Log Size and Portable Sawmill Choice

A bandsaw mill is more appropriate than a swing mill for logs less than 2 feet in thickness. Here is more info on purchasing the right equipment. April 11, 2008

I have 10 acres that is heavily wooded and needs to be cleared. It is mostly oaks that are around 12 to 18 inches. I was wondering if an entry level band sawmill or a swing arm mill would be my best choice for a one man operation.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
For 12-18" logs a band mill will be the better bet. If you're planning on cutting a lot of 2x stock the thinner kerf of a band mill won't amount to much on 12-18" logs. But if you want to cut a lot of 3/4" stock you might get an extra board every now and then verses a swing mill. I would consider a swing mill if most of the logs were 30+".

From contributor S:
I agree with Contributor T's comments. For logs that small a bandmill would be the best option.

From the original questioner:
The logs I will be sawing are mostly oaks. I read some of the other response about problems with the life of blades on bandsaw mills cutting the harder woods. How much of problem is this? Would I be better off with a manual swing mill?

From contributor N:
I have a swing mill (in fact, I have two) and they are great machines, but I would prefer a band any day over a swinger if the logs aren't at least 18". Really, the swing mills don't come into their own until you get into 25" + logs. Lack of support equipment could potentially weigh in the swing mills favor, but generally the bandmill is the better choice for smaller logs.

From contributor T:
It's true that the blades on bandsaws need sharpening more often and take a special machine to sharpen them. Typically you're going to get between 2-500 bf between sharpenings.

Addressing band sharpening should be part of your mill purchase decision. Before you sign the bottom line you should know where you’re going to purchase your bands, how much they'll cost, who is going to sharpen them and how much the sharpening cost is. If you're lucky you'll find a local sharpening service that'll do it for a reasonable cost. But there are some good services out there like Cooks that can do them at a reasonable cost. You can also purchase a bandsaw sharpener but they have a learning curve and you need a certain volume to justify the cost of one.

You need to weigh all this against the fact that swing mills don't like small logs and the handling of a small log on a swing mill is more difficult and harder on your back. That's not true of the bigger logs.

It sounds like you need to visit local swing and band mill operators. Arrange to do it on days they will be milling smaller logs and get their opinions on the issues.

From contributor R:
I have an entry level bandmill. It’s a Timberking 1220 with the base 15 hp engine. I also work alone. I think one of the considerations of your mill purchase should be how quickly you need to saw all those logs. I saw about 5 16" dia. logs in a day. Not an 8 hour work day, more often about 6 hours. I know many sawyers are doing way more than this but consider all the work, not just the sawing.

First you must powerwash, or debark or at the very least scrape any mud or dirt off. Then you must get the log on the mill. A manual mill means using a cant hook to roll it or machinery to lift it. Most entry level mills don't have provisions to level the log so you must pry or lift the log and then shim it level.

Sawing the log is actually the easiest part. The 15 hp is fine for logs up to the sizes you mention. If you're sawing for grade, you may turn the log a half dozen times or so to get the clearest face. Every time you roll the cant you obviously must re-clamp the cant which takes time.

Once all the logs are cut for the day you must stack the boards back on the mill which need edged. Saw one edge, flip some or all of them and saw again. Uncover the drying pile of lumber stack what you've just cut, recover the pile with sheeting, weight it down, clean up the sawdust, do something with all the scraps, cover the mill and call it a day. I would definitely visit some sawyers in your area and observe the entire process.

If you enjoy sawing wood as I do that's one thing. If you are more interested in profit from your oak then you should probably look into the next level of mill which has log lifting, leveling, turning capabilities. There are many manufacturers with mills that include labor saving features. If I purchase a more efficient mill it will probably be a used mill with low hours. There seem to be quite a few whose owners for one reason or another no longer saw.