Winter Sawing, Blade Breakage, and Lubricant Choices

A long and detailed thread on blade cleaning and lubricating fluid, sawmill characteristics, and blade durability during cold weather. August 31, 2009

After a few years of running windshield washer fluid or water and dish detergent for a blade cleaner, I have finally switched to diesel and bar oil at a very slow drip for this winter. I have been using diesel and bar oil in a spray bottle as needed for a long time, but this is the first time I have used it in the gravity fed tank full time.

I run Timberwolf 13' 9" x .045 x 1-1/4" blades, and have had excellent success with them over any sawmill brand blade. The problem over the past few years has always been when the temperature drops below 32 degrees on the mill's steel, the blades start to break. They generally do not break while in the wood itself, but usually right as the blade is started up, or while in idle as I remove a slab or flitch. This problem never occurs when the temperature is above freezing.

The problem was always much worse with windshield washer fluid, but now not as bad with the diesel/oil mix. It is still occurring, though, and I cannot figure out why. The blades themselves can either be brand new or resharpened once or twice. I would blame this on the blade manufacturer, but it is not occurring on the blade's weld. My band wheels are perfectly aligned, and so are the guides, with only faint pressure on the blade itself. I assume the blade tension is correct, for the hand crank tension goes to its designated line, and the tension spring itself was recently replaced. The blades are also being run slightly tighter than Timberwolf's recommended "flutter test." Any help is greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
I've been running diesel for a few years now. 1/2 gallon of diesel sure beats 10 gallons of windshield washer that still freezes up in real cold weather. I've never noticed any difference in the cold with blade breakage. I did get a bad box of 10 a while back that all broke before the second sharpening, then bought blades from a different roll and back to normal 5 to 10 sharpenings.

From contributor W:
I've been sawing for 10 cold PA winters, using Timberwolf blades for 8 of them, and it seems like I do break more bands (and other equipment) in the winter than when it's warm. Sawing frozen wood and ice puts more strain on the blades... Ice on the logs also hides imbedded dirt and small stones. The frozen wood and ice takes the set off the blade quicker, and that also puts more stress on the blade. Make sure when you are grinding your blades the rock sweeps the whole gullet to help get rid of micro gullet cracks that may be starting. Check the blade's sharpness more often. And check the logs over more carefully for ice, rocks and dirt. I don't use bar oil on my blade drip. The diesel is going to dilute that sticky stuff in the bar oil, so what's the point? Just straight diesel is fine.

You might want to look at adding a diesel "wick" setup instead of just dripping it on there. One more thing... I've run both .045 and .042 blades, and I couldn't see any real improvement in the .045, but the .042 are slightly thinner, a little more flexible, and seem to last a little longer without breaking.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I have been thinking about a wick setup for a while. I am sawing mostly black locust, so it's really hard frozen stuff, and the second the blades start to feel a little dull, I change them, keeping about 60 or so blades in cycle. The logs generally do come in very dirty with some rocks frozen into the bark, but I clean them up entirely by hand and with a Log Wizard debarker, so the blade never even sees bark. I cannot wait for warmer weather to pull my power washer back out!

I send all my blades out for resharp to Timberwolf's division Gooseneck machinery in upstate NY, and I am not resharpening myself. All my blades in cycle are either used once or brand new, and I do not think gullet cracks can be a problem here, for it is happening on both, and probably more often on the new blades.

I feel the whole issue is about blade contact to the wheels, and maybe the faintly rougher texture of a used blade holds better than a slick brand new one. I am going to try the straight diesel and see what happens.

From contributor R:
I switched to diesel a couple months ago and will never go back. Running straight off-road diesel so I can see the red fuel better in my sight glass and lines. Plus we run it in all the other equipment and keep it on hand. You will find the pitch and sawdust will not stick to the guards, rails, etc. You can buy a strip of felt for wipers from Cook's Saw for about $5.00 and it works great, and that is what is in the little red box in the picture. I also have a felt wiper on top of the blade with diesel dripping on it. Another thing I did at the same time was change to steel band wheels. Man, did that make my mill run much smoother, and I am getting more bf per blade. Knock on wood, but I have not broken a blade since I switched. I fabricated this system and thought a picture may be of help.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor A:
Contributor R put it very well, steel wheels and straight diesel works the best. Cooks does sell the whole setup for the wipe system. I will be buying this setup for my resaw also. I added a 5 gallon jug for the diesel on top of the blade housing for the sawmill. I will be doing the same thing for the resaw.

Also, for all of you that run the all-steel wheels, I have made gravity steel scrapers that help to make sure there is as little vibration added to the blade from the steel wheels as possible from sawdust buildup. I got the idea from the Morgan resaw I bought last summer.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor R:
What brand mill are you running? I am running a TK B-20, but this will be my last TK mill. I will take a close look at Cook's mill in the future if and when I make a change. I found the scraper felt from Cooks after I fabricated my lube system. I did not know they had a system for sale and came across it by accident. They charge about $35.00 for the felt holder that is in their picture, but that would be a small investment for all the good it does. I purchased the 12 volt solenoids off eBay and drip regulators from Graingers and the rest from Home Depot. I also just purchased a new 2.8 gallon Murry riding mower tank on eBay for $10.00 and will weld up a bracket for it soon. I am using a windshield wiper fluid reservoir now. What type of material are you using on the wheel scrapers in your pictures? My mill has phenolic and a friend is sending a different material for me to try.

From contributor D:
I hate the smell of diesel. I switched to citrus terpene (d-limonene) and SAE30. Smells like lemons and removes pitch even better. Florida Chemical sells drums for about $14 gallon. We bought an oil mist lubricator from Northech machinery and only use about 1 gallon a week of use.

From contributor A:
Both my mills are Cooks'. The scrapers are made from flat bar, welded together in the corner. These float against the wheel.

From contributor E:
Great idea! I think I'll steal it.

From contributor S:
Good idea. I might have to steal it too.

Contributor R, keep us posted on those steel wheels. Does it cut straighter with them also? Are they crowned or not? If not, they wouldn't cause the blade to cup like v belts do, and should cut better. Did you get that energy cable set up yet? Nice looking lube system on your mill. I'm still using the drip system. I mounted a 4" linear actuator on the log dog for up and down. That sure saves a lot of steps when sawing by yourself or with someone that doesn't pay attention.

From contributor W:
To the original questioner: Sawing frozen locust is about the hardest thing you can ask a bandsaw blade to do. The super hard wood takes the set off the blade very quickly, and that puts more stress on the blade. You are also running a mill with small wheels, so blade breakage in tough sawing situations is going to occur. Call the Timberwolf people at Suffolk machine and tell them what's going on and they will probably have a solution for you.

When the blade is not in the wood, do you see any up and down vibration? Ask about trying .042 blades or a different tooth set or hook angle. You might also want to consider trying some Wood-Mizer blades for the winter. I believe they have a frozen wood blade that might work better for you. Good luck... It's 11 degrees out today - no sawing for me.

From contributor R:
Contributor A, looking at your pictures it seems you are running steel scrapers against your steel wheels. Cook's wheels have the crowns, and the standard crown on a pulley is 1/8 inch per foot, which equates to about .010 per inch of width. If you do have steel against steel, do you see any signs of wear in the center of your crown? When I get interested in these things my mind starts racing for new and improved ideas.

I have an idea on your scrapers - you could attach a small spring to maintain a little constant pressure between the scraper and wheel. When I saw pine the pressure on my wheel scrapers really helps keep the buildup off the wheels along with the diesel fuel. The less pressure I run, the easier it is for the buildup to occur.

Contributor S, Bill has installed his energy chain and it is working like a charm. It involved a lot of changes, but he did a super looking job. He has his setworks mounted where that cow pile of a reel system the manufacturer refuses to fix was located. It's funny they have an energy chain system on one of their mills, but not on the most popular one. He is going to ship my energy chain to me soon, but in no hurry until spring.

The steel wheels are super and I acquired them used. The drive wheel was damaged during shipping and took a while to repair. TK wheels have no crown and I am in the process of making an arbor to mount them on so I can put them in a lathe and really true them and qualify the sides also. They are running out on the OD about .007" and Mr. Cook said this was within operating range, but they shoot for .003". Bill had steel wheels on his mill when he purchased it and was very helpful in my change over. The learning curve on the tracking was made much easier because of him.

I would love to have some pictures of your new linear actuator. TK wants $2400.00 to upgrade to their new system and I would also like some pictures of it. It could probably be built for a few hundred bucks.

From contributor A:
The steel band wheels are from Cooks.

I also can not stand the smell of diesel fuel, and with the felt system that wipes against the blade, I use so little of it.

Contributor R, this might be a little hard to explain. The scraper is only 3/16 wide and the wheel has a surface length of all most 60". That means that there is 320 times the surface area on the band wheel vs. the scraper. The scraper should wear out long before the wheel.

The steel wheels come crowned from Cooks. I only had to buy one set of the wheels, because when I bought the second mill, steel wheels were stock. It is amazing how much smoother the blade runs with steel wheels vs. belted wheels.

From contributor S:
What are your thoughts on flat vs crowned wheels? It seems like flat might be better if they are aligned real good, as crowned put a hump in the blade after running a while. I've had blades break where they cracked in the center of the blade first and both sides had fresh breaks. Cooks claims their blade roller helps to cut straighter, but it seems to me if you were running flat wheels you wouldn't need a roller.

Contributor R, my linear actuator works great, but was a tight fit and you would need a couple more wires to run it, which should be no problem if you get that energy chain going. Hard to believe TK won't get a real cord reel. I've had 0 problems with my setworks after I put a good one on. With my linear actuator I had to make the log dog stay upright for about 5 inches closest to the stops due to clearance with the hyd motor. I'm thinking of converting it to an electric window motor which should be a little more compact.

From contributor R:
Contributor A, I understand your application better now and also have to realize that the diesel will leave a film of lubrication on the wheel and blade.

Contributor S, thanks for the information and I understand from TK that the reason they switched to v-belt wheels was most people could not maintain proper tracking and the belted wheels were more forgiving. I am getting more board feet per blade, cuts are much smoother, and reduced the vibration caused by the v-belts on the drive wheels. The first blade I ran with the new steel wheels and diesel ran perfect and when I pulled it off after about 400 BF, it still had most of the writing on the outside of the blade. This showed it was tracking perfectly. Knock on wood I have not had a blade break with the steel wheels so far.

As to what I think about crowned versus flat wheels, they both should perform great and the crown is not enough to cause a real problem. I have worked on metal cutting band saws in manufacturing and without a crown, they will not track at all. That is why I was a little surprised to see that TK used flat wheels in the past. The crowned wheels may be a little easier to set the tracking. I will be happy with or without a crown because of all the advantages. As I stated above, I will never go back.

From contributor B:
I have used diesel in a squirt bottle for about 12 years. I have not had a blade breakage problem worse than what you would expect as being normal.

From the original questioner:
TK's part prices are out of control! I recently purchased Cook's 1-1/4" guide bearings but have not hooked them up yet, so I am still running TK's sandwiched bearings. Their prices fluctuate depending on whether they are having a good day or a bad day. I have seen anywhere between $2.50 and $17.75 for the same exact brand bearing. In the beginning I thought I would buy some bolts from them specific to my mill and they were around $4.00 each, and I picked them up locally for .30 cents.

What are the differences between flat and crowned steel wheels? Contributor A, your scrapers must eventually wear to match the crown of your wheels, but as they wear further from that, the scraper must start to ride the sides of the wheel, no? I see advantages of your scrapers for sure, and that maintaining them would just become routine maintenance. Due to the fact that this will induce wear on the steel wheels, would it be better to make the scrapers out of aluminum or some softer metal? I don't know if this extreme is possible, but could your wheels be balanced enough to have the scrapers fixed several thousandths away from the wheel?

From contributor A:
Yes, the scrapers do wear to match the wheels. No, they have not been on long enough for the sides to wear down. I tried to do what you are saying - putting the scrapers close to the band wheel and fixed. This did not work. It is plain and simple. This was my first attempt to help out the steel wheels. As you apply pressure to the band, it moves the wheel, either too close or not close enough. The floating scrapers work the best, no question. The idea came from the Morgan resaw I bought last summer. The scraper, I feel, would last for years with no maintenance and with the wheels being 320 times the length, should never wear out (within reason).

From contributor O:
If you have steel wheels, they have to have a crown for tracking. And the crown has to be put back into the wheels about every 2000 hours. Tires like in the picture do not need a crown and also need no water to keep the blade cool.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor A:
Water is not used to cool the blade. If the blade is getting hot, it is from being dull. The only reason diesel is used it to keep sawdust from sticking to the blade and the bandwheels. I don't expect to ever have the bandwheels recrowned. I guess we will see? How many hours has anyone run the steel wheels?

From contributor O:
The reason the sawdust is sticking to the blade is because the blade it hot. I can cut yellow pine and the sap doesn't stick to the blade.

From the original questioner:
Contributor O, I have seen you write about this so many times, and I do not understand it. In your picture, you can see that your guide bearings are completely coated in pitch buildup. I wonder why you have pitch buildup on your guide bearings, but not your blade.

Contributor A, I think that if anything lasts for years, that's great, but wouldn't it be better for the scrapers to be aluminum? Maybe aluminum would be too soft and wear to quick, but there must be some kind of material of the right hardness. Maybe that low friction plastic stuff some companies sell for machine fences and setups?

Maybe literally trying to reinvent the wheels becomes more time consuming than dealing with what you know works.

I am still using up my 5 gallon 50/50 mix of bar oil and diesel, am about halfway through it. I am anxious to try straight diesel, but want to fully experience what I have right now because it is working very well.

The only issue I am having now is sawdust sticking to both the top and bottom pieces in each cut I make while running the diesel oil mix in freezing conditions. It freezes up pretty badly, and I have to wire brush the sawdust off by hand and blow it off with my compressor at 150 psi. Maybe this is moisture freezing up from the log itself?

I do not see this as a set issue because I can run the very same blade in warmer weather with water or windshield washer fluid and blow off any excess sawdust with my compressor no problem.

Maybe the set would make a difference, but I am trying to find an alternative, for the set I have is perfect for black locust, and this wood is very finicky as to how low or high the set is.

I wonder how hard it would be to rig my 5 gallon tank with a safe heat source around all the sawdust. I think this might make sense and work best with my small wheels with v belts.

When I first started buying Timberwolf blades a few years ago, Tom there told me about the diesel/oil mix and I believe he said the diesel keeps the blade clean, and the oil keeps the v belt from rapidly deteriorating. If I run straight diesel will my v-belts deteriorate faster? It's weird how easily some things melt in contact with other things. I remember as a kid I had different plastic lures in my tackle box and when some of them contacted each other, the plastics melted themselves.

From contributor R:
I understand your point about the aluminum being softer than steel for the application. In most cases with aluminum running against steel or other hard material, it is gummy and will fill the pores of the steel and start building up like pitch. Hammered aluminum will work for bearings such as rod bearings in diesel locomotives. The hammering makes it denser and closes all the pores in the material. I'm not questioning anyone's applications, but in the machining world we never considered running steel against steel.

I tried the mix and the diesel seemed to dissolve a lot of the tackiness from the bar oil and the straight worked better, and metered through my system better. However you may watch for black residue on your cuts because when using v-belt wheels, the drive wheel will slip inside your blade and leave the residue from the belt on your lumber. As to the life of your v-belts, they should be fine and I used to change mine quite often even when using pin-sol and water.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor O:
I guess the reason the guide bearings are completely coated in pitch buildup is because of the gap between the blade and the bearing, and I didn't have the wiper down on the blade, which causes the sawdust that goes under the wiper to end up getting smashed and then ends up sticking on the bearings.

From contributor T:
I have found when cutting green frozen logs that you will get sawdust freezing on the cant and board. I use a stiff brush like a stable broom, and take it off right away. If you leave it on, especially with hard maple, pine or other white woods, you can run into problems with blue stain at stickers, once the warm weather returns.