Lubricating band mill blades

Options for lubricating your blades, including environmentally-friendly ones. April 17, 2002

When I purchased my used Wood-Mizer, the owner told me he replaced the water system on the blade for one that used a paint thinner/bar oil mixture. I have been using his system for a couple of years with no problems on my stationary sawmill. The blades keep very clean and the one gallon tank lasts for a couple of weeks. I cut mostly softwood for framing lumber and WR cedar for siding. Any input on this system?

Forum Responses
From contributor A:
Where does the oil mix go? I realize that sawing is not purely organic, but a gallon of oil covers a wide area and is not too good for the environment. Water and additives break down better and water alone will work and is cheaper even at 4 gallons a day.

I agree. I cut a lot of Eastern cedar and all I use is water at a slow trickle. If I notice any buildup, I just increase the flow. When the weather gets below freezing, I use windshield washer fluid.

From the original questioner:
I have pondered the possible pollution of the thinner/oil mix I use. I rationalize it this way: The amount of oil used on the band is so small compared to the bar oil I used to cut the tree down (especially when using the wood wizard to de-bark) that it seems trivial. Half of my sawing is done in the winter, so I would need an antifreeze/water mix as suggested. Is windshield antifreeze completely harmless environmentally? Finally, I don't have water available to my saw shed. I must transport my water mix in a vehicle to keep me in supply.

Ultimately, I burn the sawdust (and some slab scrap) every few days in a burn barrel outside the open shed to keep me warm.

I do many things to keep the forest as pristine as possible, such as logging with my horse team and skidding mostly in the winter. My logs are never transported via fuel-burning vehicles. The customer transporting the lumber home is the first my wood products are transported on a vehicle. I also stick very close to my forest plan that includes a lot of environmental protection. But the logistics dictate not using water, at least in the cold season. I wouldn't be opposed to using a vegetable oil mix if I thought it would work.

I use water with a little pine sol and dish soap. Seems to work well but haven't experimented a lot.

I thought the bar oil for chainsaw was vegetable oil already. Or maybe it's the one that costs double the price or so. For solvent, one could try turpentine, wood alcohol or maybe linseed oil. Personally, unless the mixture is flowing liberally, I do not see any problem. Eventually some type of bacteria will digest the hydrocarbure soaked oil-sawdust mixture.

I have tried Canola oil without much success. It lubricates the blade but doesn't cut the sap. I used to use water/windshield fluid. Have you ever tried diesel and chainsaw bar oil? It works like a dream. I use about 1 liter a week. Just a drip every minute the saw is running. I am very careful not to use too much. If the client wishes, I will use just water. I figure as long as I am careful for a while I will use it. I am always looking for an organic solution. My next thought is organic bar oil.

From contributor T:
As for pollution, the oil use is so minimal, and sawdust's ability to absorb is so great, that I don't see where a drop a minute is going to hurt a thing. When I use the mix, I use 3/8 gallon b&c oil, 5/8 gallon clear kerosene and a gallon will last at least a week. I guess if I was dumping that in one spot directly on the ground every single time, then it would be a problem. But one gallon gets mixed with 2-3 loads of sawdust and goes to 3 different farms where the horses and cows poop and pee. Probably 3/4 of the mix is still on the board, so I just don't see where this is a legitimate argument. I never thought of paint thinner. I used kero because of it clarity, not staining the wood. I think paint thinner is cheaper too, isn't it?

Husquvarna has a vegetable-bar oil that is very efficient. Side by side, looking at logging and milling, the use of bar oil and 2 stroke engines in felling would tend to minimize the effect of using so little diesel/bar oil in milling. But the cumulative toll on the environment is devastating. Here's simple math: 1 liter diesel/oil per week X 52 X 1,000,000 = capacity of contaminating surface and base level waters in one year. Do we have a choice? Yes - at every moment we can make a difference.

I am not a sawyer but I have bought lumber that was produced in the winter. It was hemlock and white pine. I asked the sawyer how he kept his water from freezing and he told me he used diesel fuel instead of water. I don't know what the rate of application was but when I enter my garage where the wood is stacked there is still a definite odor of diesel.

Has anyone tried the pink drain antifreeze that is supposed to be non-toxic? I buy it on sale for about the price of diesel fuel. I would think it could be cut with water.

From contributor A:
I have had people call for lumber or sawing and state that they did not want oil or diesel on their boards. Windshield washer fluid works very well and you will not use a gallon a day. I even add about 50/50 mix with water and it will not freeze above 25 degrees (about as cold as it gets here).

My chainsaw will only run about 10 minutes to fell and saw up a tree and take over an hour on the mill to saw up. I wish I was "greener" with the environment but I try anywhere I can to do every little bit.

I also use diesel/bar oil and it works wonders. I spray from an old lube can when there is build up.

From contributor T:
Today as I was pouring ww fluid in my water (yes, I use both mixes at different times), I noticed a little skull with large bold letters - "POISON". Kero doesn't smell as strong as diesel, and if you can smell it, then too much is being used. I have had a gallon last me up to a month, depending on what I am cutting. The pink anti-freeze doesn't lube the same as diesel or kero does, therefore you would need to run a lot more.

There is a good reason for the skull and cross bones. The blue stuff is made with methanol. Highly toxic and no way to detoxify it. And guess what, it's a petroleum product! Don't know what a good alternative would be. Doesn't hardly get cold enough around here for me to need one. Thought about oil/diesel mix, but never came up with a good way to apply it. Usually just use water. It doesn't work so good when I saw live oak though.

From contributor G:
I sincerely hope that those who use this diesel/thinner/oil mix on your blades do not really believe that "this is not harming the environment because what I use is such a small amount." And the same goes for the argument that some other use puts more oil into the environment, therefore this is not a problem. If you truly do believe this is okay, then you should not be afraid to stand in front of your neighbors, customers, and local water quality authority and state your beliefs as well as here, because you may have to someday.

Using any petroleum product for blade lube is not harmful on the belts on the WM? I have thought of using that but have only used dish soap in water.

From the original questioner:
Contributor G, I would welcome you or any person interested to come and view my saw milling setup. But if you arrive in a vehicle instead of walking, riding a bicycle or on horseback, I would think it a little hypocritical to claim that my bar oil is causing a big problem. Do you know how much of my oil gets into the ground? How much of it remains on the lumber? When I rake up my sawdust there is absolutely none of it detectable to the human eye or nose. How much could be going into the ground water? My uneducated guess would be less than the oil dripping from your oil pan or transmission. I would like to ask if the food you eat and the house you live in were made without any pollution. What do you do for a living that is completely pollution free in all respects? Just by living and working we all pollute to some extent, some of us less than others. The challenge is to collectively pollute less than can cause harm to the environment in which we live.

I would like to submit that you don’t know anything about my lifestyle or my work practices. The methods I use to log and mill pollute far less than the commercial mills. Do they skid logs with draft animals as I do? How much do they pollute when driving down the road with a truckload of logs and then transporting the lumber to the lumberyards? If you knew anything at all about my mill and many other small operations and how we may be providing the same lumber as the big guys with far less pollution, you might be singing our praises rather than coming down on us.

In Spring, on sunny days use water with dishwasher soap. Some like to add Murphy's Oil Soap. The idea is blade cooling and sap control. I will try water based waxes, as in car wash - maybe better, maybe not. I'm sure you'll find a way of transporting water. In winter, some oppose diesel/bar-oil. But adding glycol washer to water - which is worse? Can glycerin compound or purified mineral oil be better?

I wonder if all that water leads to a rust or corrosion problem?

Steel does not corrode in a caustic environment, so if you add a fair amount of soap to water, you should see only light traces of iron oxide on your blade.

From contributor A:
My WM is all steel and there is not any rust on it from the water mix. The oak sawdust turns the bare metal black.

I read all this talk about water and soap, but no one gives the mix. I use water and soap, but have no idea about the correct proportions.

I use about 1/2 cup of pinesol to 5 gallons minimum to break surface tension (water will lay on blade without beading) and add about another 1/2 cup if I get into heavy pitch, as in white pine.

From contributor A:
There is a mix ratio - more is not better. With dish soap, I have found that about 2 shot glasses is enough. Pine oil and Murphy's oil soap - about a cup. This is to 5 gallons of water. Washer fluid mixed about 50/50 does not freeze at about 25 degrees, and needs nothing else added. Just water will work, as it is the heat that starts the sap to sticking and the more sap, the more heat, the more sap, etc., and your blade starts jumping around.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor B:
Found a great tip on the internet on one of the blade manufacturer's sites. They don't try and sell you any special lubricants or other crap so I thought I would try it.

Basically, they said water is *not* a lubricant and it will eventually lead to rusting. They recommend a bar oil/diesel or kerosene mixture of 50%. However, instead of a continuous drip, they say to just spray it on both sides of the blade with a spray bottle whenever the blade starts to sound noisy. They also mentioned using a 12 volt windsheild washer pump that you can wire up to a switch on the mill to give it an occasional shot. I'm going to try hooking one up with two spray nozzles, one on each side of the blade with a push button to energize the pump. Finally I have a use for that old '85 Chev Blazer in my backyard.

Comment from contributor C:
Contributer B, I use the windshield washer with deisel/oil and it works great. I saw mostly pine and larch, with no pitch buildup ever!

Comment from contributor D:
I use a mix of water, oil and dish soap for many operations (drilling, etc.) The mix is roughly 2 gallons of water plus half a cup of soap and a quart of oil. Shake it to an emulsion and voilà! It can also be used to clean your hands.

On the subject of ecology, the best thing to use would be biodiesel if you can find it. It's totally biodegradable and it's lubricating qualities are better than petrodiesel.

Finally, oak does not remove rust, but rather transforms it. The tannin in oak is a mildly acidic and combines with rust to form black iron tannate. Tannic acid is wisely used by conservation technicians in museums.

Comment from contributor J:
We've used straight vegetable oil as a bar oil in our chainsaw for years with no clogging or problems. We buy 5 gallon jugs of soybean oil at Costco for about $12.00 - so it also can be cheaper. We cut pine, cedar and Doug fir and haven't had any problems with pitch.

Even a very small amount of diesel or motor oil can pollute waterways. If you spill diesel, kerosene, or motor oil on the ground it will make its way into water sooner or later. I feel it is everyone's personal responsibility to make sure that the products they are using are not polluting. The Feds' regulations for pollution are way behind the available science, so it's up to the individual to know what the impacts of the products they are using are. For blade lube for a mill, I've considered using citrus based solvent, but haven't tried it out yet.

Comment from contributor T:
I've been sawing for 6 years on a Woodmizer and have tried several solutions, all mentioned in this forum. The best, cheapest, most environmentally friendly solution I use is water and dish washing liquid. 2-3 oz. per 5 gallons, and more DWL if sawing fresh pine. On hardwood logs I really put the water to it and blades last about 1000 board feet and run cool. I even use pine scent when sawing pine and customers love it.