Chainsaw Sawmilling for Old Guys

Here's a great discussion on the capabilities of chainsaw mills, from the point of view of some dudes who have gotten smarter over time. February 27, 2013

I'm considering buying a Granberg chainsaw sawmill, a contraption that attaches to my chainsaw to allow me to slab a log into rough-cut planks. Do these really work and how hard is it on the back? I'm almost 60 years old and some folks say Iím crazy to be thinking of doing this. I've also heard it is very slow going and would take hours to mill three-four 6' logs. If they work, do you recommend the Small Log Mill or the MK III? The latter gives more support but it shortens the cutting length, and my saw is only a 20" blade.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
I was thinking about a chainsaw mill and I have a bad back. I found myself buying a Wood-Mizer LT15 and I am glad I did that, and so does my back. I have had it for two years and it has been busy - so busy I have cut very little for myself, but what I have cut has been choice wood. The saw can grow with me or just sit there. It paid for itself already.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
We need to define the word "work" as you use it. Does the mill make lumber? Yes. Is it efficient in terms of wasting as little as possible and making the most lumber possible? No, but maybe it is ok to waste the wood (mainly sawdust (or kerf is big)).

Does it make fairly smooth lumber? No, but is that important? Is it a lot of work? Yes at times, especially compared to the hydraulic Wood-Mizer LT40-HD. Is it expensive? No, especially compared to the LT40. How important is capital expense? Is this a business or a hobby? Is your chainsaw designed for such heavy use? Are you going to saw 50 hours a year or 50 weeks a year?

From the original questioner:
Great questions/points. My responses: buying a Wood-Mizer-type sawmill is totally out of the budget for me. It's the chainsaw mill or nothing. I realize I'd be wasting wood because of the large kerf but in most cases the logs that I'd be cutting would otherwise rot, so whatever lumber I can get from them is a plus.

I would use this wood for furniture projects but I have a planer so rough cuts wouldn't be a problem. I'm a hobbyist so 50 hours a year is closer to what I'd be doing. My saw is a Stihl MS290, which I hear may be on the small size to handle this?

Bottom line, I don't have a sense of how long it would take to make a pass down an 8' log (5 minutes, 15 minutes?), how hard you have to push the saw, and if it takes so long for each pass and you have to push so hard that I'd be exhausted after one o two passes. I just can't tell what to expect. Can you give me any sense of how long it takes to make a single pass on an 8' log that's 16" diameter?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Check this video out - if may be of help.

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From contributor Y:
I ran a Granberg Alaska mill with a 5' bar on a Stihl 090 for years. Work is the correct year. However, the results were giant slabs of beautiful wood that would be difficult to obtain using any other method. The beauty of the chainsaw mill is that you can haul it to where the log is located and haul out slabs - no need for a loader or a big truck. I am now too old to run it, so I sold it, they certainly work you. I was able to run it by myself, but having help is better.

From contributor K:
Your saw will be very underpowered for anything of much size. It might work for say an apple tree or small pine. I have an 088 Stihl and itís still too much work in a 24" wide cut in hardwood. If you go this route you will be wishing to get as big a saw as you can, at least 90 some cc's. Shop with the folks with good feedback, and ask questions about wear and tear.

From contributor S:
I use three different versions of the Granberg mills. I started with a 50cc saw and moved up to a 395xp 95cc saw. With proper setup and a sharp chain it works very well. The slow part is setting up the initial cut. Once the saw is in the wood it moves along at about one inch per second.

The small log mill is light and handy for a saw with a 20" bar. Most of the oak I have been cutting is at 24" so I have been using the C3 with a 50" or so bar and that is not as handy but no problem once it is in the wood.

I like the chainsaw mill because I find it much easier to move the saw around than to move the 24" 20 foot long oak logs. Even rolling a 2200 pound log is very difficult. By making the initial cut with the frame mill and then squaring with the mini mill I only have to drop the log once onto a flat side and that is easy. After it is squared I use the frame mill to cut planks or whatever I want. Small logs are easy. The setup is everything. Don't rush - I tried that, it doesn't work.

From the original questioner:
All this feedback has been great. I've gone in and out of thinking I could do this but a couple of the most recent replies caused me to think my MS290 (56cc) saw is just going to be too slow/weak to work.

Contributor S - you indicate you had a 50cc saw and then moved up to a 95cc saw. Is the "one inch per second" rate using the larger saw or the smaller one? I assume you were referring to the larger saw, so do you remember about how fast/slow the 50cc saw was by comparison?

From contributor S:
I scored the piston on the 50cc saw in the process of learning to mill. Ripping old hickory beams in half was very slow and hard on that saw. I think I didn't have the chain sharpening part right yet. Small saws will work, but slower, and it will shorten the life of the saw. Small saws have small clutches and will need to be very well maintained to cut long or wide. It worked great for the 12" cherry and oak I was playing with. Keep the chain sharp. Keep the RPM's up - don't push so much that the RPM's drop more than they would when cross cutting as it slows the cooling air too. Use premium gas and oil.

I like the chainsaw mill. Granberg's are great for cutting odd shaped wood, curves, and crotches. Also consider Logosol's mills. The ridged beam concept takes out some of the setup work. Have you read Will Malloff's "Chainsaw Lumber making"?

From contributor J:
I too started out chainsaw milling 13 years ago. Here is a real life comparison. I started off with a Echo 550 EVL (55cc) cutting a 24 inch Western red cedar, ten feet long. It took eight minutes to make one cut. I stopped and installed my new Husky 3120xp (120cc) and the next cut took 1 minute and 5 seconds. There is a lot to be said about a bigger saw. Now I have two each of the 3120xp's - one with a 60 inch bar and the other with a 42 inch bar.

From the original questioner:
Contributor M - I had not heard of "Chainsaw Lumber Making" but I just checked on Amazon and it's pricey - that must be a heck of a book!

Contributor J - The detail you gave on number of minutes it took you to make a cut using the two different saws is very helpful. That's exactly what I was trying to get a sense of. Someone else told me pushing these saws is a little like lowering yourself half way down on a push up and holding it there. I don't think I could do that for eight minutes. Twenty years ago, maybe, but probably not now. So, I'm still chewing on it, but thanks everyone for all the input. Bottom line, it's clear I should have a bigger saw, but I'm not in a position to consider that now. So it boils down to whether it makes sense for me to do it at all with the saw I have, at my age.

From contributor S:

Hiring a guy with a mill to cut a few logs for you will give you a chance to see what is involved and ask questions.

From contributor O:
These chainsaw mills absolutely work. I do not agree with the description of pushing the mill being like going half way down on a pushup. Once the bar is into the cut it takes just a bit of pressure to move the mill through the wood. Pushing too hard bogs the saw down. I like to balance pushing force with listening to the RPM of the saw. I take my time and go for quality of cut.

I have a Dolmar 9010 on a 56" Alaskan mill, and today I was cutting 36" wide southern yellow pine four inch thick seven feet long for table tops. I am a 50 year old well worn carpenter and while it's hard work, I've done much worse. Spend time learning to sharpen your chain as good as it can be done. Touch up between cuts, and keep your power head and bar clean. But mainly take your time and have fun. One word of caution though - it is terribly addicting.

From contributor Y:
The Stihl 090 I used was around 130 cc. Not a fast revving engine, but would pull the chain through four feet of red oak. If I were to do that again I would use a faster revving saw like my 088. That thing makes chips like nothing I have ever seen.

From contributor V:
You can mill with an MS290 without buying anything else - smaller diameters and easier in softer wood. To find out more about it, just try it, you don't need a mill. Take a five foot or shorter section of log, one foot or less in diameter, cut off an end square, mark the lines you want to cut, and stand it up. If need be improvise some kind of cradle holder for the log. Now saw down the lines carefully, leaving some at the end to hold the boards up. Milling with an Alaskan mill won't be noticeably easier or faster, just more accurate and a bit safer. A bigger saw will last longer and go quicker. If you can't stand the log up it's probably too big for the MS290. If this is too much work perhaps reconsider.

From the original questioner:
This is a great suggestion. I'll give this a try. I read a quote the other day that encapsulates why I'm having a hard time deciding whether or not I'm crazy to be thinking about doing CSM: "I don't feel like an old man. I feel like a young man who has something wrong with him."

From contributor U:
Chainsaw milling is fun. I saw lots of wide flitches that my Wood-Mizer LT40 cannot handle. You do need a bigger saw and I would go with the AK III. I am 62 and as you can see in the last pic I have a fully automated AK III. It has wheels and a crank system to pull the mill through the log. I do not like crawling on my knees in the sawdust so when it gets close to the ground I sit.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor C:
As far as size of kerf and wasting material, if your slabbing for large surfaces 8/4 and thicker, 3/8 kerf is not too wasteful. When I cut with the homemade chainsaw mill I have it is with a 039 and can cut up to 18". If larger I contact a friend with the 090 and 5' bar.

My cutting is for furniture material that I will later re-saw on my vertical bandsaw with .05" kerf using a carbide toothed blade. So the waste still is minimal. I like drying in 8/4 as well. The 039 is just big enough for the 18" cut. High rpm and sharp chain is crucial. I ported the exhaust and that seemed to help a little too. I have cut woods as hard as .80SG but I am easy on the gear.

I pretty much just copied the aftermarket Granberg type mills you see on Ebay. No welding. I made it so everything would bolt up. It's pretty crude looking. I didn't sweat the aesthetics. It fits on my 24" bar gives an 18-19" cut. It works the same as any other mill and just as good. I put it together on a whim one weekend. I had all the parts around. If I had to buy the parts it would have been less expensive to buy one probably. The clamps for the posts I made from blocks of a hard wood here in HI, called Ohia. The reason I call it my Hawaiian chainsaw mill.

It would have been much faster if I had a welder of sorts to tack. There are so many pictures out there on chainsaw mills it wasn't too hard to get all the design in order. The hard part was building with only the material and tools at hand. I can pretty much do a 24" diameter log, square it and slab it. I can go bigger but have to split the log into cants free hand first. I would just buy one next time around.

From contributor L:
As others have said the chainsaw mill can work great if you can't afford the Wood-Mizer type or to hire someone with one, or if the log is down a ravine where you can't haul it out. I rigged up a crank (similar to those used to crank boats up onto the trailer) and a remove throttle control. Once the cut is started, I can stand at the other end and control the throttle and crank in comfort. Itís true the bigger the saw head the better and faster it will go.