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Chainsaw Mill Build, Use & Tips n Tricks

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Hello. In this instructable we will see how to make a chainsaw mill, how to use it, and discuss some tips and tricks to the hidden and mystical art of planking up fallen trees. Welcome aboard! (If you like what you see please give us a vote for the laser contest - a laser would help our little workshop on a lot :))

We have recently had some crazy stormage here in the UK, and the number of wind felled trees about is fairly distressing. Much of these trees have fantastic timber that could be used in any number of woodworking projects, but are destined to be firewood, chipped or simply rot where they lay. A chainsaw mill is the relatively cheap and portable way to turn them into some beautiful planks.   

If you know you want to build one, you can skip the rest of this intro and get stuck in to step1, or even step 2 if your quite familiar with how chainsaw mills work .

Chainsaw Mill vs Bandsaw mill?

For a long time I didn't want anything to do with chainsaw mills, seeing them as hugely inferior to a bandsaw mill. Chainsaw mills cut with a big fat chain running on a stiff metal guide bar; that gives us a number of disadvantages:
1. the kerf left by the chain (that is the amount of material removed to make a cut) is much greater for a chainsaw mill.
2. Thus it produces far more waste,
3. Cuts are much slower.
4. Chainsaw milling can be (is) hard on the saw. I use an ms440 which has a 70cc engine, this is really on the limit of what you can get away with - bigger is better, though thinner softer wood is obviously easier going. If you love your saw and hate chainsaw maintenance, this may not be for you.   

But it has some plus points as well: because the chainsaw's guide bar is relatively rigid, with good technique it can be used to make very accurate, straight cuts, even on huge slabs.

So that's a like for like comparison, and in general the bandsaw wins out for sure. But like most tool choices, the circumstances, and intended use are key. So when is a Chainsaw mill better?   

1. It requires much less time and money to build a chainsaw mill, so it is a good choice for hobbyists, DIY woodworkers, and people who might own a little bit of woodland.
2. They are far more mobile than a bandsaw. This means you can take your sawmill to the fallen tree almost anywhere, plank up and carry out... So ideal for restricted access, and steep hilly areas where fallen trees would otherwise be left to rot.
3. Related to that, they don't require expensive heavy duty skidding machinery, and are thus less environmentally damaging (although illegal logging with chainsaws is a different sad story). The waste timber from chainsaw milling can be easily left in situ to nourish the soil.  
4. They can be used on odd shaped timber - curved logs and ones with other funky non-conforming  features can be planked more easily.
 
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AARENAARON2 months ago

This is Good one... congrats bongodrummer... u did a Good Job :)

Matt2 Silver3 months ago

Hi bongodrummer,

First off let me say that this is a fantastic Instructable, it's smart, well documented, and like others have said, pays attention to the important safety issues related to chain saw use. I'm curious, do you have a rough idea of the build cost for your chainsaw mill? (not including the cost of the saw of course).

bongodrummer (author)  Matt2 Silver3 months ago

Hi Matt, thanks for the comment. I would estimate about £70 for the alu extrusion, £100 when you add up bits n bobs, tax and delivery. Though obviously it will vary depending on what you have already in terms of nuts n bolts and whatnot.

Thanks Bongodrummer,

All together that works out to roughly 230 USD if anyone else was wondering about the price. Thanks again for posting, My dad worked as a logger for many years in his younger days and I do a considerable bit of wood working so this project is right up our ally.

oh wait, it occurs to me that I may have mix understood you. did you mean 70+100, or 70 for extrusions plus another 30 for bits and bobs to equal a grand total of 100? If you meant the 100 total then the USD cost of the build would be roughly $140.

bongodrummer (author)  Matt2 Silver3 months ago
Yep, grand total closer to $140 :)
mpwilson3 months ago

Yeah, I've been worried about material loss due to kerf width alone. I've got a few acres with some really juicy looking specimens just dying to be milled.

Definitely going to give this another serious look. Thanks o/

britebulb3 months ago

I am not surprised on the number of replies you received. This is one of, if not the most informative and comprehensive Instructable I have ever read and I have read many. Great job.

P.S. If you do decide to do the Band Saw project make sure you post the information where to send the $10.00.

Thanks again on a excellent Instructable.

bongodrummer (author)  britebulb3 months ago
Hay britebulb, thanks!! :)
grapenut4 months ago
Well that's very interesting; here's my input/idea(s):
1. I almost immediately wondered how much better a band saw might actually work as I read this; probably in large part because you had alluded to the band saw a number of times. I am not very familiar with band saws, so I was wondering a few things about band saws; such as (a) since band saws aren't really as popular/common as CSaws, are they approximately the same price range or ar they way more than Csaws. (b) would it be a gas powered band saw, like the Csaw? or would it be an electric motor, band saw requiring a portable generator? In either case I would assume the band saw would be similarly portable as the CS is. At any rate as you can see, if such portable band saws exist, I know nothing of them.
2. and more importantly; I would be interested in your plans/group funding, etc... Here's what I'm thinking. I know someone who used amazon 'kickstarter' to crowd fund a book publishing, I think 'kickstarter' can also be used to start a busness...there may be other ways; but Amazon is pretty well trusted. I think they take 5% admin fee but I'm not too sure...here's the link and facebook info for the person I know who published a book using kickstarter:
Dianne Strong shared a link via Kickstarter.
March 5.Thanks to the 180 backers who forked over $23,406 to make Kimiuo Aisek's biography a book you can hold in your hand, read and enjoy. You are part of a billion dollars changing hands on Kickstarter's web site.
One Billion Dollars
www.kickstarter.com
Whoa! Over $1 billion has been pledged to projects on Kickstarter
bongodrummer (author)  grapenut4 months ago

Hi Grapenut (saying that makes me chuckle), Thanks a lot for your imput/thoughts. Points addressed in order:

1.Like I mention in the intro, bandsaw mills have a lot to advertise them: they are way faster than chainsaw mills, they can waste less wood when working well, and they can be less setup time and effort in general (all these points vary quite a lot depending on the quality of the bandmill).

1(a) To buy bandsaw mills, in general, are more expensive – they vary in price a lot (depending on country and quality), from about $4,000 to $40,000 for ones with hydraulic feed and log management (rolling and lifting onto the mill bed).

1(b) I like the idea of having a reasonably easily interchangeable drive unit – electric motors are great when using on-site (much less noise – not working in a cloud of engine fumes, possibility of using battery banks with renewables to charge etc.), IC engine is good for mobility, so some form of quick & easy change would be ideal. Using a generator may be a solution for mobile applications – more research needed – but I doubt it as it would need to be quite big (hard to move about and expensive).

Bandsaw mills are not anything like as portable as CS mills. In general they run on a fixed steel track, which the log to be cut is mounted on. Mobile bandsaws, use a sota heavy duty trailer frame as the track and can be towed by a vehicle, but require flat ground and good access. This is probably THE key advantage of the CS mill over a bandmill.

The point of the project would be 1. to give good impartial information on all the options and designs, and 2. Come up with a relatively cheap way to construct a bandsaw mill that works very well, clicks into a matching log arch (becomes a mobile mill) when needed, and is reasonably easy to make.

2. Kickstarter is a very impressive development. I have had a lazy eye on it for a while. What I am not sure of is if people would be willing to fund research projects whose output would be open and free for all. I could think up some special set of rewards – like a special edition hardback copy for backers, and other stuff, but essentially I would like it to be free to anyone. I would work through various designs and prototypes while devising and documenting a build methodology – which would be the output, probably in the form of a book (with lots of vids and things to go with).

Anyway, thanks again for your interest. Judging by the silence here, it's not looking likely, at least at the moment. In some ways I think this project missed the boat as the bulk of the views seem to be in the first week of publishing. Unsure.

I think 'open and free' is definitely the way to go. I'm no expert, but I think there is actually a fair bit of historical precedent that suggests 'open and free' or atleast 'open and cheap' works out for the best for everyone (eg- band members, authors, etc..)
My 2cents here (just off the top of my head) is why not do both? 'open and free' and 'open and cheap?'
Maybe it is possible to self publish the whole thing on all the popular Ereader formats for say $1.99 USD/ 1.2 GBP
The whole thing could still be available elswhere in PDF or such for free. Many people (like myself) would prefer the convenience of Ereader ready format for such a low fee. Backers can be given multiple (5 or 6) Ecopies to share/gift to family, and neighbors...
I think kickstarter will allow many interested parties to pre-purchase their copies (FYI- I think this is one of the ways kickstarter helps you get your initial capital; however, if you don't reach your intended goal (target $ amount) by a specified time; kickstarter cancells the whole project and refunds everyone's money...) I see many possibilities however; and since you can be your own publisher, I am guessing you are the one who can authorize a free and open format to be out there...
Dave555554 months ago

WOW!! I saw this & then played it for several of my buds. We were VERY impressed by so MANY elements of your instructable:

#1. SAFETY & RESPECT: you write, talk, and show your respect for safety. After watching you, all of us sort of admitted that we were taking too many short-cuts with our power tools. Personally, I am now more careful around my machines & I now take the time to fully kit-up. . . . You even reminded us to respect our living trees. THANKS!

#2. COMPREHENSIVE: this was very-very easy to understand because you took a lot of time to include drawings, links, references, voice-overs & good editing.

#3. CREATIVE: you have created a great CS system that produces quality cuts in hard to reach locations. We plan to make your CS unit a "community" tool & assist each other with wedging/set up/safety. I don't think we could ever operate this solo.

In summary, all of us want you to win - we all voted you "best." . . . . dave & neighbors in austin, texas

bongodrummer (author)  Dave555554 months ago

Hey dave & neighbors in Texas! Really appreciate you taking the time to say that, thanks. I love your idea of making it a community tool that you share and help each other with. CS milling is definitely much easier with other people. I would love to see a little vid or some photos of your set-up when you get something together...

Remember to guard the far end of the saw chain if you plan on using the mill together ;)

Arghus4 months ago

I could write a nice comment if my mind wasn't blown with this instructable. so i am just gonna say Thank you

bongodrummer (author)  Arghus4 months ago

Awww, go on, I love nice comments. Maybe when your mind reintegrates :-P

Well; I have been trying for days to tell you what an amazing instructable this is. I would have never thought this type of thing was within my grasp; now that I have read your amazing (really one of the best I've ever read) ible, I feel this is a bit of a possibility. Your CS is a serious saw compared to most I've seen for firewood (in my circles), etc...but still; in the true spirit of the Instructable; you've taken the seemingly out-of-reach, and broken it down for us, in order to expand each of our possibilities to beyond...previous possibilities...
Anyway, as for why I couldn't comment earlier; all comments and commenting abilities dissappeared AFTER I logged into Insructables on this computer. (so I had to follow you, and reply to a comment you made to someone else, in order to tell you what an amazing job I thought you did with this instructable. I voted for all 3??? contests you were in; hope you win something)
bongodrummer (author)  grapenut4 months ago

Wow, thanks Grapenut! That really means a lot to me, I’m grinning wildly.

A speculative question open to all: I am toying with the idea of doing a similar, but more comprehensive research and build project, based on a bandsaw mill. What I really want to do is create an affordable, super effective and somewhat unique build method for a bandsaw mill, and publish an open source guide. It would probably take the formatt of a book (both printed and epub) or similar, and be a really complete reference/build guide/plans for milling with a bandmill. The question is, would anyone reading this be
willing to help crowd fund such an undertaking?

In the week or so this instructable has been up it has been viewed just over 70k times, so I guess it is at least interesting to people. If half a percent of those viewers (350 people) were willing to pledge say $10, to make such a research/build project happen, it might be a possibility...

Anyone have any comments or thoughts on how viable such a
project might be? I would really love to here them...

drodge4 months ago

Thank you!!! I was just working through this exact problem in my mind this weekend, trying to figure out how to use some large logs I have on my property. This tells me I wasn't completely crazy.

threeacres4 months ago

Thanks for your informative write up. I've been watching a neighbor cut slabs from a 18 ft. Doug Fir trunk free-hand with a chain saw for raised garden beds (he did a great job, but very strenuous) and it had got me thinking about buying a chain saw mill. But now I think I will tackle building one from scratch. I've got a fallen Oak that it would be nicer to do something creative with rather than just cut it up for fire wood. I especially like the idea of using the ladder as the guide. Cheers from California!

bongodrummer (author)  threeacres4 months ago
Hi there in California! Thanks for the comment! I know people do freehand CS milling, and I have done small 3ft boards (badly), but doing a whole long log is just very impressive/skilful/crazy.
In terms of milling with a jig like the one here, I recommend practising on something small & soft first to iron out the kinks before taking on a nice oak. Let me know how you get on if you go for it :)
davidem4 months ago

WOW probably the best instructable I've seen really inspiring, I'm sending a link to my son who works at Hestercombe House ,they lost some nice trees in the storm and we were talking about milling at the weekend , well done

bongodrummer (author)  davidem4 months ago

Oooo, there is probably some BIG slab possibilities there then. Let me know how it goes. Double power-head or large chainsaw...

I actually pass that way occasionally to visit my mother-in-law. Hestercombe gardens look very nice from the photos, will have to pop in.

mikemehak4 months ago
Great work, good write up and slick setup. I've had really good luck with a 0° rip chain and find it cuts better and is easier on the saw.
bongodrummer (author)  mikemehak4 months ago

Thanks Mike, I have only used a 15° rip chain, and the normal cross cut... Will have to try a 0° at some point, but at the moment I want to save for a bigger saw so I can make BIG wide slabs :) Though it is interesting you say it is easier on the saw... How much easier would you say? make of chain?

My rip-chain is an oregon. I have not used it since last year, but I think it's a skip tooth. It's what the local shop stocked. Chainsaw milling isn't overly popular around here. I wouldn't say it's easier enough to warrant not buying a bigger saw, but I found it cleared the shavings easier and allowed the saw to gravity feed better. If you are buying a bigger dedicated saw, then I would definitely go with trying a rip chain, or just making your own. It does seem to make a nice cut. Eventually I would like to get a bigger saw so I can do big 36" live slabs for tables and such. But then I question if I should just spend that money and get a used band mill setup.

I do chainsaw carving, so all my regular chains are filed at a good middle angle as I'm making cuts in various directions.

bongodrummer (author)  mikemehak4 months ago

Interesting. I have wanted to try the Granberg ripping chain, which has scorers followed by 0° cutters to clear the waste - it sounds very sensible in theory, but no one seems to rave about them in practice... I think they would be a bit easier on the saw too.

I know what you mean about the bandmill - that's been on my to-build project wish list for as long as I can remember. The two problems we have is that the woods here abouts is very steep - difficult to haul logs off of (especially big ones). The second thing is that we don't have a tractor - so even on the flatish areas we wouldn't be able to move big logs about. A tractor is a big investment... That's the beauty of the CS mill I guess.

I use my 4x4 Low and rope when I can :D

I'd love to use this on some of my fallen Eastern Red Cedar to make slabs for various purposes. :)

Thanks for this instructable, I'm going to try this! :)

Definitely the coolest thing about chainsaw mills is they are super portable. You can bring it off in the bush and mill your logs. I would love to have money to buy a husqvarna 3120 or similar milling saw so I could mill any size log.

boxcarmj4 months ago

Hi, very nice project and well presented!

Mike.

bongodrummer (author)  boxcarmj4 months ago

Thanks Mike :)

Buckshott004 months ago

Hey Guy, Nice Instructable, not trying nit pick, but those extruded aluminum have end corner pieces so you don't have to drill or tap anything your self. You can put it all together with an allen wrench / hex key and a little "persuasion" via mallet.

bongodrummer (author)  Buckshott004 months ago

Hi Buckshott. Yep that's true, but... They are quite expensive for what they are - especially here in the uk. I also think it is hard to beat the strength of a direct tapped and bolted joint. The triangular reinforcement corner pieces you can see in some of the photos help with rigidity, but I use them sparingly in strategic places, and wouldn't want to use them exclusively to make a joint. They are also expensive.

ddw_az4 months ago

as many have said, good job. I saw the Timberking 2000 mill at the Eugene Oregon Logging show. it looked like a good sturdy bandsaw mill. I also saw one or 2 chainsaw mills. i think i would have a bandsaw for production, and a chainsaw to reduce a oversize log, or crooked one. I like yours since it is mostly off-the-shelf parts.

Eugene Logging Conference

http://www.oregonloggingconference.com/

http://www.oregonloggingconference.com/directory/s...

Timberking 2000 - Time lapsed

Vodika4 months ago

Ok after I have viewed it to the end, this is great ! I would not have a problem making this or running one, but at first I was leery.

Vodika4 months ago

I am not really seeing, how are you keeping it from twisting and having a uneven cut ? and I guess I need to look at the next few steps but what is moving the log or does the saw move back and forth ?

Vodika4 months ago

This is a good one, can't wait to get one put together Thank you

bandonloren4 months ago

Chainsaw Lumbermaking by Will Mallof 1982, The Taunton Press has information on building a mill out of scrap 2 x 4's and some steel. Also he sets up his top guide then drops the saw down all the way for the first cut. Raising the blade for each additional cut.

bongodrummer (author)  bandonloren4 months ago

Hi brandon, sounds like a good book. Any ideas where to get hold of it - seems very expensive the few places I could find it...

Starting from the bottom is an interesting strategy- and if the mill is quick and easy to accurately adjust then it makes some sense I suppose. I think there could be stability issues if the log is on a slope, as the big heavy top part of the log could slide if you make the bottom cut first.

I'm imagining you wouldn't have to take off the to straight edge until the very end, what are the advantages of doing it that way?

rh3d4 months ago
Fantastic post! I have always wanted to do this. Time to dust off my Kevlar chaps and give it a go. Thank you for sharing.
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