Chain or band? Which mill? What to choose?
I did a quick search for chain saw mill, and some of the forum threads I found were rather discouraging. But looking at the comments, I realized that I had to deal with those “go big or go home” fellas. You know, those morons that boldly states that you need professional grade equipment that costs thousands of dollars in order to do the most basic tasks. You simply do not need a fancy ESAB MIG welder to lay down a few beads a year – most big box stores sells perfectly adequate equipment for the odd use. Neither do you need a 20HP chain saw with an eight foot bar to get stuff done (I am exaggerating, but not that much…). You can get stuff done with rudimentary equipment and methods. Remember that jerry-rigged setup I showed before? This is the slab I got using three planks and four screws:
When it comes to making lumber from timber, you need to consider several factors in order to determine what saw mill you should go for. Only you can do your homework based on your situation, but let me show you how I look at it from my perspective. Maybe that can give you a few ideas and pointers.
- Cost. A band saw mill is expensive, and it can do one thing. You also need some arrangement for sharpening the blades – either a dedicated machine or send the dull blades away to someone providing a sharpening service. A big enough chain saw is expensive, but it can do a lot more than cutting slabs. A chain saw sawmill can be cheap (like mine) or on the expensive side like the Norlog (former Logosol) units.
- Placement. A band saw takes up a lot of space. The saw head and the track needs to be set up permanently (unless you get a trailerable model, and those puppies cost a few pretty pennies!). A chain saw mill can be brought on site if need be – straight out in the forest. There is no need for a level surface to set it up, although it would be much more convenient to have a dedicated setup. Such a setup could be a knock-down solution, and there is no need for it to be level and flat. Just flat enough so that the timber won’t roll off on ya.
- Logistics. A band saw sawmill needs the materials to be brought to it. Big logs weighs a lot, so you will probably need some sort of machine or setup to lift and handle the logs. In addition, you would need to move the logs to the mill. A chain saw mill can be used anywhere. A quick and dirty setup right smack in the middle of the forest – a few short logs to lay the bigger logs onto, and you’re good to go.
- Usability. The band saw sawmill does one thing. A chain saw does lots of things. A chain saw sawmill attachment utilizes the chain saw you probably already own. Or, if you need to purchase the chain saw, you can use your investment for more than making timber.
- Yield and productivity. This is where the band saw excels. A band saw mill removes a lot less material than a chain saw. It can slice a log in a fraction of the time a chain saw mill can, and it is far easier to use. You get more boards in a lot shorter amount of time compared to a chain saw mill.
Based on these factors (and some other minor ones), I concluded that a chain saw sawmill was the best choice for me. I do not own any forest, nor do I want to spend that amount of money or dedicate a part of our property to something I get very little use out of. Thankfully, I have fantastic neighbors who owns a lot of forest – and I am more than welcome to go get what I want. But how much wood do I really need?
My reasoning is this: I can cut slabs and planks at 6cm (about 2 1/4”). They will take about 2 years to get dry enough to use, and I can rip those planks further down as needed with my band saw. This should cover my needs perfectly – of course I could cut thicker material if needed, but for the most part 2” should be plenty. Read this article about sizing lumber if you want to look further into this topic.
A log or two per year, at the most – that would be a feasible undertaking with the chain saw mill, but a band saw mill would be a huge overkill for me.
There are lots of chain saw mills on the market. They all look the same, so there’s really no need to buy an expensive one. Just get one that’s big enough for the saw you are going to use, and buy from a company that will sort out any issues and offer spare parts if needed. Then get to slabbin’!
Be warned, though – processing wood into useful lumber is highly addictive…