Safety, Selection, Milling, and
Stopping By Woods
Chain Saw Safety
Chain Saw Sense
Chain Saw Lumber Mill
Chain Saw Skills
If you're building a log structure and have lots of
time but not much money, read on as ...
Mother Tests Two Chain Saw Mini-Mills
Put simply, a chain saw lumber-milling attachment is a
device that clamps to the guide bar of a saw and rides
down a rail attached to the top of the log being milled.
Most are uncomplicated aids that allow a patient sawyer
to make perfectly straight, parallel ripping cuts just
like those made by an honest-to-gosh real lumber mill.
As mentioned before in this mini-manual, these milling
attachments can be roughly divided into two categories,
depending on whether the saw mounts horizontally
for "flat" milling, or vertically with the saw
riding atop the log rather than beside it. The horizontal
units are generally larger, more complex and expensive,
and much more efficient for highvolume professional work.
The vertical "mini-mills" are smaller, less complex, and
less expensive, but we wondered just how capable they
So we rounded up the two least-expensive vertical mills
we could find and headed out to THE MOTHER EARTH
NEWS° EcoVillage research center to make some
sawdust. From our battery of chain saws we chose a
midsize Poulan Model 3700 (3.7 cubic inch powerhead) with
an 18" guide bar, because it fell within the size range
(14" to 21" bar) of saws owned by the average
nonprofessional woodcutter. We were working with 8'
lengths of 16"-diameter pine log, freshly cut, green and
sappy (why make it easy on ourselves?).
OF BEAM MACHINES AND LUMBERMAKERS
We decided to evaluate the smallest, least-expensive
mills on the theory that very few folks will ever have
reason or opportunity to run enough logs through a
multi-hundred-dollar horizontal mill toe pay back its
purchase price. But more than a few industrious
MOTHER-readers will build backwoods cabins during their
lifetimes, and even more will have occasion to mill out a
beam or a few boards from time to time. Neither of the
tools tested-the Haddon Lumbermaker and the Bushpilot
Beam Machine-retails for over $50. That means, at least
hypothetically, that milling just a few boards, or even
fewer heavy beams, could pay off either of these
tools in its first day of use.
Great. But do they work?
The answer is yes, both of them do. But the
sawyer works even harder. Milling lumber this
way isn't a job for the languid. But then, neither is
any sort of work with a chain saw. Coaxing a bar
through the length of a large log-over and over
again-requires strength and stamina. It also demands
patience arid perseverance.
But for those who don't mind sweat in their eyes and
sawdust in their hair, here's a run-through of what to
expect on your first day of milling.
HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK
Although the little Poulan hummed right along and never
bogged down, the day's milling was laborious, as we
attempted to "lumber out" a beefy (and green) 16" log
with an 18" saw. Our chief sawyer estimated that he could
have produced several times the number of beams and
boards that he did, had he been working with 10" to 12"
logs. But then the beams and boards would have been
considerably smaller, of course. So it all comes out in
For maximum cutting efficiency and minimum effort, your
saw should be in good tune and equipped with a
razor-sharp chain. We found that we could make about two
passes through an 8' length of pine log before the chain
needed to be resharpened-which indi cates that any
potential chain saw lumber miller should have his or her
chainsharpening skills down pat. (Special "skip-tooth"
milling chains are available that offer both longer
intervals between sharpening and increased cutting
Once you've felled and limbed a tree for milling, you'll
need to roll it up onto two firewood-size sticks of scrap
wood. How high Well, just make sure it's high enough to
keep the tip of your saw', guide bar from contacting the
ground while cutting.
After getting the top of the log more or less level by
sawing off any projections, nail a guide board parallel
to the length of the timber and extending about a foot
beyond the far end. (The cutting bar trails the mill, and
without this extra length you'll find yourself
freehandling the last few inches of each cut.) Carefully
align and position the track before nailing it down.
Now place the mill atop the guide rail (like a rider
straddling a saddle), start the saw, and begin "rocking"
it through the log. It goes like this: Pull the saw into
the top of the log, allowing it to pivot up to about a
45° angle. Then, while holding the mill so that it
won't backslide, apply pressure to the front handle of
the saw to force the bar down to the vertical. You should
now have a straight up-and-down cut some several inches
long; continue on through the length of the log with the
same rocking motion.
After the first half-round "mill end" slab falls to the
ground, shut the saw off and lift it of the guide board.
Use a claw hammer to pry the track loose, and set it
aside. Roll the log over a quarter-turn, reposition and
nail down the guide board, put the saw back onto the
track, and have at it again. (This transition operation
takes only a couple of minutes once you get it down.)
Twice more through the procedure of cutting and
repositioning, and you'll have a beam plus four
half-round mill ends.
To mill dimensional lumber from your freshly cut beams,
simple measure the width of the plank you want, nail the
track down, and go to it as before. Although it's
necessary to reposition the track tier
each board you mill, the operation goes quickly because
you no longer have to turn the log before each cut.
Milling also gets easier as you go along, since you'll be
learning as you go. Our novice millman's first cut took
almost 15 minutes-but by the end of the first day he was
ripping off boards in a third of that time.
There's not a whole lot more to it than that. The
instructions that come with your milling attachment will
provide the basics, and the rest is just a matter of
practice. Within a few hours you'll be milling with the
best of them. (And you'll be tired.)
Now let's take a look at the two mills under scrutiny.
THE BUSHPILOT BEAM MACHINE
At $29.95, the Canadian-made Bushpilot Beam Machine is
the least expensive chain saw milling attachment on the
market. It would be difficult to imagine anything more
basic-and it works beautifully.
This little mill is nothing more than a foot-long section
of 3/16"thick stamped steel U-channel, measuring 1-1/8"
on the sides by 3-5/8" wide. It fits snugly over a 2 X 4
guide board (which, of course, actually measures only
1-1/2" X 3-1/2").
A large hexagonal coupler-nut is welded crosswise to the
top of, and 3° from the front of, the U-channel. This
nut accepts a 1/2"diameter bolt that's welded to a heavy
C-clamp made of bent steel bar. The saw's guide bar fits
into the C-clamp and is anchored in place by tightening
two beefy 3/8"-diameter bolts that force the bar against
a serrated steel plate on the opposite side of the clamp.
This arrangement allows the saw to pivot for easier
milling (and the attachment stood up to several hours of
cutting without losing its grip).
A feature unique to The Beam Machine is a row of what the
manufacturer calls "dog teeth" spaced across the top and
about an inch from the front of the U-channel. The three
teeth project down and come into contact with the guide
board, digging in to help fight the tendency of the mill
to backslide during the "rocking" cutting motion
described earlier. This feature results in a significant
saving in sawyer energy.
The dog teeth work beautifully on a new 2 X 4
guide board; but by the second cut, the teeth have dug
channels into the rail, effectively negating their
ability to bite in and get a grip. Since the teeth have
simply been stamped out of the U-channel material itself,
it seems that the manufacturer could greatly improve the
performance of the product simply by making the teeth a
bit meaner-that is, making them longer and sharper, and
perhaps adding a second row staggered behind the
first-without noticeably driving up his production costs
or the selling price.
The Beam Machine comes with instructions, including
photos and drawings, that are adequate but not overly
The Beam Machine comes with a lifetime guarantee on
materials and workmanship. You can order it from The Beam
Machine, Box 546, Fall City, WA 98024-for $29.95 plus
$4.00 for shipping and handling. Canadian readers can
order the unit from Ted Mather, Box 16, Quathiaski Cove,
B.C., Canada. Or write to either address for more
THE HADDON LUMBERMAKER
The second low-cost ($44.95) chain saw lumber-milling
attachment we tested is the Haddon Lumbermaker. This tool
has been around for several years, and utilizes a
modified U-channel construction stamped from 1/8"-thick
steel. A heavy cast C-clamp holds the saw's guide bar in
place under pressure from three 1/4"-diameter allenhead
The U-channel measures 3/4" on the sides, with a width of
5-9/16" to accept a 2 X 6 guide board ...and includes an
L-shaped steel plate that bolts to the bottom of the
channel to accept a 2 X 4 rail (In fact, it's adjustable
down to about 1-1/2", though we wouldn't recommend using
a guide track that narrow.)
This guide-board-width adjustability puts the Haddon a
jump ahead when working with extremely large logs, since
a 2 X 6 rail offers more lateral stability. With logs of
less than 12" diameter, it doesn't seem to matter much
one way or another.
But since the Lumbermaker doesn't have any sort of t11
gripping provisions ("dog teeth" or whatnot), it's prone
to backslicing during the milling operation and is thus a
little more tiring t;, work with.
The Lumbermaker's 28-page owner's manual is excellent. It
utility lizes clear instructions and sharp photos to lead
the sawyer step b,. step through even the most
complicated chain saw millin operations-including the
basics of building a log cabin with millsquared logs.
Haddon's "no-risk" guarantee states that if you're not
completely, satisfied with the tool, you can return it
within 30 days of purchase for a full refund-"No
The Haddon Lumbermaker is available by mail order for
$44.9 ; plus $2.00 shipping and handling from Haddon
Tool, 4719 W. Elm St., Dept. ME9, Box 515, McHenry, IL
60050. The company :1, will be happy to send you more
information on request.
TO MILL OR NOT TO MILL, THAT IS
THE QUESTION ...
And onlyyou can provide the answer. Either of the milling
attachment ;;.ments discussed here will get the job done.
They're reasonably priced and sturdily constructed. They
can be successfully employed for an% thing from simply
squaring two sides of a log, to making beams, to milling
dimensional lumber. The amount of work involved is not so
much a function of the mill as it is of the size
and condition of your chain saw, the sharpness of your
chain, and the size and varies of trees you're milling.
Which mill is better? We can't say. Our limited hands-on
evaluation indicates that each has its strong and weak
points, as noted above: but we weren't aiming for a
"shoot-out" comparison. We'd advise that if you're
interested in milling your own, you write to
both out fits for more information ...and check
out any similar mills that come to your attention.
Overall, if you keep your expectations within the obvious
limit tions of these little tools, we feel that a
mini-mill can be a word: while addition to your
toolshed-especially if vou're energetic, economyminded,
and striving for self-sufciency.