Amish mills

Some perspectives on Amish sawmill operations. June 27, 2000

I have read several times about people buying wood from the Amish at very reasonable prices. I am interested in the their methods of milling. I am under the impression that everything is done the old-fashioned way, which would mean to me that their process is labor intensive. Can anyone shed any light on how the Amish mill lumber?

Forum Responses
The mills I've seen are run by Mennonites rather than true Amish (similar, but the Amish are more strict).

The biggest difference you'd be likely to notice is that they modify their equipment. It'll be hydraulic instead of electric. Tires on their equipment will be modified so they do not contain air.

Most of them will sell in the normal channels, so will get prevailing prices.

I live in an area with many Amish sawmills and they all seem to be very similar to me.

The one I am most familiar with uses a bandsaw rig that is powered by a smallish, inline 6-cylinder gas engine - looks like they bought the engine out of an old Nova or something. Pretty low-tech setup - they have a draft horse that drags the logs from the pile into position for milling.

He charges me $0.10 per board foot to mill my logs - he isn't very picky about what I bring in, as long it is at least 8 inches in diameter and 4 feet long. Not sure how much he would charge if he supplied the log.

I've heard they all blush when a quartersawn board happens to come off the rig -- guess they want them all "plain."

Believe it or not, I've sold metal detectors (portables) to two Amish mills. They had to be battery operated, and no recharger!

I've sawn for the Amish and I've sold them timber.

The Amish in my area use the same techniques and equipment as anyone else. However, they don't use electricity; their main power sources are diesel engines. Any automation is done with hydraulics. I've seen automatic mills that were all hydraulic.

Their rolling stock usually has iron rims instead of tires, which make for a rather bumpy ride. In the woods, they subcontract the logging and trucking.

A lot will depend on what their church has to say. A church can be as small as six families. They can set up rules as they see fit. Examples: Amish boys are allowed to own cars until they are married in some sects. Most will allow electic in the barn, but not the house. Telephones may be in the barn or be more communal by having a phone shed on a non-Amish farm.

What the Amish can or can't use will vary from one sect to another.

The Amish are a conservative branch of the Mennonites. The local leader of an Amish community determines the basic rules of the community. Therefore, there will be wide variations from site to site on what is acceptable.

I believe that the Mennonites actual branched off of the Amish, but in any case, what's been said already jibes with how I've always heard things are. It depends on what the community sees fit, but they do have some general guidelines.

The Mennonites were founded in Europe in the 16th century by Menno Simons. They still exist in Europe and the U.S. The Amish were founded in the 17th century by Jacob Ammann, and are in the U.S.

Gene Wengert, forum moderator

The Amish north of us are very active in sawmilling and pallet production.

The one mill I have firsthand knowledge of has an Amish-built bandmill. It has about a 2-inch blade and is powered buy what looks to be a 4-cylinder Chevy engine. They use horses on the lot to move their logs. Inside, they use gas motors to turn blowers to move the sawdust, etc. He has what looks to be a big brush cutter on wheels, but the blade was turned vertical so he could buck up logs with it.

Looks to me like they must be exempt from OSHA laws as the mill they were running has no guards on belts or blades. I didn't see any with hearing or eye protection. They must have strong faith, but I've seen many with fingers or an eye missing.

One Mennonite I've talked with several times has a Wood-Mizer mill and runs it portable.

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

Comment from contributor A:
I've built 3 barns so far using mostly rough cut lumber that I've bought from the Amish. Of course, I also have to purchase a lot of my material from a standard lumber yard, like the wolmanized post, decking and roof sheeting, and the shingles. It produced a very stout and sound building. I'm in the process right now of building another barn on my property in Michigan.

Comment from contributor B:
I am from Amish Mennonite background. I have relatives in both orders because the Amish split from the Mennonites. We use a regular gas powered bandsaw mill.