Using Light Equipment to Try Out Sawmilling

A poster thinking about whether to try milling some logs with a small chainsaw and shop bandsaw gets feedback from the pros. October 1, 2010

I have just lucked into some free poplar (20+" x 6-10' lengths) - "just come and get it." I do quite a bit of woodworking, but I've never milled lumber. I have a very nice Stihl chainsaw, and a fairly heavy duty Grizzly GO513X2 17" bandsaw.

I have more time than money, and cannot afford a mill. Is there anyone who has milled with a regular 17" woodworking bandsaw? Are there any resources that could demonstrate how this is done? I can't afford to buy a mill, and I'd love to try my hand at milling this for the fun of the learning experience.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor F:
Here is an article on homemade jigs:
Sawing Small Logs on a Shop Bandsaw

One manufacturer of bandsaws demonstrating at a Toronto woodworking show had a jig they sold which would cut logs. I am sure some of the manufacturers would have the same. My concern for homemade jigs would be safety, securing the logs rather than holding them.

From contributor G:
You have to either secure the log to an improvised carriage and slide it past the bandsaw, or secure the log and slide the bandsaw along. You will spend vastly more time than the lumber is worth doing either. I also doubt that the 17 inch Grizzly has the HP to saw a 20 inch wet log. Some safety issues also.

If your chainsaw has a long enough bar, you can get an attachment (Alaska mill) that will slide along a 2by and do the job. Still some cost for the attachment, a ripping chain for the saw, and heavy going for the saw.

You would be better off either calling someone with a mill out, or taking the logs to one. Probably get much finer cut lumber as well.

From contributor R:
I'm with contributor G on this one. I've been there and done that. In fact, that's how I got started with a sawmill. I had a cedar that we planted years ago, and it was 30' tall. A summer storm blew the top out and all that was left was a pole. I have the Grizzly 20" with 3hp or more. I built an infeed table and outfeed table and attached to the bandsaw's cast table, and then made a sacrifice sled with a perpendicular upright, where I could put in a couple screws opposite the side to be cut, and that kept the log from trying to rotate while cutting. I installed a 1.25 sawblade with 7/8" kerf, made for that, but it was slow going. The 3-5hp with that blade really wasn't enough. If you do attempt this, there is an aggressive 1" blade that would be friendlier to your bandsaw. But life will be better if you can locate a sawyer in your area - you will end up with quality cut lumber with no miscuts.

From contributor F:
Although I do agree with contributors G and B, I believe your original question was on getting started in this enjoyable thing we call sawing. If it is only for the logs you have available and a one time cut, then hiring someone to cut them for you is the way to go. You will also get to see a mill in action. However, if you want to get your feet wet with the logs you have available and equipment, I would suggest looking at the Portamill at They have an online video of their attachment for your chainsaw. It is the most expensive of the chainsaw mills and you could buy a small used circular mill for the same money. The video will show you the mill in action. The Alaska attachment is the cheapest. I do not know if they have an online video.

For the poplar logs you have, I would suggest using the Alaska mill with your chainsaw, taking it to the log site and cutting 4" cants from the logs, cutting around all 4 sides. Then taking the 4 sided cants and cutting them on your bandsaw. This would give you a feel for cutting.

From contributor G:
That Portamill is the cutest thing I have seen in some time. I like the adapted use of a ladder a whole lot. And the breakdown. Usually machinery that attempts to adapt one tool to do another's job is such a kludge that it is not worth anything. Obviously I have not used it and it does look limited, but it sure is neat.

I don't cut, however I know folks around here who do, and there seems to be two kinds... Pros, who do a lot, and amateurs, who just like the experience and do a few logs as they turn up for friends, neighbors, etc. If you can find one of those, I am sure they would be happy to let you experience the activity. First as a helper and probably let you run the machine after a go or two. Particularly if you bring your own logs.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I also agree with the others that finding a mill to do the work will be a good idea, especially if they will take time to teach you what is going on (assuming they know). You will likely get more lumber from the logs from an experienced miller. You can also learn some of the safety concerns and safe procedures. There are several "sawmill fairs" when the weather warms up, so keep your eye out for one in your area so you can see a demo.

Although a 17" bandsaw will cut the wood, there would be safety issues and maybe even weight issues with larger logs that discourage such activity.

From contributor T:
The G0513x can only cut 12" high at max., so on a 20" diameter log, it would have to be cut into smaller diameter/size before you try to mill it.

Occasionally I mill a short (less than 24") and small (less than 12" diameter) piece on my G0513 (not x) if making something from wood that has sentimental or other intrinsic value. I have a small sled for that. Even these small pieces are difficult to handle properly.

Recommend you use one of the above posted methods and not try it on your G0513x. Too dangerous.

From contributor P:
Replies like most of yours amaze me. The guy says he has more time than money, yet most of you give recommendations that cost him money. Help him by being creative, as well as safe.

I too have a nice bandsaw in my woodshop. I have a Minimax MM24. A little more beef than what you have, but nonetheless, it's not made for milling lumber. Here's what I'd do, if I were in your shoes.

Cut your logs to a length that you can handle. And of course from the part of the tree that is the diameter your saw can handle. Then, get your log onto your bandsaw table, and make your first cut right down the center. This is a much safer cut than trying to slab off the sides first. Have someone on the outfeed side of your saw, to help guide the log through.

Now you've opened up a face on the log. Put that face flat down on your table, and start cutting boards. They'll start out skinny, and get wider and wider. Or you could even cut that 1/2 log right down the middle again. Think quartersawing, much safer and easier to do on a woodshop bandsaw.

Now, what about the big logs that are too difficult to handle, or just too large for your bandsaw? Quarter saw them with your chainsaw first, to break them down. No need to buy an Alaskan Mill, or some soft of attachment (though I have used them, and they do make the job easier). Just get a ripping chain for your chainsaw, or take your chain to your local sharpener, and ask him to grind the teeth almost straight across. 5 degrees works well.

If breaking these logs down with a chainsaw is too hard for you, or if you have some really big logs, then take your chainsaw, and cut them into bowl blanks. If you don't have a lathe, and you're not a turner, you can simply sell these bowl blanks. I do this all the time. The species you speak of won't sell very well, as it's not a favorite for turners, but if the bowl blanks are large enough, turners will buy them. Huge bowl blanks are hard to find. I just sold one that was 33" square by 26" thick. Shipped it from Chicago to Washington. The guy paid more for shipping than he did for the blank, but it just goes to show how hard it can be for those addicted to turning to find large blanks.

Get some Anchorseal for the blanks, but if you can't afford a couple gallons of Anchorseal, you can wrap the blanks in plastic in a pinch. But sell them quickly, before they start drying and cracking.

Back to the lumber part of your adventure: Please do some research on stacking and drying your wood, before you start sawing. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of time into the start of this venture, and have your boards all cup, twist, and crack.

The main thing is, just take your time. I think your bandsaw is 2 or 3hp, so just go slower. It's safer that way, too. I recall the first time I sliced some boards on my MM24. I used a carbide blade, rather than the proper blade, but it sure was nice seeing those boards come off the log as smooth as glass.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:

It does not matter how much time or money you have or do not have, being unsafe is never an option. As almost all of the postings indicated, using this saw for producing lumber from large yellow poplar logs is quite unsafe. It becomes silly to think of using this saw when there are safe options available.

Appreciate that the GO513-2x 17" is an excellent saw, but it only has 2 hp and a 12" maximum opening. Plus it has a 1/2" wide blade. By the time you put on a jig to hold a 4' or longer log (the table is only about 16" deep), you can cut about a 10" thick piece... Not too good with these 20+ diameter logs. Plus with poplar of that size, it is likely there will be some pieces of lumber that are 16' long and clear and fairly wide. These would be valuable to you and to potential customers. A band saw like this one modified with a jig for holding a log could not cut much of the valuable lumber that is in the log.

The small blade cannot hold much sawdust and is not designed for green wood or for deep cuts. The blade will not cut straight with a large piece. Note that this saw uses a special blade.

If money is an issue, many sawmills can cut your logs and then retain part of the lumber as payment, so there is no cash flow. Plus by going this route, you will have a teacher to show you how to saw safely, accurately, high yield, etc. This approach would be the best start for a rookie.

From contributor G:
Contributor P, you offer the suggestion that he chainsaw the logs into bowl blanks. I also doubt that chainsaw ripping into quarters and short lengths was the milling experience he had in mind. But I may be all wrong. I presumed the milling experience involves processing the whole log, taking care to observe the knots and flaws to generate the best finished lumber. That bandsaw does not have the HP, space under guide or mass to drag a blade through wet 20" logs, no matter how it is modified. The questioner is free to disagree, but I don't think that chainsawing the logs into pieces small enough to safely, or even unsafely, be cut by that bandsaw constitutes much of a milling experience at all.

From contributor F:
I think one thing that may be a hindrance to getting the logs cut on shares or part for cutting is the species. I have a tl given to me only 3 km from the mill and I don't think I will earn my board (pardon the pun) for the time it's going to take to mill it. I was in the same position a few years ago. I ended up buying a small band mill. I later sold it and purchased a circular. I know the feeling of wanting to start sawing. The Alaska mill I would think would give some experience. I believe they are around $150.00 and can cut to 1 inch boards. The one issue is safety and instruction. For the amount of money it costs for the Alaska, I doubt whether they would do any on site demos, and it would depend on the nearest dealer. I think Gene's idea of woodworking fairs would give good experience.

Re-sawing with the bandsaw is like any other saw; it depends on the saw's capability. Another factor is what is available to move the logs. Cutting on site would get them down to manageable sizes and weights, small enough for a table or bandsaw to finish. Boards could be moved with a small trailer or pickup.

Contributor P, this is no time to go mentally irregular. We are trying to help a brother get into sawing safely and affordably.

From contributor P:
I'm not sure where my suggestions were unsafe, and I think they were the most affordable suggestions I've seen yet!

From contributor D:
I got started making lumber using an Alaskan mill fixed to a Stihl 028 saw with 20" bar and ripping chain, to rip logs into smaller pieces which could be taken to a 14" Delta bandsaw. I had the riser block to cut up to 12" high, took off the stand so it was near to the floor, and set it inside a low table which I could slide the cants along on a plywood strip. I also changed the pulleys to slow down the blade. Needless to say, this was not conducive to using this bandsaw for the finer work for which it was intended. Nor were the mountains of bark and sawdust in my basement shop or the modest amount of lumber produced conducive to much fine woodworking. However, it did permanently satisfy the desire for this type of milling. In my case it led to the purchase of larger chainsaw milling equipment, and then to a Wood-Mizer, with the only justifiable outlet for this habit and expense being to saw wood for others. Fortunately I find this rewarding.

I have found that I can quarter logs too large for my equipment by freehand ripping using a chainsaw and a chalk line, but do not recommend this to anyone else because of safety considerations over possible serious injury due to saw kickback and vibration. So if you are really intent on making wood with your present equipment, I recommend you try splitting shorter logs lengthwise into quarters or smaller (to jump over the harder and dangerous chainsaw work), and then find out what you can saw on your bandsaw with the wood sliding past a highly tensioned blade securely mounted on a board platform you devise, against a straightedge. It won't yield a mountain of wood, but it will be fun. If afterwards you would really rather get on to working wood, then find someone to saw your poplar for you.

The great thing about having a portable sawmiller drop by is that you can still be significantly involved in sawing your own wood. If, however, you still have to saw more and bigger boards, by yourself, then an Alaskan mill setup is probably the least expensive and most portable. But you're probably never going to think that method either easy or efficient. Beware if you notice that you start justifying spending anything more than a thousand or two just to get wood for yourself. There are good reasons that it costs a few dollars a board foot at the store. Please be very careful for your own safety.

From the original questioner:
I really appreciate all of your responses. You've given me a lot of options to consider for the future. When I was considering my relatively light duty equipment, I was mostly concerned with cutting speed and convenience, and did not consider the safety aspects of flipping a band saw over, cutting off a leg, etc. I also have grown accustomed to my fingers, so keeping them would be a bonus.

There is a local guy who will mill any dimension of lumber for $0.30 a bd/ft. For the poplar, my profit margin is still worth hauling and drying it. But this opened up a relative gold mine for more expensive woods that I come across. I'll take $0.30 over $7.00 for walnut any day.

I'm going to keep my eye out for good portable mills under $3,000 (used) if my experience with drying milled lumber works out. I've had a lot of issues with really bad cracking when I tried to dry small portions of pecan in the past.

Again, thank you. I'm excited about learning more. In the mean time, it definitely sounds like the wear and tear on equipment, fuel, and possible hospital bills would probably outweigh the cost of having it milled.

From contributor B:
Before you go too far, make sure you have what you think you have. "Poplar" covers a broad range of trees. Tulip or yellow poplar is what you will find at the lumberyard. Cottonwood is also a poplar but is much less stable than tulip and has a different look. It grows to very large diameters and, in my opinion, isn't worth sawing. Aspen is also sold as a poplar. Before investing time and money, be sure which species you have and that you want it for your purposes.