Turning Trees Into Lumber

Turning Trees Into Lumber

How to Cut Your Own Lumber With a Portable SawMill

Dale, the Power Equipment Expert
Power Equipment Expert

Have you ever wished you could turn trees into your very own lumber? Maybe you've got some unsightly dead trees on your lot, and you'd like to make better use of them.

Whether you're looking to clear out an overgrown lot or a pile of old logs, you can turn that wood into lumber with your very own portable sawmill.

From small milling guides that attach to your chainsaw bar for hand-held milling to full-sized portable sawmills with their own dedicated engine, you'll find different kinds of sawmills available for any project, big or small.


Using the Right Sawmill for the Job

Choosing the right sawmill will depend on your reason for using it.

Portable Band Saw

Sawmills are traditionally large stationary band saws or circular saws with dedicated frames designed to guide logs to the blade in order to cut smooth, flat, even boards. However, these days you can find various styles of sawmills designed to be portable for milling lumber in the field.

Here, we'll focus more on portable sawmills and small, portable chainsaw mills. If you're clearing trees from a heavily wooded lot and would like a way to turn those felled trees into lumber that can be transported by truck or trailer to another location, a portable sawmill is the perfect solution.

Chainsaw MillUnlike large, stationary sawmills, portable sawmills don't require you to transport entire trees prior to milling. Milling your lumber on site instead provides several benefits:

  • Saves you the time you would spend preparing the tree for transport
  • Saves you the money you would spend moving the tree
  • Makes cleanup easy

Any sawdust produced during the milling process can be left outside, and the resulting lumber is much easier and more cost efficient to transport. 

Even if you plan to mill an entire lot of trees into lumber, you can find larger and more productive equipment for the task. 


Portable Bandsaw Mills

Quality Lumber Cuts with SawmillsFor more substantials jobs, there are larger portable sawmills. These sawmills have their own dedicated engines and saw blades.

Although circular sawmills were once popular, the industry has begun to focus more on bandsaw mills. Portable bandsaw mills work very much like a stationary sawmill, except that they're portable due to their low weight. They also offer other benefits:

  • Smoother cuts with a better finish
  • Less waste
  • Blades that are much more affordable to replace

Unlike stationary sawmills, most portable bandsaw mills don't have hydraulics to help move things along. They are instead manually operated, requiring that you guide the saw along the tracks by hand to cut through the log. However, while they're more labor-intensive than a stationary sawmill, they still allow you to mill lumber on site. 


Portable Chainsaw Mills

Benefits of Saw MillsPortable chainsaw mills, not to be confused with portable bandsaw mills, are small enough to carry in your hand. They attach to your chainsaw bar to guide your cut and produce planks from trees.

The greatest advantage these have over other larger sawmills is that you can effectively carry them through dense forest and rough terrain. You can use them in smaller spaces, not requiring you to find or create a clearing to set up your mill. 

When large storms sweep through, felling trees everywhere, there are bound to be quite a few good quality trees that most loggers and millers would never touch due to accessibility. Having a portable chainsaw mill allows you to trek on foot to reach those trees, mill them on the spot, and carry the lumber out with you.

What Chain Do I Use?

Ripping ChainWhen you're felling trees and limbs, you're cutting against the grain. With a sawmill, you are cutting with the grain to create lumber. The quality of your saw cuts will depend on the type and sharpness of your chainsaw chain.

Standard saw chain is designed for speed and cross-cutting, but when it's used with a mill, cuts will be jagged and rough. For the best quality cuts that will save you hours of finishing labor, get what's called a ripping chain.

Although it might look like a regular chain, a ripping chain is able to produce finer cuts due to the less aggressive angle and pitch of its teeth. You can find ripping chainsaw chains in the same pitch, gauge, and drive link count as your standard chain.


NEXT: How to Measure Your Bar & Chain for Replacement

Dale, the Power Equipment Expert
Power Equipment Expert
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