Use a Portable Sawmill to Make Your Own Lumber

Save big by choosing an affordable, portable sawmill to cut homemade lumber with a bandsaw mill or chainsaw mill attachment.
By Oscar H. Will III
June/July 2013
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The Granberg Alaskan mill is compact enough you can take it into the woods.
Photo By Karen Keb

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Are you regularly in need of lumber for homestead projects but tired of paying high prices for boards from your local home-improvement store? Consider acquiring a small, portable sawmill to cut your own lumber. Access to portable lumber-milling equipment makes creating perfectly dimensioned lumber possible for all of your DIY projects.

Bandsaw mills are faster and waste less wood than chainsaw mills do, but chainsaw mills’ light weight and smaller size translate to greatly increased portability. Building with homemade lumber will take a little more time no matter which portable sawmill you choose, but the payoff is huge in satisfaction, savings and the ability to precisely control the dimensions of your boards to fit your designs.

Here, we profile two portable sawmill options: the Granberg Alaskan Small Log chainsaw mill, which costs about $200, and Hud-Son’s HFE 21 Homesteader bandsaw mill, priced at $2,600.

Granberg Alaskan Small Log Chainsaw Mill

Chainsaw milling attachments, such as the Granberg Alaskan Small Log chainsaw mill, consist of a framework to hold the saw, plus a chain optimized for ripping that allows the chainsaw to cut down the length of a log. They are much slower than bandsaw mills, but their lighter weight means you can take a chainsaw mill with you out into the woods. The Small Log model will cut logs less than 20 inches in diameter.

The Granberg Alaskan mill includes optional slabbing bars for making your initial cut, a 20-inch chainsaw bar and special ripping chains to fit your chainsaw. The mill is designed to bolt to your chainsaw bar without drilling. Assembly takes about 20 minutes. To view a series of videos that demonstrate the assembly of Granberg's Alaskan mill and its milling capabilities, go to Portable Sawmill Options: Bandsaw and Chainsaw Mills.

When I tested this mill, I had a large accumulation of hard pine timbers and boards after an hour’s worth of cutting. Making the widest (8-foot-long) cuts took four to six minutes. The Granberg Alaskan mill Small Log model will make cuts from a half-inch up to 13 inches thick.

This chainsaw mill worked flawlessly for me, and our Husqvarna chainsaw powerhead was able to drive the ripping chain with no problem. You certainly won’t go into the lumber-milling business with this setup, but you will be able to saw and make use of logs you wouldn’t think of dragging off to the mill.

Hud-Son Homesteader Bandsaw Mill

The Hud-Son Homesteader portable bandsaw mill is easy to move, easy to use, and capable of handling up to 21-inch-diameter logs. It arrived on a pallet that I moved into my shop with the help of a tractor loader. Another option would have been to unpack the pallet and carry individual pieces to the assembly point.

Our Hud-Son HFE came with a bolt-together track system that took me about an hour to put together correctly, with the rails parallel — but it pays to be meticulous when it comes to squaring things up and getting them plumb. The manual and a few common hand tools were all I needed to accomplish this setup.

Hud-Son’s Homesteader bandsaw mill is equipped with a 6.5-horsepower gasoline engine. I rolled a black walnut log onto the track and pinned it in place with the “log dogs” that were included as part of the kit. I adjusted the depth of my first cut, fired up the engine, turned on the cooling water to keep the blade cool and lubricated, and adjusted the throttle to full speed to engage the centrifugal clutch. Wow! I was sawing.

I was impressed by the ease with which I was able to create lumber anywhere from a half-inch to 19 inches thick (the maximum board width possible). See a video of the Hud-Son Homesteader in action at Portable Sawmill Options.

I was able to convert several logs into hundreds of board feet of usable lumber on my first day — especially impressive considering I had never milled wood with a bandsaw mill before. When I was finished for the weekend, I easily moved the entire setup to a storage location in my barn.

If I could choose only one sawmill, I would go with the Alaskan chainsaw mill, because it’s perfectly portable and less expensive. I would mill lumber and timbers for my own projects as well as sufficient extra to sell. With the proceeds from lumber sales, I would purchase the bandsaw mill to make milling more efficient. If I had a line of paying customers from the start, I could purchase the bandsaw mill outright along with the Alaskan. Because each excels at different tasks, the combination of tools would help squeeze more out of my woodland resources. Whichever makes the cut for you, these tools will have you milling your own lumber in no time.

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