Efficient Sawmilling Tips & Tricks. What is saw mill

Hull-Oakes Lumber Company and mill

The historic steam-powered sawmill complex of the Hull-Oakes Lumber Company occupies approximately twenty-eight acres on the east slope of the Coast Range in Monroe. Timber industry trade groups, including the Western Wood Products Association in Portland, consider the mill to be one of the last commercially viable steam-powered long and large log sawmills in the country—possibly the last such sawmill. National Register of Historic Places status in 1996 recognizes the mill’s regional importance as a rare example of a working mill that uses lumber manufacturing equipment and methods characteristic of the Steam Age.

Timberman Ralph Hull built the mill in the winter of 1938-1939 as the Ralph Hull Lumber Company. Hull was born on April 13, 1912, in an area known as Hell’s Canyon northwest of Monroe. His family raised cattle, goats, and sheep, and Hull grew up logging on the family’s stump ranch. He also observed his relatives working in the sawmill business and decided that sawmilling was the career for him.

In quick succession, beginning in 1934, Hull operated three mills near Monroe (two of them burned down). Hull bought the remains of his cousin Wes Miller’s sawmill and built the present mill on a former Southern Pacific railhead known as Dawson Station, a site occupied by sawmills since 1919. Three corporate configurations have guided the plant since 1955, the year Hull teamed up with Chester Oakes, a long-time logger in the area and Hull’s brother-in-law.

Traditionally, steam engines muscled the sawmills, making lumber on factory floors where workers courted death and injury amid flapping belts, chains, and vibrating bedlam. Computers and lasers frequently guide today’s lumber mills, which are considerably safer and quieter. Built in the vernacular tradition without benefit of formal plans, Ralph Hull’s mill is a rough-hewn place where function trumps form. Four steam engines initially drove the Depression-era plant. When electricity arrived in the 1950s, Hull gradually switched some systems to electrical power.

Built of heavy timbers, the sawmill contains massive machinery capable of sustaining the stresses of processing logs that weigh more than five tons. Twin boilers producing 150 pounds of steam drive a twin cylinder, eight-ton, 1906 Ames Iron Works steam engine that powers the mill’s primary lumber-cutting saw. A secondary steam engine powers the mill’s log carriage, which moves logs through the primary saw. Steam still drives 50 percent of the mill.

Mill output traditionally consists of dimension lumber and specialty products that involve the cutting in one pass of logs up to nine feet in diameter and eighty-five feet long to produce large Douglas-fir timbers. Custom-milled products have included bridge stringers, gold dredge beams, support planks for restoration of the frigate the U.S.S. Constitution, and lumber to rebuild the 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer, which ison display at San Francisco’s Maritime Museum. Entering the second decade of the twenty-first century, the mill produces slightly more than twenty million board feet of lumber a year—about half that in timbers.

Throughout its history, the labor-intensive mill has employed about sixty-five people, who have significantly contributed to Benton County’s economy.The mill was a stabilizing influence for the county’s economy during the Great Depression and World War II, and it provided steady jobs and products that were sold worldwide after the war. The Hull-Oakes Lumber Company mill is now run by Hull’s grandson, Todd Nystrom.

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Hull-Oakes Mill 19. Debris fed into furnace below boiler, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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SAWMILL TECH TIPS. Making Square Cuts on Your Sawmill

Hull-Oakes Mill 9. Squaring-up the timber, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 10. Cutting timbers, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 11. Debris chipper, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 12. Lumber carrier with finished dimensional lumber, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 13. Bandsaw, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 14. Sharpening bandsaw blade, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 15. Sharpening bandsaw blade, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 16. Old boiler currently used to store water, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 8. Log being cut, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 7. De-barking logs, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

4 Sawmill Hacks everyone is copying

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Hull-Oakes Mill 20. Steam engine, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 21. Gears for various equipment, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 22. Finished timbers ready for shipment, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 1. Approaching Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill from the east on Dawson Road, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 2. Unloading logs from trucks at Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 3. Sorting logs in pond at Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 4. Debris being routed to chipper, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 6. Log-lift hoisting logs out of pond, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Hull-Oakes Mill 17. Boiler, Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill, Feb. 2011. Photo Gary Katz, copyright thisiscarpentry.com

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Related Historical Records

Map This on the Oregon History WayFinder

The Oregon History Wayfinder is an interactive map that identifies significant places, people, and events in Oregon history.

Further Reading

Wisner, George B. “Hull-Oakes Lumber Company’s Steam-Powered Sawmill: A Case Study in Industrial Archaeology.” In Anthropology Northwest Number 10, edited by David R. Brauner. Corvallis. Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University, 1998.

©2020 Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society

The Oregon Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Federal Tax ID 93-0391599

©2020 Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society

The Oregon Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Federal Tax ID 93-0391599

Efficient Sawmilling Tips Tricks

Millers are always coming up with new ideas, tips tricks that make a better, more efficient sawmilling experience. Some ideas have been incorporated into the design of the mills, as we are constantly looking for ways to improve our mills. Others are listed below.

If you would like to contribute your own efficient sawmilling tip, send it through to us.

Cutting Patterns

Peterson Portable Sawmills are extremely versatile and able to make a number of different cuts for various purposes. These include flat (plain) sawing, quarter (grade) sawing, wide slabs and resawing, and tapers, beams and doublecuts.

Flat sawn boards are cut from the log where the growth rings run parallel to the wide faces of the board. Flat sawn lumber is the most commonly produced as it is very quick to cut and creates less waste.

The flat sawing method of cutting boards is great when dealing with high-tensioned logs. With the grain running parallel with the wide faces of the board, the boards will tend to bow upwards. Flat sawn boards have a lot of flex, therefore bowed boards can be straightened through correct fillet stacking and being weighted down during the drying process.

Flat sawn boards can be a disadvantage when used for applications such as treads on a staircase, as they can flex or bend when under pressure. They are great for applications where you will be nailing through the board, as they are less prone to splitting. It is also harder to match the grain when laminating boards together.

Quarter sawn boards are cut from the log where the growth rings run parallel to the narrow sides of the board. This style of cutting is considered to be the most ideal cut, and is more attractive than flat sawn lumber. Some species of trees such as oak reveal beautiful ray flecks when quarter sawn, and these boards are prized among furniture craftsman. Quarter sawn boards are much easier to match the grain when boards are laminated together.

For many sawmills, producing quarter sawn boards takes longer to cut, produces less board footage (cubage) and creates more waste. The flexibility of a Peterson Portable Sawmill makes cutting quarter sawn lumber an easy task with minimal effect to production figures, speed of cut and waste. The unique design of the Peterson Portable Sawmill allows you to cut quarter sawn boards directly from the log with no additional log or board handling.

Quarter sawn lumber produces a beautiful grain, which is ideal for use in areas on display such as cabinets and doors etc. Quarter sawn boards behave in the opposite manner to flat sawn lumber. They have a lot less flex because the grain runs perpendicular to the face of the board. Quarter sawn boards are quite stable and very strong, and are therefore ideal for use in weight-bearing applications.

When cutting quarter sawn lumber from high tensioned logs the grain will cause the board to bow like a banana. As quarter sawn boards are very strong, bending these boards straight is almost impossible, and for this reason we recommend flat sawing high tension logs.

Tapers are done with an attachment to obtain weatherboards/beveled siding straight off the log.

Beams and Double cuts are easily obtained with the Peterson without the need for turning the power head around, and by utilizing both sides of the blade. L-shapes are also obtainable, ideal for corners of houses, bench seats, etc.

One wide slab is attainable from every log without purchasing a slabber. After milling half way through the log, flip it onto the top of a half sawn log, and continue milling as per normal. If you don’t require a multiple of slabs this is an accurate, economical method of producing them. You then have the option of leaving a live edge for a rustic look, or flipping the blade to the vertical position and cutting the edge to leave a perfectly square slab.

Re-sawing is done in the same manner by placing the beam/board/slab on top of the half milled log, and then milling through it as per normal operation.

Tensioned logs are easier to cut with a Peterson mill because with only one blade cutting at a time, you are releasing the tension/stress slowly out of the log, keeping your boards much more uniform. For example, the majority of pressure that is put on the blade is when making horizontal cuts in high tensioned logs. If you are cutting 8″ wide boards the Peterson mill can make the cut in two passes (i.e. 2 x 4″ cuts), releasing the pressure slowly thus increasing the life of your blades.

Efficient Sawmilling When Cutting

Place a bottle cap over the lead-in adjustment bolt A, this will save you from having to play around with the lead-in adjustment every time you perform a double cut. When you have finished double cutting simply remove the bottle cap.

For holding logs in the right place, make yourself a couple of good large hardwood skids, and cut out a series of different sized notches as shown.

The smaller notches will hold small logs and should be first on the end you roll your logs in from

We also sell EZ Dogs which are placed on the bearers. This is very effective in holding logs of all sizes

efficient, sawmilling, tips, tricks, mill

Alternatively, you can cut yourself some wedges and use those effectively for wedging each side of large logs

When cutting low on a log that has tension, leave an edge on the right hand side of the log. This will give more support to the log and provide more accurate last boards and will stop the log from sagging and moving.

Try cutting the back-cut first. This allows you to visually line up the second cut with your standard cut. You can easily adjust the winch up or down to line up the cuts, without having to walk around to the other side of the mill.

If you wish to cut several boards that will later be glued together for table or bench tops, number each piece as it comes off the log. That way you can easily match the grain later after drying.

Leave a small ledge on the log, placing the board to be re-sawn next to it. Double-cut the board, so when pulling back on the mill, the blade forces the board against the ledge, and prevents any movement during the cutting process.

Before sharpening your blade, take the top slab off your log. The first slab dulls the blade the most, due to the large amount of grit and bark. Doing this first, will prolong the duration between sharpenings.

Leave a small uncut 5mm ledge before making the finished cut, so the ledge supports the weight of the double-width board. This offers an alternative to wedging.

It’s a good idea to do the vertical cut first when you’re at the bottom of a slab. If the horizontal cut shifts the slab sideways, the timber is already edged so your boards should still come off fine.

Log Placement For Efficient Sawmilling

Use a stick or similar to correctly line up the centres of both sides of an oddly shaped log with the mill tracks. This way you will optimise the output of hardwood (closer to the centre) as opposed to sapwood (closer to the bark). The track frame must be parallel for this to work.

Use three skids for bunk supports to stop the bottom slab from collapsing as it cuts. This will allow you to get maximum yield from any given log. It also stops the bottom slab from sagging or bouncing.

When positioning your Sawmilling Skids you need to keep in mind where your large diameter log center (Large Notch) needs to be.

You will also need to have at least a 6-8″ (170mm – 200mm) gap between the inside of your right hand track and the edge of your 8” X 12” (200mm – 300mm) Sawmilling skid this is to allow room for your loading roller to pass through when milling the last few boards out of your log.

For Double cutting you will need to allow enough room for your center unit to allow you to use the left side of your blade when cutting in the horizontal.

Sight the blade in both horizontal and vertical positions, to ensure that your log is parallel before you begin milling.

Make a pair of ramps easily, by first cutting an 8×8 beam. Put it back onto the log at an angle, and cut vertically as per normal. These can be used to help roll logs over your tracks easily. The weight of the beam will keep it in place as it is being cut.

When cutting low on a log that has tension, leave an edge on the right hand side of the log. This will give more support to the log and provide more accurate last boards and will stop the log from sagging and moving.

It is better to have the log on the ground during slabbing as this stops any sideways movement. If you are using skids, make sure they are big and have good notches.

If you are able to, angle your log on a downwards slope, so gravity helps to feed the slabber through the log. This helps prevent both operator and engine fatigue.

A lot of beginner sawyers cut V’s out of their log bunks to hold the log in place, but these often do not work. A better method is to cut out actual square notches as a guide 10”-12” (250 – 300mm) in length x 50mm in depth. Cutting large 8″ x 12″ bunks, rather than small supports, is also more beneficial.

If you are milling a lot of small diameter logs let’s say 200mm – 300mm (7.8″ – 11.8″) in diameter then you will need the EZ Dogs to secure the logs to your sawmilling skids which allow you to safely mill those small diameter logs.

If you are mainly milling medium – large diameter logs then you won’t need to use them and please note when you do use them and want to cut the last couple of boards out of the bottom of your log you will need to remove the 2 left hand EZ Dogs to get access to your log.

In most situations, EZ Dogs are the ideal log holding system as this prevents the spinning blade from moving the log.

You will need 2 pairs of EZ Dogs. The set includes 4 clamps and aluminium 6 spikes ( you have 2 spare spikes)

As you start to cut a vertical board, adjust the board remover so it slides next to the board. When you come to the horizontal cut, you will stop any sideways movements of either the mill or the log.

Take wind direction into account when setting up your mill, so as to avoid inhaling excess sawdust and exhaust fumes.

Portable Bandsaw Mill

This project is one of the first Pixel and Timber products of 2018. This powerful new tool borrows e-bike technology and the latest advances in thin kerf bandsaw blades to empower woodworkers to harvest their own lumber from urban trees felled due to disease, clearing or severe weather — turning an otherwise wasted resource into beautiful, sustainably harvested lumber.

Project Background

Most of the time, when a tree comes down or is taken down in your neighborhood — due to disease, severe weather, or removal — it is diced into manageable logs and hauled away to the nearest landfill. The landfill waste associated with managing urban forests is significant. Reclaiming this otherwise wasted urban wood for use as lumber is an opportunity to both reduce urban wood waste and reduce the cost of creating beautiful wooden objects for use or sale.

For woodworkers, the idea that any amount of valuable hardwood — let alone beautiful character wood with a story behind it — is being deposited in a landfill is a travesty. According to the U.S. Forest Service Education and Resource Center, “reclaimed wood from all dead and diseased trees could equal nearly one quarter of annual hardwood consumption in the United States.” What isn’t dumped in a landfill is most often recycled for firewood or mulch. And for arborists, this waste is a missed opportunity to turn cost into profit. According to David T. Damery Brian C.P. Kane of the University of Massachusetts, “finished wood products can bring as much as 100 per pound of material at the retail market place. Contrast this with the 90 per ton cost for tipping fees when disposing of wood debris.”

The Portable Bandsaw Mill

The portable bandsaw mill is exactly the tool a woodworker needs to turn fallen timber into usable lumber. With their thin (1/8″) kerf, these saws provide maximum output from every hour of a users’ labor by reducing the waste of every cut. Smaller mills can be moved easily in the bed of a truck and are stored in a small barn or large shed.

Despite its name, however, a portable saw mill still must be transported by truck or as an integrated trailer. And these devices force a user to maneuver a log to the mill — often requiring a skid steer to extract fallen urban wood from difficult-to-reach locations. It also costs a fair amount and can’t be easily moved to where a tree has naturally fallen. Due to its size, cost and the ancillary equipment required to support it, such a device is better suited to a user who wants to operate it as a business or as part of a larger business.

Because professional arborists and sawyers may be cutting thousands of board feet per year, to their profit, and are already likely to own the trucks, forklifts, or front end loaders used to transport the raw logs, the portable bandsaw mill is the right tool for professional users who can justify its cost and size. The woodworker who simply wants to extract otherwise wasted urban wood would find it hard to justify the cost and footprint of even the smallest commercial bandsaw mill.

The Alaskan Saw Mill

The Alaskan saw mill is a simple jig that attaches to a chainsaw, enabling it to rough cut boards at fixed depths along the length of a fallen log. The Alaskan saw mill provides a portable and low cost alternative to the portable bandsaw mill and couples this to extreme portability. This simple device allows a user to hike to fallen trees — inaccessible to vehicles — and extract boards without the high cost of owning a bandsaw mill and the heavy equipment required to feed it. For users who already own a professional chainsaw, the Alaskan saw mill is an affordable method for occasional milling and likely the best device currently available for woodworkers seeking to sustainably harvest urban wood.

The downside of the Alaskan sawmill is the wide kerf — often 1/4″ or more — associated with its chainsaw foundation. This means that for every four cuts taken out of a log, an entire 1″ board is wasted to sawdust. For the arborist making the decision between paying to waste drop this wasted wood at a landfill and making a profit on it, this inefficiency may be a non-issue. For the hobbyist trying to make the most out of every log and hour spent outside the woodshop, kerf waste of this magnitude can be an issue.

Just as fishermen who start with a spinning reel often switch to fly fishing and eventually to the purity of single fly Tenkara, woodworkers too eventually gravitate toward ever greater levels of purity in their work. The recent explosion of slab-based wood products is just one example of this phenomenon. Examples of live edge and slab furniture — those which celebrate the natural beauty of a large slab of wood — abound in craft ale houses, restaurants and condos as well as every copy of Dwell published since 2010 (along with perfect, albeit perpetually barefoot, children and bowls of green apples). For woodworkers wishing to embrace the purity of this type of work, merely purchasing (at exorbitant cost) a large slab can be dissatisfying. The desire to cut their own is a constant longing.

Quality Tools

Every craftsman has had the experience of buying a crappy tool and then begrudgingly buying the nice one that you should have bought later, after the crappy one fails. Experienced woodworkers have learned this lesson a hundred times. Those who make it a more serious hobby rarely fail to buy the very best tool they can afford, with the knowledge that it will save them time, money and frustration in the long run. With easy access to information and education, more amateur craftsmen are learning this lesson at ever earlier stages in their practice. Further, frustration with the proliferation of cheap, plastic junk is making zealots out of those who have already learned this lesson. Whether they are experienced or new woodworkers, any user of a Lee Nielsen hand plane will appreciate the rugged elegance of a design that marries high quality materials and processes with a simply functional design.

Tangential Technologies

Two exciting technologies that contributed to the development of this device are the proliferation of bicycle hub motors and extremely thin kerf bandsaw mill blades. The availability and increasing affordability of these two technologies make them perfect for adaptation to a new device targeted at a very tiny market — one in which producers can’t financially justify the invention of purpose-built motor technology, for example. The e-bike market has exploded over the last ten years — largely around advances in battery and hub motor technologies. Bicycle hub motors — permanent magnet DC motors with integrated planetary gearboxes — offer a low rpm, internally powered wheel with durable mounting components (e.g. 10. 12mm axles). And thin kerf (.025035 in.) bandsaw blades are likely to allow the use of smaller diameter bandsaw wheels (without causing blade fatigue and failure) and lower torque motors.

Product Description

Our design for a portable bandsaw mill marries thin kerf blade technology with dual 500. 3000w bicycle hub motors and a simple structure inspired by a traditional frame saw. This device allows users who are not professional sawmill operators to mill urban wood on-site with neither the heavy machinery of a portable saw mill nor the kerf waste of an Alaskan saw mill, providing maximum leverage to a user with a minimum footprint.

Electrical: To compete with high powered Alaskan saw mills, this design takes advantage of emerging hub motor technology from the e-bike market. Brushless DC motors are paired with an integrated planetary gearbox to deliver extremely high torque at relatively low RPMs. Hub motors are available in multiple levels of output ranging from relatively low power 500W (2/3 HP) to 3000W (4 HP). Providing higher torque than their gas-powered contemporaries and used in tandem with a thin kerf blade, this device should deliver all of the power of an Alaskan saw mill with less kerf waste and much less noise. The device will be wired and able to be powered from a truck, building, portable generator or e-bike battery pack. A Shore 80A urethane wheel is cast around each hub motor (with a mechanical bond through each spoke hole) to increase its diameter and enhance friction on the blade. The motor controller and inverter are housed off-board in a IPX6-rated enclosure cast in glass-filled urethane.

Mechanical: The frame of the device is inspired by a traditional frame saw. it utilizes a 1.25″ square woven carbon fiber tube as its main compression member. A pair of machined aluminum forks bookend this tube and pivot around an end cap which incorporates an auxiliary handle. Tension is applied to the blade by a rod that runs above the main tube and is threaded on both ends into a pair of opposing aluminum tie rod ends. A flat plate is mounted to the compression tube and can be adjusted up or down to determine the thickness of the slab to be cut. The plate is long (like a jointer plane) to ensure a cut that is consistently parallel to its guide. Adjustment rods can be moved independently and pivot at their base for angled cuts. Square carbon tubes ensure alignment, and a small window in each clamp allows operators to see depth markings (not shown).

Usability and Safety: The vertical handle is for pushing the saw along the length of the log and houses the trigger which activates the device. The horizontal handle steadies it. For safety, the device can only be operated when both triggers are depressed. This prevents an enterprising operator from trying to manhandle the saw by himself and ensures that both sides of this high torque device are secure before it’s started. A pair of mirrored bearing sets guide the cutting portion of the blade and prevent it from riding off of the wheels. A pair of matched covers protect operators from the blade. Each cover is cast in glass-filled urethane to capture and absorb the energy of a blade that comes loose (rather than letting it rattle through a steel guard and into its operator).

Take wood milling to the next level with one of these high-performance tools.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Sooner or later, homesteaders and folks who regularly convert trees into usable (and valuable) lumber may wish to own a portable sawmill. These devices consist of a track that clamps onto a log, allowing the user to make straight cuts accurately. While chainsaw mills are a cost-effective option for modest-size logs and low production, serious sawing demands a step up in scale.

Fortunately, there are plenty of high-performance machines to choose from and a wide variety of specifications to suit different needs. Those new to these types of sawmills should learn which features provide real value. Our concise look at the best portable sawmills currently available will help buyers find the right solution.

How We Chose the Best Portable Sawmills

I have considerable experience using chainsaws and with small-scale milling, so although these portable wood mills are larger and more powerful, I do have a thorough understanding of the engineering.

To support my own knowledge, the Bob Vila team researched all the leading brands and the specifications of machines they offer. We considered mobility, cutting capacities, and cost. We also compared results from other reputable portable sawmill reviews.

Rather than simply comparing similar tools, we aimed to provide examples of the best portable sawmills at various levels of productivity. In doing so, we’ve discovered products for a range of users, from small homesteaders to full-time logging professionals.

TimberKing 1220CRZ Portable Sawmill

When looking into the manufacturer of the best portable sawmill, we found the TimberKing brand consistently ranked highly in independent reviews and on homesteader websites. The company has been making portable sawmills since 1929, and it has an unrivaled reputation for performance and durability.

Unlike cheap portable sawmills that need to be carried to and from a site, the TimberKing 1220CRZ is fully mobile with pneumatic tires and standard vehicle hookup. The immensely strong frame is made from 2×6 box beam steel. It is heavily cross braced to resist the flex under load. The saw head is supported by four posts, further adding to the impressive rigidity that ensures accurate cutting. Saw drive comes from a powerful and very reliable 23-horsepower v-twin motor that has push-button electric starting.

The TimberKing 1220CRZ takes logs up to 33 inches in diameter and over 17 feet long. Board thickness is set with a hand crank, with a depth gauge that allows remarkably precise cutting to 1/32 inch. Feed is also by hand crank. It takes a little practice to produce consistently smooth cuts, and it can be tiring when working all day, but it is far less expensive than hydraulic models.

  • Maximum log diameter: 33 inches
  • Maximum log length: 17 feet, 9 inches
  • Power unit: 23-horsepower V-twin with electric start
  • A 4-post head provides rigid saw support for consistently accurate cutting
  • The heavy-duty cutting deck resists flex and offers terrific durability
  • The American-made V-twin engine is both powerful and reliable

Get the TimberKing portable sawmill at TimberKing.

Other Product Recommendations

The following machines are also excellent and, depending on individual requirements, deserve further investigation.

Best Bang for the Buck: Sawyer Portable Sawmill

With a maximum log diameter of 21 inches, this Sawyer is a small portable sawmill at a budget price. Assembly is required.

Available at Hud-son.

Best Mid-Range: Norwood LumberMate LM30

This model has a maximum log diameter of 30 inches and comes with a wide choice of power units and custom add-ons.

Available at Norwood Sawmills.

Best Hydraulic Loading: Wood-Mizer LT35

Large diameter logs can be very heavy, especially hardwoods like oak. This model makes work easier with hydraulic lifting of logs up to 32 inches across.

Available at Wood-Mizer.

Best Chainsaw Mill: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV

Chainsaw mills remain a budget-friendly option for those with modest needs, and the highly rated Granberg can accept chainsaws with bars of up to 36 inches.

Available at Amazon.


Beyond trying to decide on the best portable sawmill for one’s needs, a number of questions associated with machine operation and productivity crop up regularly. The following provides clear, concise answers.

Q. Is it cheaper to mill your own lumber?

There’s no easy answer to this question. Even comparatively cheap portable sawmills demand a significant investment (see below). If you just need a couple dozen 2x4s for a project, it will probably be cost effective to buy them at your local big box DIY store or lumber yard.

On the other hand, if you regularly fell your own trees or have access to a supply of whole logs, owning a portable sawmilling machine can not only save a lot of money over time, but also gives complete control over lumber quality. Buying a used portable sawmill can be a cost-saving option, but expertise is required to assess the condition of these machines. It’s not something we would recommend to novices.

Q. How much does a portable sawmill cost?

The cost of a portable sawmill varies considerably. The above article includes some excellent examples from across much of the price range. High-quality entry-level portable sawmills start at around 2,500 for self-assembly models or somewhere over 3,000 assembled. At the other end of the scale, those with big capacities and hydraulic log lifters can top 50,000.

Q.How long do the blades last on a portable sawmill?

Leading portable sawmill brand Wood-Mizer recommends changing blades for fresh ones every 1½ hours. A random sample of users gave figures of three to six blade changes per day. Much depends on the wood being milled, however. Softwoods like pine saw much more easily than oak, for example.

Running a blade when blunt is false economy, as it’s one of the main causes of blade breakage. Sharpening services are widely available, or you could do it yourself using a jig and a rotary tool.

Q. How long should logs dry before sawing?

Logs should be sawed (milled) as soon as possible after felling. There is no advantage in leaving them on the ground. In fact, doing so might attract beetles and fungi that cause damage. Once milled, lumber requires time to dry properly: The general rule is 1 year per inch of board thickness. Commercial operations often use large drying sheds (called kilns) to speed up the process.

Why Trust Bob Vila

Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.

Tools and machinery specialist Bob Beacham has been writing consumer advice articles for national publications for more than a decade. He comes from a farming background, is a qualified mechanical engineer, and ran his own woodshop for a decade. He has a reputation for providing information that is thorough yet easy to understand.

Tips for Buying Wood From a Sawmill

If you work with wood products frequently, you may have thought about purchasing lumber directly from a sawmill. While there are many advantages to buying wood straight from a mill, it can be a little intimidating the first time you do it. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you feel confident buying wood from a sawmill for the first time.

Why Purchase from a Sawmill

Purchasing your lumber from a sawmill may sound intimidating, but there are many benefits to buying your wood directly from the source. Not only does purchasing directly from the mill help keep low, but it can also be a more sustainable option than when you buy material from a big box store. When you purchase from a sawmill, there’s a big chance your salesperson will have a general idea of where the logs came from and how they were harvested. Knowing where your materials come from is essential for being a responsible consumer of this sustainable, renewable building material.


When you contact a sawmill, the first thing you should know is the dimensions of the lumber you need. Whether you’re looking for timbers, lumber, siding, or flooring, we will need to know what size material you have in mind.

When you purchase lumber, the order in which you say the dimensions matters. When you tell the salesperson what you’re looking for, you should ask for the thickness in inches, the width in inches, and the length in feet. For example, if you need a piece that is 1-inch thick, 6-inches wide, and 8-feet long, you would ask for a 1 by 6 by 8. By following this rule, you can avoid any unnecessary confusion and ensure you’re getting exactly what you need.

How Much Material Do You Need?

Knowing how much material you need for your project is a must. Most likely, your salesperson will be fluent in square foot, board foot, and linear foot calculations. Providing one of these units of measurement or a piece count to your salesperson should be enough to get them started. Just make sure you have some idea of what you need before stopping by.

Some sawmills have a minimum order quantity, so don’t be surprised if you can’t purchase only one or two boards at a time. It might be a good idea to call ahead and see if you can pick up lumber the same day or if you need to order a few days in advance.

Have an Idea of the Look You Like

It’s important to know what you like and what the sawmill offers. Every mill is different, and some may offer more services than others. At Marks Lumber, we are a mid-sized sawmill specializing in circle sawn Douglas fir material. All the materials we sell are a rough sawn texture. While rough sawn lumber can be used in all the same applications as smooth material, it may not be the look you’re after for every given project. If that’s the case, you may have to search for another local supplier to fill your needs.

Be Prepared for Questions

At Marks Lumber, our qualified sales team wants to make sure you’re getting the best material for your project. That’s why the first question you hear from us is often something along the lines of “What are you using that for?” Basically, what the person wants to know is what grade of lumber will be best for your project.

Sawmills have multiple grades of material that have been carefully sorted to ensure you receive the best wood for your project. For example, a Select Grade piece will be more of an appearance grade, with minimal knots, wane, twist, or crook to them. This grade is often used for house applications, such as trim, trusses, furniture, or cabinetry. On the other hand, a #2 or #3 Grade piece is a more industrial style piece where knots, twist, and bow is allowed to some extent. These lower grades can be used for fencing, sidings on outbuildings, or landscaping applications.

Looking to start buying material directly from the source? Contact Marks Lumber today to learn more about product offerings and how we can help you with your next project.

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