The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Sawmill

There is something appealing about being able to slice trees into lumber. Maybe it's just operating the machinery that does the job. I don't know, but I thought it would be cool to have my own sawmill. I thought this before we ever moved to Kentucky in 2003. I had looked at the ads and thought about the different options. Of course, when you seek to limit the amount of financial outlay as much as possible, you can only dream big.

While doing some searching online, I came across Procut Mobile Sawmills. The Procut is a chainsaw powered mill that you build yourself. The information about it on the website and what reviews I could find made it sound like a nice unit. Perhaps, what I liked the best about the description were the estimates about how much it would cost to build. I didn't have any welding experience, but I figured I could learn enough to be able to build a Procut.

So, in the summer of 2003, I ordered plans for the mill. I studied them, and they seemed pretty straight forward and clear. I bought a used arc welder and some welding supplies. Then, I bought the steel I needed from Sandusky Sales in Columbia, Kentucky. I began building the mill in August of 2003, after putting a concrete floor in the garage (a 24' x 40' area). I cut all of the steel using an aluminum oxide metal cutting blade on my circular saw. My welding wasn't perfect, but I figured out how to make it work.

I don't remember how many hours I spent working on the mill, but we tried it out for the first time in October of 2003. I had a small cherry log and a cedar log. It was a pretty neat experience to mill a couple of boards for the first time. I hadn't painted the mill yet and still had it in the garage. Talk about dust! I don't recomend milling inside a closed space like that.

The picture to the right is of the mill taken when I was milling some beech logs during late fall 2004. After I finished building the mill, I painted it with some blue automotive paint that had been left in my garage by the previous owner (he left a lot of things, most of it hauled off as junk). I painted the saw carriage gray, also with auto paint that was in the garage.

I bought a new Husqvarna 3120xp to be the mill's powerhead. It has a 36" bar for use on the mill and a 24" bar for using off of the mill. It takes about 5 minutes to remove the saw from the mill in order to use it elsewhere. It makes felling trees or bucking logs really nice -- like a hot knife through butter. It is kind of heavy, though.

In the fall of 2004 when I started milling some of the white oak and beech logs I had collected, I discovered that a chainsaw mill doesn't cut very fast. It takes a fair amount of patience to slice up a 20" white oak log. I cut a few hundred board feet of 1x6 lumber out of these logs before a friend brought over his WoodMizer LT-40 Super Hydraulic and finished up the rest of them. I have 3,000 board feet of 1x6 lumber that we cut from white oak, red oak, poplar, beech, and sycamore logs. I've cut several pine, poplar, and cedar 2xs with my mill since then. I've also cut a few beams, but most of the ones for the house I purchased from a local Amish sawmill.

One thing about the Procut that needed changing was the dogs for clamping the logs/cants on the saw. You can see one of them in the second photo. I spent nearly as much time setting the dogs to hold the logs as I did milling. Even then, they didn't hold things firmly enough. I needed to change this part of the mill. So, I gave it some thought.

What I came up with involved welding two rows of 5 inch pieces of 1" diameter metal pipe together. I welded these to the middle of the sawmill frame. I then welded two pieces of 2" box steel on the side of the mill near the two center log bunks. These pieces of box have a hole drilled in them and a nut welded on so that a bolt can be threaded in. This bolt holds a smaller piece of box inside the 2" box, allowing it to be adjusted up or down and locked into place. I welded small pieces across the heads of the bolts so that these can be locked in place by hand. These two dogs are perpendicular to the log bed to ensure squareness when cutting.

In the picture to the right, laying on top of the pipes is the heart of the clamping system. I took a 1" metal rod that fits inside the pipes (my rod actually was a 1" threaded rod on which I filed down the threads a bit) and welded a three inch piece of 2" pipe at one end. When a log is put on the mill, the dogs are set on the side, the log is pushed over against them, and then the clamp is inserted in the nearest pipe to the log that it will fit in. It is dropped down to the desired level and then, using the rod pictured here with it, it is turned so that the 2" pipe at the top presses against the log. The cam action of this clamp exerts a lot of pressure, holding the log in place. The clamp can be set to hold the middle of a log or the bottom of a cant, whatever is desired or needed. It works great and saves a lot of time.

Here's another view of the clamp. Definitely an improvement over the original design in the plans for the mill. I needed something that would work and that would be affordable. The only money I spent on it was for the 1" pipe. The rest of the system was constructed with scraps of metal that I already had. The time it takes to secure a log in position or hold a cant has been drastically reduced.

My sawmill isn't top of the line. But, I didn't have thousands of dollars to spend on a sawmill. By building this mill myself, even with buying new steel and a brand new saw, I still have less than $2,000 in it. All in all, I'm pretty happy with it.


Anonymous said...

Looks like you spent a lot of hard hours building a toy not a sawmill.
I can tell you put a lot of thought in the clamping system(HA!)
Take some advise:if you are serious about sawmilling then buy a
serious sawmill.For another $1000
you could have a small bandmill.
Keep sawin'!!

dp said...

anonymous, thanks for your ridicule. It was heartwarming. Another $1,000 would have been another $1,000 and it still wouldn't have been a "serious" sawmill. I built what I needed for the jobs I have to do. Besides, why should I take advice from someone who gives it in such a manner and anonymously? When you're serious, sign your name! :)

westcoastland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
westcoastland said...

Very cool set up. You will find more people interested to here more about you mill experience at the Saw Bucks forum. It would be great to see you there.

Ron Trout

Charles from Orcas Island said...

I love your milling rig, and love your response to Anonymous even more. Way to go! I have an even less sophisticated chainsaw mill which works just fine. Yours has made me see some improvements I can make to mine. Thanks for contributing to the fund of knowledge.

Daniel said...

How satisfied over all have you been with the mill? I have considered building one of these myself. I have used a Granberg Alaskan for a couple of years and know how slow a chainsaw mill can be but they do have their place.
Have you thought about selling it and moving up to a band mill and what kind of band mill would you look at?
With the ice storm that hit my area of Ky (Sonora), I have LOTS of logs.

dp said...

Daniel, I am satisfied with the mill, considering its limitations. The primary limitation is the slow speed of the chainsaw. Originally, the clamping mechanism was a frustration, but I'm very pleased with my modification which really speeds things up (I would suggest something similar over what the plans call for). For the price, it has met my expectations, and I'm satisfied. It would be possible to purchase a band mill for a bit more than what I have in this one, but low-end band mills have their issues, too. If I were to move up, I would probably consider a Woodmizer LT15 or a Lucas mill, probably used to save a few bucks. I like the swing-blade mills, and their kerf is not much greater than a band mill. My brother-in-law had an LT15 before he got his LT40, and it seemed to work nicely. It would really depend upon how much and how often I needed to mill. Currently, my usage is limited enough I can't justify spending more money. That could change, I suppose. We didn't lose any trees in the ice storm -- we had very little ice from it.

KDV said...

DP-I finally built a Procut mill but have not been able to try it much due to weather and saw trouble. I like your cam lock idea on the log-dogs, but wonder what keeps it tight, why it simply doesn't turn back and loosen up. It would also seem that a smaller log would not be on center of the log bunks. A minor thing. To assist with the holding of the log on my mill,I put a point up and also added a point to the side on the dogs, so the log-dog can come up from the side and then into the log. If you don't want the points to the inside, swap sides with the dogs and the point is to the outside. I do agree that it is labor intensive to get the log set for sawing versus the time to saw. The kerf difference between a chainsaw and a bandmill is really not a factor to consider for the backyard sawyer. It may not be super fast, but that is the trade off for the added expense of extra bands, band maintenance equipment to buy, and time to sharpen and set band kerfs. My Procut is built like a tank,and will be around for a long,long, time. Am also interested in your house project.
Good Luck!

dp said...


You will enjoy your mill, I'm sure. What saw will you use? I was able to buy a Husqvarna 3120xp -- it's handy for cutting trees/logs, too, although quite heavy to lug around.

The cam lock doesn't loosen because of friction and the pressure it puts on the log. It does put a lot of hold onto the log/cant, too. It is off center on the log bunks which isn't a big deal for sawing. However, the design of the log bunks would be better if they were changed for this lock, though -- flat bunks would work better. I've worked with what's there, but I really need to take some channel or other pieces that I can put on top of the regular bunks to provide a flat surface the log/cant can sit on. Otherwise, it is an improvement over the original log dogs.