My Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
If you’re here because you’re trying to decide on a saw mill for personal use, I’ll give you some advice based my experiences. I did a lot of research before my purchase and here is what came out of it. Everybody’s need are a little different, so do a little research and pick the choice that fits your needs.
I wound up buying the Granberg Alaskan Mark III Mill. My purchase was based basically on price. I bought the 24” so the cost was between $150 and $200. I figured if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t out that much and a resale on ebay would result in a minimal loss. Luckily I was pretty pleasantly surprised.
My main focus for the mill was to build a couple of storage sheds. One would house my motorcycle; one was a garden shed and the like. I had access to some pine trees that fit the bill. I have less than $1000 in my setup including a new chainsaw, and I easily recouped my investment in the two sheds. I can’t really count the entire cost of the saw, because I was about to buy a new saw for fire wood anyhow.
I bought the 24” mill because I was going to run it on a Husqvarna 359. The Husqvarna 359 is a great saw, but just not big enough to run a mill unless you’re doing a very small amount of cutting. My budget allowed me to buy a Husqvarna 385XP. This saw is big enough for the amount of lumber I want to cut, but if I was cutting a lot of lumber, I’d like bigger. Don’t get me wrong, I did cut a little with the 359 before my 385 arrived. For small projects, it would suffice.
As for the choice of the mill? If you have continued access for lumber logs, and plan to cut larger amount of lumber, I’d go for a band saw mill. I’ve cut with a band saw mill, and they are a little easier and a quite a bit faster. The biggest drawback was the need for equipment to get the log on the mill. Cost is another huge factor of course. For a decent band mill we’re talking in the thousands of dollars. It’s still not a bad investment, just a longer return on your investment.
Think about size when you buy. I was lucky by cutting with my 24” bar before buying a new chainsaw. The 24” Granberg Alaskan Mark III Mill will cut 21” wide. To get the 21” cut you’ll need a 28” bar. You lose a little on both ends of the bar, mostly from the roller end.
Also think about the size of your logs. A 24” log sounds big, but here in the northeast, it really isn’t. I’ve cut logs up to 38” with my mill, but it take some manual cutting to get them down to the 21”. Bigger would have been better for the bigger logs, but the added weight of the mill would have been a huge drawback for me. You also start getting into the need for an added oiler, also adding to the weight and portability loss of the mill.
The main advantages of the Alaskan mill are the price and the portability. I throw it in the back of my truck, with a bucket of accessories, the gas and oil, an aluminum ladder, and off I go. I don’t have to worry about a trailer, a way to get logs moved, and the mess stays in the woods. If you don’t think about sawdust, think of this, with a 3/8” swath, you are grinding one 1” board for every three into sawdust. I’m not so worried about the loss of wood but the pile of sawdust in the end is much bigger than I expected. In the woods, its spread out and nature can take its course.
Depending on the size of the log, I’ve split them in haf with wedges, and just hand cut them forst to get them within size of the mill. It waist a little wood, but the savings makes up for it.
As for accessories, here is what I recommend. First, make yourself a couple of 2×4s for slabbing brackets. Granberg sells slabbing brackets, and to be fair I have never used them, but even a 2×4 is not high enough for a crooked log sometimes. I don’t see how the commercial brackets would work well unless all of your logs are nice and straight. I cut 2 – 2×4s at 20” (that’s 1“ smaller then the opening in the mill) and drill 1/4“ holes along the bottom. Then buy some ¼ x 4” lags. Spend the extra couple of dollars and buy a lag driver to fit your drill. The lags with the driver work SO much better than normal screws. It is a huge time saver.
Here is my Accessory list.
2- 21” x 2×4
4 – ¼ x 4 lags with ¼” washers
1- 2’ level
1 – 8” or 12” speed square (for squaring the second cut)
1 – Framing square (for squaring the second cut on larger logs)
1 – 3/8” drive socket with a ½” deep well socket.
1- Dremel type chain sharpener.
1 – Cant hook.
1 – Hearing protection
1- Aluminum ladder (make a wooden one if you don’t have access to an aluminum ladder heavy enough) I have actually acquired another shorter aluminum ladder for logs that are 4 or 5 feet in length. It just makes it easier. I had to cut a bent section off (that’s why I acquired it).
Next, buy a 3/8” drive Craftsman’s ratchet. Make sure you get the one with the lever to flip the rotation direction. This helps when changing the height of the mill with gloves on. Also get a 1/2” deep well socket. Trust me; the wrench that comes with the mill is slow and cumbersome.
When cutting, I make the first and second cuts on all my logs at once. This helps reduce the number of times I have to adjust the height of the mill. I then cut all 4” cuts or all 6” cuts next; I then cut the 4 or 6” slabs into 2 x stock for a finished board. I then make all 1” cuts and so on.
To make the first cut, I lag my 2×4s on both ends of the log to hold my ladder, trying to make the small end cut as small and possible and the large end to get a straight cant. I use an aluminum ladder most of the time. Depending how heavy your ladder is and how log your log is, you may have to support the center. Trial and error is the best teacher. I also drive 2 lags in the top of the 2×4 to hold the ladder from sliding from side to side. I may try adding some blocking instead, but I haven’t tried that yet. Its only been 5 or 6 years now, what’s the hurry.
For the second cut, I square the 2×4s off of the first cut. I bought a cheap plastic 8” speed square. Its plastic, bright orange and it was cheap! When I find a cheap plastic 12” speed square, I’ll buy that as well. For the larger logs I’ll still use the framing square. I have thought about making a wooden square, but haven’t tried that yet either.
In many of the post about the mills you will see references to the amount of work involved. I am 50 years old and work as a network engineer (not much exercise). I have however worked with a chainsaw all my life. The weight of the Husqvarna 385XP with a 28” bar, and the mill is pretty heavy. The lifting, bending pushing and pulling is pretty hard work. It is one more consideration to make for the band mill or at least the track style chainsaw mill. You lose some portability, but save a little heavy lifting. If you don’t have some fairly extensive chainsaw experience, I’d stay away from the chainsaw type of mill.
I’ve always just sharpened my saws with a file, but quickly bought a power sharpener for lumber cutting. You have to keep the saw a lot sharper than cutting fire wood and the 28” blade holds 93 teeth. The time spent filing was pretty substantial, and the sharpener just made it easier. I also quickly learned to turn the chainsaw upside down so I didn’t have to remove or readjust the mill to sharpen the saw.
If you’re like me, you’ll base your gas consumption on normal firewood cutting. I can cut a year’s worth of
firewood on a couple gallons of gas. Cutting lumber is totally different. I can go through 2 gallons of gas a day. The size of the log makes a big difference as well. Cutting an 8 foot log at close to full width (20” or 21”) will get me about three cuts on a tank of gas. Of course it also yields a board 20” or 21” wide and 8’ long. Cutting that down to a 12” cut however greatly increases its efficiency.
I haven’t figured out the whole chain saw chain dilemma. I can tell you different types of chain cut differently. Rip chains work a little smoother, but the difference isn’t a huge difference. If I have time to order a RIP chain I will. If not I’ll buy a regular chain and as I sharpen it, straighten the angle. Gradually filing them to a 0 degree angle does help a little. The chain that came with my saw was a low kickback 30 degree chain. It cut ok, but it gave a very rough cut.
Edit: April 2012
I’ve upgraded to a bandsaw mill. Here are the details.