Ripsaw Portable Sawmills

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Milling lumber using the Ripsaw bandmill & Alaskan mill (continued)

Husqvarna 365 and Echo 3450
I fell and buck the trees using a Husky 365 with a 28" bar. It has plenty of power to drop and buck a 24 inch diameter tree with ease. With a little patience and skill, it will also take care of a larger tree. I then use the small but dependable Echo CS-3450 with a 16" bar to limb down to the main trunk. I also use the little Echo for trimming away knots or small defects on a log prior to attaching the milling guide beams as well as for clearing away brush prior to felling the tree.

Granberg 36"Alaskan chainsaw mill with Husky 395XP
After dropping the tree and limbing and bucking the log to 8 ft lengths, the first order of business is getting the log into 14" wide cants so the RipSaw bandmill can start making lumber. The best way to do this is to slab off the sides of the log with the Alaskan Mill. If the log is larger than 28 inches diameter, I usually quarter it with the Alaskan. Unlike the bandmill with its thin .025" kerf, the Alaskan mill uses a chainsaw bar and chain with its larger kerf that wastes more of your log. However, the bandmill is limited to a 14" wide cut, and also the bandmill blades wear out quicker going through bark. So, I do the dirty work of getting the log to manageable cants without bark using the Alaskan mill first. I power the Alaskan mill with a Husqvarna 395XP pulling standard ripping chain around a 36" bar. You lose about 6 inches of bar attaching the saw on the mill, so that leaves me with a max cut of about 30" wide. The 395XP with its 94cc's has the muscle needed to rip that much hardwood. With a lot of fussing, a 30" cut is actually wide enough to slice up a 4ft diameter tree if needed. I rarely come across a tree larger than 36" though, and most of the time I am dealing with trees less than 24" so this capacity mill and saw are plenty. You can get away with a smaller saw in the 60cc range, but it will be slow going on anything over 15 inches even with a shorter bar. All the pros say it's really hard on a small saw pulling a chain around a 36" bar especially when ripping. So, if you're going to be milling logs much over 15" diameter you will need a larger saw.

Ripsaw with Stihl MS 361
Once I have whittled the log into 14-inch wide cants, which is the max width cut of my Ripsaw bandmill, I can start milling lumber. A chainsaw powerhead powers the Ripsaw, and I use a Stihl MS361. Its 59cc's has plenty of power to pull the thin kerf 3/4" x 90" bandsaw blade through the log. With a sharp new blade the RipSaw will move through 14-inch wide oak at more than 2 ft/minute. Softer wood as well as less width goes even faster. An 8 ft long 10-inch wide soft pine log would take about a minute end to end. As the blade gets dull, the saw needs to work harder and the cutting speed drops off quickly. That's my queue to change blades. If I keep going with a dull blade, not only is it much harder on my powerhead, but also the blade starts to wander and my cuts are not true. Depending on the species I'm cutting, I get about 200 bd ft of lumber from an $18 blade before it needs re-sharpening. I can get two sharpenings from each blade if I am careful. I've gotten more than 600 bd ft between sharpenings in softwoods. I found that if I keep the blade out of bark as much as I can, it will last a lot longer. That is why I use the Alaskan mill initially to slab off the sides of the log. Sharpening a chain is much quicker and easier than sharpening a blade. Not counting my time, the cost of the blades is the most expensive part of the milling operation at about 5 cents a bd ft.

Guide Beams
The Ripsaw mill's fence rides on sturdy hollow aluminum 2x6 guide beams that get attached to the top of the log to guide the mill giving me dead-on true strait cuts. Two 5 ft sections come with the Ripsaw package, but if you want longer boards you can attach more sections. They bolt together making one long strait beam. As I rarely cut boards longer than 8 ft, I use a 10 ft section for most of my milling. I also use the guide beams when pushing my Alaskan mill down the log when initially cutting the log into 14" wide cants.

Small horses, floor jack & ramp
Small sawhorses along with a lightweight aluminum automotive floor jack and ramp are the system I use to get the logs off the ground and thus easier to mill. I use a cant hook to roll one end of the log up onto a small 2x6 ramp. This allows me to get the floor jack under the log and lift it high enough to slip one of the small horses underneath. I then jack up the other end of the log, and slip the second horse under. The log is now up off the ground and much easier to mill. The small horses are sturdy enough to hold a large log and have chocks that fit into holes I drilled into a 1/4 inch thick aluminum bar stock attached to the top of each horse. While is it entirely possible to mill the log while it is on the ground and I have done many that way, I was either bending over or down on my knees pushing the mill down the log. This was hard on my back and knees both. With the log up on the horses I am standing and leaning into the RipSaw partially using my body weight to push the saw down the log.

Except for saw gas, bar oil and large items, two toolboxes contain all small items needed for the milling operation. One contains tools to service the RipSaw, Alaskan mill and the chain saws as well as spare parts, chainsaw files, spare chains etc. The second is a custom made wooden box that contains all the rest of the accoutrements necessary for safe milling. Chaps, dust mask and gloves, first aid kit, hatchet, small fire extinguisher, and wedges for felling and bucking.
I include a roll of paper towels for working on equipment and wiping up oil and grease and a 24-inch framing square for setting up the guide bars square to the log center. All the tools, spare parts and small items are in these two toolboxes. If I keep them organized and stocked, grabbing both assures that I won't forget anything.

Saw gas & bar oil
I use only Stihl or Husqvarna 2 cycle oil mixed 43:1. I carry a gallon container of mixed saw gas, and also a gallon container of high octane raw gas. When the mixed gas is empty I pour half gal of raw gas into the container, add 3.0 oz of oil and shake, then add the remaining 1/2 gal and shake again. This method assures me of a minimum of a gallon or more of fresh mix. Along with a gallon of bar oil, this is plenty for a days milling.

Portable Worktable
I park my RipSaw for changing blades and fence height on a simple table using lightweight plastic sawhorses upon which I set a plywood plank just the right size for my RipSaw and a few tools. This little "quick and dirty worktable in the woods" really comes in handy when adjusting equipment or sharpening and servicing the saws. I used to just set things on the ground or a stump, but that was hard on the back and knees after a whole day of sawing.

Cant hook and small shovel
I use a cant hook to roll the log up onto a small 2x6 ramp prior to jacking it up onto the small horses. It works great for logs 20" or less. For larger logs I get a little fancy and use the small shovel to dig enough room under the log to slide the jack partially under. I then raise the jack to leverage the log to get it to roll where I want. With a bit of patience, I can maneuver fairly large logs around this way.

Metal Detector
After I hit three nails in one day completely ruining several $18 blades, I decided to invest in a metal detector. I didn't buy a Cadillac, but a middle grade model that will detect a nail a few inches deep in a log. It has since more than paid for itself. Any tree from a yard, or any tree along a road, especially an intersection, is suspect and often contains some hardware. I do a quick scan and if I find something I avoid that whole section of log like the plague. If I do find a nail, there are often more, so I then scan that log even more carefully. If I find several nails, unless it's a very valuable tree it's just not worth taking a chance and I usually don't. If it is valuable lumber, I take the time to remove the hardware using a small hand axe and a vice-grip.

So there you have it, standing tree to custom milled lumber. I fell and buck the tree, use the Alaskan chainsaw mill to slice into 14" cants, and then use the Ripsaw bandmill to mill those cants into lumber. I move logs around with a cant hook and floor jack, and also use the jack to hoist logs/cants up onto sawhorses for easier milling. Depending on species, terrain, and how far back off the beaten path you need to take your equipment, you can go from standing tree to 400 bd ft of custom sawn lumber in one day. I use 4 chainsaws in my system, each one doing a specific duty, but you could get by with just one saw. It would have to be a big one, a Husqvarna 395XP or big Stihl in the 90cc's or higher class. With only one saws though, be prepared to spend a large part of your day breaking down, setting up and adjusting equipment. You will be moving that powerhead from 28" bar with standard chain to the Alaskan mill with 36" bar and rip chain and then to the Ripsaw mill using just the power head itself. You will need to go back and forth between these setups several times so expect no more than half the production rate using just one saw.

Is this method a lot of hard work? You bet. Expect to burn some calories. Is it rewarding? You bet. Expect to get excited. I've milled thousands of bd ft of lumber with this method, and every time I open up a log I'm like a kid in a candy store. Is it expensive? Well, depending on species and where you live, milled wet lumber is still a buck or two a foot right off the saw. Much more for quartersawn boards or 14" wide 8/4 and 12/4 if you can even find it. So that 300 bd ft you milled in a day would cost you at least $500 and probably more if you had to buy it. Also, I have milled walnut and cherry crotch figured wood that looks better than stuff costing $30 a foot at the local specialty lumber retailer. So is my system expensive? An entry level bandmill on a trailer you can tow behind your truck will still cost you the better part of $5000 and a LOT more for a good one. Everything in my system fits in the back of my minivan and all together will cost you about $3500. Around $2500 if you're willing to swap saws between mills. At 300-500 bd ft a day can my system cut as fast as the bigger more expensive bandmills? Of course not. However, I can carry mine right up to that cherry tree that blew down in the back of the neighbors yard. Within 15 minutes I am milling custom lumber exactly the way I want it cut. That is where my system shines above the others.

David Kauffman
Three Sisters Woodshop
December 2004