped the bark. I also keep a straight-edge handy. This lets me more easily measure from the bed to position the pith for the best cut. Some big hardwood wedges cut from 4 x 6 are nice for positioning the small end of the log.

Another great accessory is an hour meter. I have some that connect electrically to various equipment, but for the saw I'm using one that triggers on vibration. It works well and is a lot cheaper than the other, although it does give up the tach. It's very nice to know just how many hours you have on the engine.

Another good LT-15 accessory is a book - "Harvesting Urban Timber" I think is the name. Not only goes into the philosophy of using wood destined for the landfills, but has clear illustrations of how to saw to get the best from the log, and things to watch out for.
I strongly agree on the hearing and eye protection, safety shoes, and a good pair of gloves.

The most useful thing I've added is forks for the loader on my tractor. In addition to moving logs to the mill, I position the forks right up next to the mill at a good height to stack the boards, ready to carry away for stickering. For a heavy slab, I position the forks so I can just slide the slab off the mill with almost no effort. This is slower since I have to go adjust the forks often, but it sure saves the back - especially when working by myself.

When using forks, I drop the logs on some RR ties next to the mill and roll them on to the steel by hand. (Don't want to drop a log on the mill.) I'm planning to build a sturdy platform next to the mill to drop logs onto and equip it with some removable steel ramps. For logs too heavy for the tractor to lift, I can get behind them and push them up the ramps. If I have the bucket on the tractor instead of the forks, I lift the logs with a couple of large skidding tongs with 3' lengths of chain held by a couple of grab hooks welded on the bucket.

I always keep a chainsaw handy to knock off that little irregularity or miscalculation that stops the show. An axe is nice as well. A big, lightweight aluminum shovel helps keep the sawdust out of the path. Invest in some green wood sealer, like Anchorseal. As you said, the word gets around and I'm getting more free logs than I can mill quickly. Painting the ends as soon as possible after felling greatly reduces end checking and splitting.

So far, the LT-15 is perfect for me. The 15HP seems plenty powerful for even big cuts in hard wood, just slow down a bit. Making height adjustments is very fast and accurate. I also bought one extension and have milled some 15' logs. I think the two clamps that come with the mill are NOT enough when you add the extension.

My engine will backfire if I turn it off while idling. It stops smoothly if I speed it up very slightly, then turn off the switch. I bought twenty extra blades and so far they are lasting far longer than I expected. I haven't hit any metal yet! I do have a couple of metal detectors - a wand and a much more sensitive treasure hunter. In retrospect, I could have gotten by on fewer blades at the rate I'm going.

The most trouble I've had so far has been with wavy cuts in a couple of Virginal Pine logs. Iíve had no problem yet with hardwoods and E.R. cedar. After rechecking tension and alignments and trying a new blade in case the other was duller than I thought, I solved it by making slower cuts. This was a problem in only a couple of logs and it seems to be just in front of large knots.

Be sure to set the sawmill legs on some sturdy blocking and recheck often. WM recommended cutting some beams for this - white oak would be great. I leveled off a spot with my tractor but now I wish I'd left more room on the sawdust side so I might move it.
I find I have to tighten the rope crank occasionally. Much of the time with smaller logs, I just push without cranking. If you haven't assembled it yet, note that my manual appeared to be in error on the instructions for threading the rope. (And the video tape was so outdated to be more confusing than useful in places.)

By the way, one thing I wasn't prepared for (not specific to the LT-15) - the mill is a great way to meet people! Some neighbors found out and want me to let them know when I'm sawing so they can come and help. Some have brought their friends and relatives. It would be a great outreach for teens or troubled teens, especially one or two at a time.

To avoid hard feelings, I decided not to mill logs for friends and neighbors for money. I don't want someone to get upset due to misconceptions of the value or favors they might expect. I also don't want get started in milling all day for free and wearing out the equipment. Instead, I offer to split the boards 50-50 if they haul the logs AND help mill them, 25-75 if I have to haul and they help, and 0-100 if I do it all!

I'd love to have a mill with hydraulics some day just to make life easier, but I can't justify the cost for hobby use and I certainly don't want to make a business out of this. I bought this thing for retirement, not career!

From contributor G:
How big of a saw is that and how much did it cost? I am thinking about buying one in the future.

From contributor A:
Check out the Wood-Mizer web site. It'll give you a bunch of info on the LT15 and other mills. They have some specials going on that lists prices of packaged deals. This will give you an idea of the costs. You can request a catalog from their web site. Or just give them a call.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all of the advice! I made the first cuts yesterday. First log was a pecan. We made some good cuts off it until we got close to the heart. I should have flipped the cant and cut opposites to relieve stress. The center picked up a good 1/4". We put a pine log on next. That was a big difference in cutting. It was like a hot knife through butter. I cut some 1 x 8s and 2 x 8s before shutting it down for the day. I'll start working on my pile of logs next Friday and Saturday. I was worried about not having enough logs to justify the mill. Well, I now have people giving me red oak, pecan, poplar, and cherry. Now I'm worried about having enough time! The LT15 cut better than I thought it would. The 15hp never got in a bind. I learned to judge the speed of cut by the sound of the blade. So far I'm hooked! There are also a number of Sweet Gums and Water Oaks down. What are the general feelings on these? Are they worth cutting and what about drying? I suppose a kiln is next on my list.

From contributor A:
It sounds like you've got sawdust fever to me. I don't know anything about gum - unless it's Wrigley's. Swamp oak is mostly used in pallet and RRTs up here. It makes for some pretty wood but lots of what others call defect.

From contributor H:
It sounds like most everything has been covered by the other responses, but I would consider taking a lumber grading short course if you are serious about the quality of the lumber you will be producing. Your understanding of lumber grading requirements will enhance the way you mill and edge lumber as well as your overall approach to milling each log.

Also I would do some research as to the handling and drying of the species you are likely to encounter. This will further improve quality and the value of the products you produce. The manuals provided with your sawmill may provide some insight to milling and drying lumber as well as other important safety information. I believe that reading and understanding this information will make the whole process more enjoyable in the long run.

If you are sawing outside your first project to consider may be a structure to house your mill. It will serve to protect you and your mill from the elements. You will be surprised the difference it makes just to have a little shade or protection from the weather. On a final note I have operated an LT15 for about 6 years now, milling about 10,000 board feet annually, essentially a serious hobby. This mill has held up extremely well and with regular maintenance will probably outlast me!

From contributor I:
Is anyone using the trailer towing package for the LT-15? I was wondering how it works. Is the axle removed for sawing? Also how hard is it to move without the trailer package? Can it be loaded by just one person?

From contributor J:

I'm waiting for my own LT15 now. This conversation has given me loads of information that will be helpful. I had not, until this week, considered the sawdust outfeed issue and now I intend to move the timber base a little further away. Thanks for all the shared experience and knowledge.

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

Comment from contributor K:
I have been sawing for close to a year now with my LT28 and have learned a little trick that hasn't been mentioned here. When milling, the slightest breeze determines the direction that the sawdust blows, so I tried to find a spot that the wind would blow the sawdust away from me-instead of in my face. Consider this if you are building a structure to cover your mill. When setting up my mill in a new area, I purpose to have the wind blow in the direction that the sawhead feeds. Should I mention it again? Wear ear and eye protection. I really like the idea of using a tree cutter's helmet with a screen on the front.