Chiansaw Mill vs. Band Mill

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So you’ve picked up the milling bug, that’s ok, it happens to the best of us.  I got it about eight years ago and I got bit by it pretty hard.  

I started out with an old Stihl 045av and a 30″ bar with a couple of loops of ripping chain.  I tried that for a bit and decided that I needed a bigger saw, 75cc just wasn’t going quick enough for my liking.  On to a 90cc Dolmar, much better but still a slow boat to China.  I tried all kinds of ways to mill with a chainsaw.  I tried all kinds of ways and homemade contraptions to try to make it faster, but in the end, they were all slow and labor intensive.  That is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable by any means.  The results were good, the lumber turned out just fine but the process just left a lot to be desired.

Here are some of the contraptions I built over the years for my chainsaw milling:

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As you can see there was a lot of experiments, some worked well and others did not.

Fast forward a few years and I decided to take on this barn project.  I knew that if I was going to make any kind of time on this building then a chainsaw mill was not going to do the job at the rate I needed to produce lumber.  Enter the Hudson HFE 30 band saw mill.

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Is that not a thing of beauty?  After all of those years breaking my back running a chainsaw mill and all those crazy contraptions I was finally getting serious.  I bought this mill brand new with 28′ of track as well as 15 extra blades for $6,000.00 even out door from the dealership.  As soon as the first log hit the bunks I was sold.

Now this isn’t a professional grade mill by any means but it is above a hobby mill.  It’s in that land right in the middle and is perfection to me after milling the way I had been.  This mill is able to make a 32″ cut and I can cut a beam right around 24′ long.  The cuts have been really good and with a little messing around I can make perfectly square cants.  You ought to see the size of the logs I’ve been getting on this poor mill.

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Pretty cool huh?  As you can see from the photos above I had some things to learn about running a band mill.  That brings us to the good part of the story for you folks looking to get into band milling.  I have come up with a few rules that I learned the hard way about running one of these:

  1. DEBARK the logs.  There are two reasons I can think of off of the top of my head for doing this.  One is that the bark holds dirt and will dull your blades very quickly, dull blades lead to garbage cuts and wavy lumber.  The other thing is that if you do not debark the logs then you need to be prepared to deal with wood boring grubs.  They make a mess of your logs very quickly.  You may have noticed that one of the logs above had the bark starting to fall off of it.  That log was full of grubs and they had been having feast on my dime…now all logs get debarked as soon as they get dropped.
  2. TENSION your blades properly.  If you do not have enough tension on the blade then you will get the washboard effect and wavy cuts.  This can be one of those annoyances that is totally avoidable.  On the other hand if your blades are too tight then you can shorten the life of your bearings and the tires on your band wheels.  This is one of those things that you will develop a feel for as you go.
  3. AVOID over clamping your log dogs.  This can throw your cants out of square, all you need is just enough to keep the log from moving while you make your cuts.
  4. MAINTAIN your mill, change the oil per the manufacturer specs, grease regularly, loosen the blade after each day of cutting to save the band tires.  Small doses of maintenance can really save you some heavy doses of repairs down the road.

There are many more things to know about running and owning one of these mills but those are things that you will need to learn as you go.  If you are looking to get into milling and just want to mill the odd log here and there then a chainsaw mill is perfect.  If you are looking to get some production then a band mill is what you will be looking for.

As in all things the job you are doing will dictate what you will need to get it done.  I have a wood shop that likes to be fed with lumber.  I am always finding myself building something that requires a fair amount of lumber.  Am I going to go into business milling lumber for people? Not with this mill, but I can cut as much lumber as I want for my own consumption and for wood working projects that I plan to sell.  A band mill is a great hobby tool or even a tool to make extra income.  A chainsaw mill is a great way to cut the occasional log up for the oddball project.

I hope this article is helpful to folks looking to get into milling.

Jim the Tradesman

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