Safety, Selection, Milling, and
Stopping By Woods...
Chain Saw Safety
Chain Saw Sense
Chain Saw Mini-Mills
Chain Saw Skills
Their sizes range from small to tall-and so do their
prices. But no matter the style, here's ...
What To Look For In a Chain Saw Lumber Mill
By Harold C. Macintosh
A chain saw lumber mill is a mechanical device that
attaches to the saw's guide bar and-with the aid of a guide
board "track" (usually a 2 X 4 or 2 X 6) nailed to the
project log-allows you to make perfectly parallel milling
cuts the entire length of a log. The primary advantage of
using a mill attachment is that you can cut slabs that are
smoother, straighter, and more equal in size than is
possible with freehand ripping.
Although there are many brands of chain saw lumber mills on
the market today, there are only two basic types: small
vertical mills, and the more involved
horizontal units. Which type is better for you
depends on your needs. Let's take a look at both.
Vertical mills are, for the most part, simpler in
construction, give you more usable guide-bar cutting length
(because they fit closer to the surface of the log), and
are less expensive to purchase. Moreover, vertical mills
are also easier to install on, and remove from, your saw
than are the more complex horizontal devices, which often
require that you drill one or more holes through the bar to
accept attaching bolts.
When you're shopping for a vertical mill, be sure to choose
one that allows the saw to pivot up and down while it's in
use, and that can also be locked at any cutting angle. This
feature will allow you to adjust the bar angle so that the
chain does not protrude excessively from the bottom of the
log-thus eliminating the necessity of raising the project
log high off the ground to protect the bar-tip and chain.
Another advantage of being able to adjust the cutting angle
of the bar without removing it from the mill is that you
can put more cutters to work at any one time by using the
lowest angle possible (which will be determined by the
thickness of the log). And finally, there is little need to
change bar length when milling different diameter logs if
you have the option of adjusting the cutting angle.
Horizontal mills are generally more expensive-sometimes
they're much more expensive-than the vertical
mechanisms. Also, because they travel alongside the log,
they shorten the guide bar's working length by several
inches. (The horizontal mill attachment I use on my Stihl
076AV reduces the working length of the bar by a full
Of course, there are plenty of advantages to using
a horizontal mill, too. Probably the biggest plus is that
after you've sliced the first half= round slab off the top
of a log, there's no need to remove, reposition, and
reattach the guide board for every single slab you cut-as
you must do with the vertical mills. Instead, just nail the
guide board onto the first flat-milled side of the log, and
then simply adjust
the mill's vertical-thickness calibrating device for each
And for extremely heavy-duty use, horizontal mills may be
purchased equipped with double-ended bars to accept
two powerheads. These same special bars also take
a "helper handle" device with a roller assembly, which
makes the task of pulling a large saw through a hefty log
much easier. And finally, special auxiliary oiler
assemblies are available that mount at the end of the guide
bar and provide the extra lubrication needed to meet the
extreme demands of continuous milling.
To summarize, I'd say that the type of attachment you
choosevertical or horizontal-should depend on the
difficulty and frequency of milling you intend to do. If
you'll be slicing up only an occasional softwood log for
craft projects, or maybe squaring a few logs for beams from
time to time, I'd go with one of the pivoting vertical
units ...most of which are available for well under $100.
If, on the other hand, you are planning to square all the
logs and mill all the lumber needed to construct an entire
cabin, you'll almost certainly be better off with a
substantial horizontal attachment (and a hefty powerhead).
In either case, if you're planning an extensive milling
expedition into the backcountry, be sure to carry along at
least one extra com plete set of nuts and bolts
for your mill-including the large U-bolts for the
thickness-rail adjustment on the horizontal mills. In order
to prevent damage to your saw's guide bar or the mill
itself, these bolts are generally of "carriage" quality,
designed to break when overtightened or tightened unevenly.
In my many years of professional chain saw experience, I've
found that with a combination of the right saw and mill
attachment for the job, chain saw milling can be an
economical, efficient way to producc quality lumber.
Harold C. McIntosh who is the author of The Chain Saw Craft
Book, demonstrates the use of a horizontal chain saw
lumber-milling attachment. Notice the guide board nailed to
the top of the project log, and the vertical-thickness
calibrating device that allows for adjustment of slap
thickness without removing, repositioning, and reattaching
the guide board.