Portable bandmill vs. circular mill

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Comparing the efficiency and production capabilities of both types. December 17, 2002

When I started looking into portable mill options, I basically ignored double cut circular mills, but I've heard they can cut 1500 to 6000 BF a day. What are the advantages and disadvantages to each kind (band, circular)?

Forum Responses
From contributor R:
If you're going portable, a man needs both band and circular. I have a bandmill and I will get a swing blader (Peterson), hopefully soon, for the big boys.

Bands can cut wider than swings, unless you get a slabber. Swing blades are a lot less expensive to maintain than bands.

I have a Lucas with 40' extensions and the 9" blade kit and slabber, so there is nothing I can't do, but I hate doing little logs with it (less than, say, two feet in diameter). So I just bought a Norwood 2000 for the small stuff. Once you get into it professionally, there is no end to your wants and needs. You must be very clear about your commitment and the type of production you want to do.

I specialize in high value hardwoods. Anything else is a waste of effort - it doesn't make money. But once you get a good log, you need to add value till the end of the line (finished product) to get the most out of your business contact.

From contributor M:

The reasons I chose a Peterson over a bandmill:

1. Saws trashy logs, including dirty or tramp metal better.
2. Fits on my truck, allowing a trailer for the winch tractor, logs, or lumber. Therefore, one less trailer registration, a lot less trips.
3. No resawing or edging. I don't have to set boards aside and restack them on the mill.
4. I don't have to spin the logs after they are under the mill. This is especially handy when you only weigh 150 lbs.
5. 16" wide boards are wide enough.

Yes, 1500 ft is reasonable by myself with longer logs. With short logs and one inch boards, 800 feet a day is more like it. Obviously, framing lumber and beams is much higher. A lot depends on the logs and the setup.

From contributor A:
Which is better for what? If you want to cut 6" to 10" eastern red cedar into 1/2" thick closet lining, then a band mill is better. If you want to slice 40" or bigger logs into small timbers and lumber, then a swinger is better. If you have big Douglas fir and want to make 2x6s all day long, you need a MD mill.

It depends on your supply of logs and what products you want to produce. I have a WM LT40 and shove 36" hardwoods through it and make 24' 12x18 timbers or 8/4 x 25 boards. Then throw 8" cedars on and make 6x6 octagon posts for a porch. Find the logs that will be your average fodder and the products that will be produced and get the mill that will do it. Some will set up and go portable in 3 minutes or less and others can be carried through the yard to the log and the boards carried to the truck. Which is best depends on you.

A word about production levels. Just because a mill is rated at a certain BF/day does not mean you'll be able to take advantage of it. You've got to be in pretty good shape to produce 1,000 BF of hardwood lumber a day by yourself without a lot of support equipment.

To get the production out of one of the higher end mills with more power and log handling options requires a good setup and 2 or 3 able-bodied people to stage the next log, pull boards, slabs and stack lumber. But even if you get a higher production mill and add people, you may not double or triple your production. Some kind of law about diminishing returns or something.

From contributor P:
I have a Wood-Mizer and have worked around swingers a lot lately. They work pretty well but I'd still give the Wood-Mizer the edge in versatility, and rightly so - they cost more. On the production thing, I usually cut softwoods into 2 inch lumber, so my levels are falsely higher than a hardwood guy's. I cut some birch this summer and got a lesson in making every move count... and after 6 hours I was pooped. So were the bobcat and edger. Try your best to figure out what you are going to do and take it from there. Either way, you're going to get tough.

From contributor J:
Contributor P, what type of swinger have you used? Contributor A, In a couple of old threads you were thinking about getting a swinger (could be a great complimentary mill to go with your Wood-Mizer). Are you any closer?

A 40" log seems a bit big for a minimum size on a swinger! The other day two of us (on a Peterson) were cutting 5 meter long 10"-12" Douglas fir, averaging 3 at a time every half hour. We were cutting 4x2 and 6x2. That's going at a cruise pace, too. It takes about five minutes to roll each set of logs under the high low track support and into the notched skids, then your blades back into the logs.

It's a lot smoother when you've got a good foundation set up like solid skids and all your logs lined up next to the mill for higher production. Band saws are great too, for their minimal kerf.

You've got to see a Peterson on those little ones to really understand where I'm coming from. I can understand where one would dislike the smaller logs, as I've been down that track with a twin type lower and raise winch system.

Peterson mills have some great new features now, with the introduction of CE.

From contributor M:
What's CE?

Contributor A, given that you've probably forgotten more about milling than I know, I have to counter about the small logs. Up here in Vermont, we don't get that many big logs. I posted a few pictures a while back of some pines, probably the biggest logs I'll ever saw. It would have taken a fairly stout bandsaw to get those four foot diameter 20' long logs up on the carriage. For smaller logs, I put 2 or 3 under the mill at one time. The log dogs that came with the mill hold the log steady, and the mill puts very little pressure on the log. Small logs really aren't a problem. Our cedar is white and non-aromatic, so it mostly gets cut for lawn furniture, siding and fencing. Doesn't do much for a closet. The siding attachment works well, and doesn't require resawing.

You are right - mills are very personal. I couldn't afford the bandmill that had the abilities of my swing. I think a fully featured band mill, with hydraulic lift, an edger, a sharpening and setting system, and log turning would be nice, but I couldn't swing the cost.

From contributor A:
I do need a swinger and may be the only one in Arkansas with one, as I have not found one yet. My operation is growing so fast and I am at the point that I do not know if I need a scragg mill, swinger or kilns next. I have hired a full-time man now and bought an edger, so we are pushing 10,000 + bdft a week now. Orders are coming in faster than we can saw, plus the tie guy and grade lumber guy want more. A new pallet plant is coming and wants me to supply cants. The cedar market is strong and the pressure treating place wants me to supply 250 4x4's a week. I met myself twice yesterday. New computer is in and I have to get it up and get the web page going hot and I have some stuff for e-bay. I have a guy 5 miles from me with a WM and about 1/3 of the week he saws for me. Now if I can just figure out how to make money doing this it will be lots of fun.

From contributor P:
The swinger I worked around (didn't actually run it) was a Lucas with an 8 inch cut and a 25 hp Kohler. I'm not going to get into which one is better because I don't know. The Lucas works fine when you have a helper working with you. He can lift/lower his end of the machine. With big WRC, we were taking three ready-for-market 2X6s per minute.

Contributor A, sounds like things are going great for you. I don't have the customer base that you have, but have noticed over the years that May and especially October/November are my busiest months go figure.

From the original questioner:
What I still don't understand is why you would use a swinger over a MD mill that makes the horizontal and vertical cut at the same time. Also, I work for an excavation company, so I am able to get some logs for free when we develop land. I am starting small with a Granberg just to get my feet off the ground and I am trying to think of the best choice for my next step.

From contributor J:
CE is the European Safety Standard Certificate.

To the original questioner:
1) Double cut up to 20x10.
2) Cuts faster under the equivalent hp because it only uses one blade.
3) Can cut vertical cuts first to release tension in a log.
4) It's easy to push/pull with one blade so hydraulics are really not needed.
5) Tapered or clap boards.
6) Achieves the same principle as a double-bladed mill in the same length of travel, but uses only one blade, so it's a lot easier to maintain and sharpen.

From contributor C:
I've just returned from visiting a Wood-Mizer dealer in Chile, and demonstrating the Peterson mill at three shows in the USA. At the Paul Bunyan show in Nelsonville, Ohio, I had the good fortune of chatting with a lovely lady whose job was dispatching Wood-Mizer band blades from the factory.

Here's the real skinny. Both Wood-Mizer and their agents make a lot of money from the sale of their bands. In fact, anybody that buys a bandmill mortgages their soul to the people that make their blades. Blade maintenance and sharpening on a bandmill is ten times the expense of a Peterson circular.

We can sharpen our blade one hundred times, taking only a minute to do so, before the blade needs to be re-tipped. Re-tipping is usually only around $20- $30, roughly the cost of one of the cheaper bandsaw blades. That one set of Peterson blade tips may cut 30,000 bf of timber.

We'll cut a thousand bf of timber on one and a half or two gallons of gas. Wood-Mizer takes four to six gallons, or so I'm told. Must be the hydraulics eating up the fuel.

Now, about recovery. We did a shootout in New Zealand where we got ten percent higher recovery than Wood-Mizer cutting two inch stock. How can this be, with our thicker kerf? Well, every time the bandsaw blade gets a little dull, it takes a little trip up and down and you get a wavy board. So you have to throw that board into the slab heap. Then you change to a new blade. Then you have to re-straighten the next cut. That goes into the slab heap, too. Usually, when you remove tension from three sides of a log, you relieve some of the tension in the log, causing it to bow up or down. Then, you have to straighten the top, removing a facecut, before you begin making good timber. That facecut goes into the slab heap. There's usually a facecut at the bottom of the flitch, too, being thrown away. Ever noticed how many thin, thin boards were thrown to the side when bandmills were production cutting? That's just sawdust in another form.

Then, of course, most bandmills require edging a lot of boards. That means setting those boards aside for recutting later, or having to move them to another machine for edging. If no edger is available, a lot of potential boards go out in the slabs, because it is just too much work to recover/resaw them, and it takes too much time. Bandsaws make great resaws, where the cuts are narrow, the wood is clean, and where an extra board or two can be saved by the thin kerf.

But the swing blade circular Peterson can do just about everything a bandmill can do, and more, usually at a lot less cost, usually a lot faster, usually a lot more accurately, and usually a lot more profitably. The Peterson can cut large or small logs, logs to any practical length, beams up to 10 inch by 20 inch, and tapered weatherboard.

From contributor K:
If you have waste from thick and thin boards, you have a problem with the guy operating the bandmill. A machine is only as good as the operator. We run a Wood-Mizer. We also have a swing mill come in and break down the big boys for us. I cannot begin to think of the applications we have done with the Wood-Mizer that a swing saw cannot possibly do For example, half logs for mantles, wedges for bridge construction forms, and maybe the biggest one, cutting for grade. Say what you want, but swing mills are not good choices for small logs. As far as blade costs go, ours run well under 1 cent per board foot. Like all machines, swing mills have their place and bandsaws have theirs. As far as thin boards thrown to the side, we do not and never would tolerate operators that would allow that.

From contributor J:
Grade sawing on a swing mill is simple and realistic as *three* faces are show! Half logs can easily be achieved providing that the logs are 20" and under. 10" wedges can be done on a swinger; anything bigger cannot be achieved, and in this application a band mill would stand out. Question, what do you call a small log? Why do you say they aren't good for small logs? Wood-Mizer is a great mill when it comes to band saws but they don't make the best swing mill.

From contributor P:
On the grade sawing thing... still missing one face - only 75 % - not good enough. When we cut birch this summer, we parked the swinger (yes, it can be done, but wasn't nearly as effective). Now cutting 2X6's from a big log - different story.

From contributor J:
Just a little chuckle... Say I've got a Peterson mill, I take the top face off, I drop down 10" and enter from the left of the log, revealing 3 faces, then I wheel the centre unit set works to the right of the log and enter it from the opposite face. Tada! *Five* faces for grade sawing.

From contributor K:
Even the guy that comes in with his swing mill and saws for us brings in logs for us to saw for him when he wants grade lumber sawed. And when we do have him saw out grade logs for us, we have him break them down into cants that we resaw on the Wood-Mizer, giving us that many more options for getting the most quartersawn lumber or the clearest faces when we do. Each machine is radically different from the others, and has its place. I would hate to tackle sawing up a pile of smaller cedar logs with a swing mill.

From contributor R:
Contributor C, your post did not impress me. As a band miller, I know better. The only reason I said I would buy a swing blade is because of the big logs I can't get on my mill. If someone or myself can come up with a way to split the bigger logs, I wouldn't even consider a swing blade.

From contributor A:
"But the swing blade circular Peterson can do just about everything a bandmill can do, and more, usually at a lot less cost, usually a lot faster, usually a lot more accurately, and usually a lot more profitably."

I would like to see a swinger take an 8" cedar and cut a 6" octagon porch post faster than a band mill or saw it into 1/2" closet lining and produce the same amount of lumber. Just as I have a hard time with 40" logs, a swinger has a problem with smaller logs.

Each has a place and you will have to evaluate your needs and see which one will fill the bill. If you are going to saw 2,000 bdft a day, are you able to move, push and pull a head and move 5 to 6 tons of material every day? Hydraulics are a great thing and my head moves itself. How hard do you want to work?

All I can say is old customs die hard. I've used both kinds and now I own one. I don't have a lot of time to waste on maintaining two mills and sharpening blades. I like the simplicity of the Peterson and feel it's much safer than anything I've used, including md's. I live and work in the mountains of NC, so fortunately I don't have to mess with little logs. If money and time were no issue, we would all own the most expensive equipment and pay someone else to run it. But we all live in the real world and I like the work I've chosen. I predict that in 10 years there will be a fraction of the bandmill manufacturers that we have now.

From contributor J:
This is in fact a discussion between circular/band mills so it really shouldn't be all that personal, but rather an exchange of qualified information and opinion. The only reason that swingers could not be conceived as being ideal for small logs (meaning under 10" range) is that they can move on you. Swingers do not come with sophisticated log dogging systems to handle such small logs because they originate on the other side of the planet where you get big logs. Because there are so many different applications to where a swinger can excel it would be hard to conceive of all the different handy tools, etc for every application, but I'm sure if the demand is there, mill owners will come up with something. Swingers are great for small logs because... Tungsten carbide teeth eat grit! Minimal board recovery out of these logs, so kerf is not a question, supposing you have a good log dog system. I'm sure if you're considering cutting lots of small logs on a swinger, the manufacturers would be happy to design something around your criteria.

I agree with those who say each mill has its place. I wish one of those places was on my lot for a swing blade, because I've got many of those big redwoods and firs.

My TK Hydraulic is super and handles up to "34" but is a pain over 28". Love to have a swing to get these big guys down to bandmill munchin' size.

From contributor C:
There seems to be a lot of talk about swingers, as if you've seen them all if you've seen one. My money is on this: those guys talking about the swinger limitations on small logs have got to be talking about something other than the Peterson WPF. We make an ultra-portable model which we call the ATS (all terrain sawmill) which has one disadvantage shared by our major competition: because the tracks, or track ends, are raised independently, it's difficult to set a true datum cut on small logs. Thus, they get less recovery and slower sawing. Those types of mills are a lot better on big logs. But the Peterson WPF mill shares an important point of construction with horizontal bandmills: The cut is always parallel with the bottom of the log. Thus, with the Peterson log dogs on the supporting skid, the WPF can make easy pie out of logs as small as six inches in diameter.

We may not do those small logs as efficiently as some bandmills, but we make timber just as fast, and probably faster, particularly if the bandsaw operator wants to get every drop of blood out of the log. A very carefully and thoughtfully operated bandmill is difficult to beat on recovery. But at what cost? Time is money. With a bandmill, you rush, then you waste. You take your time making good timber with your bandmill, the world passes you by. An extra board per log, and an extra four hours per day cutting to meet the same production targets does not seem like a winning combination to me, especially when you've just spent three times as much on your equipment.

I've been told it takes six months to make a decent bandmill operator. With a Peterson, if you don't feel like an expert in six days, you must be doing something wrong. But in saying that, first hand training is absolutely important.

From contributor A:
Contributor C, another point to consider is kerf. In a log less then 12 inches, my 1/8 kerf to your 5/16 kerf only means a bit less sawdust but does not mean any more 4/4 boards. So if the WPF Peterson can do small logs then it will *not* waste boards, as some believe and say. It is logs over 12 inches where overrun comes into play and a swinger makes up for that in production.
It is just a matter of what is right for the type of job you are going to do the most.

From contributor C:
You may be surprised to learn that the Peterson WPF can easily do octagonal boards out of ten by ten squares or smaller. We can also do bench seats with the bench, and the sloped back, all connected as one piece. I cut one such bench at the Paul Bunyan show in Nelsonville, Ohio.