DIY

Basic Portable Sawmill Maintenance: Blade Care

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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USDA Forest Service engineer Neal Bennett adjusts a log on the portable sawmill at the Greenbrier Ranger District, Monongahela National Forest, Pocahontas County, West Virginia
Photo by Flickr/Monongahela National Forest

Modern homesteaders are enjoying simpler, richer, more fulfilling lives, inspired from the fruits of their own hard earned labor.

It’s understandable then that the decision to build a home or shelter using one’s own milled wood is a popular goal among many homesteaders, and has been throughout the ages. Those living on wooded acreage or with access to an authorized raw wood stock, may experience the true joy and satisfaction that this very rewarding endeavor can bring.

The reward may not necessarily reflect that solely from a monetary standpoint. In fact, depending upon the scope and size of a project, harvesting and processing wood from one’s own wood stock can easily become a very complex process. You may be asking how so? Well there is the felling of specific trees, milling, drying and the storage of various lumber that can make for an arduous experience. An experience which can quickly become more expensive and less convenient than purchasing standard frame lumber from a standard commercial retailer at the outset.

So, if milling one’s own lumber costs potentially more in time, money and labor, then why do it?

There are many perfectly good reasons to do it. One of which stems from the self-gratification of pure, hard but meaningful work, born out of the very heart and soul of self-sufficiency. If you would like to get the opportunity to experience the deep level of satisfaction derived from building using one’s own milled wood, then a well maintained sawmill will assist you in the process.

This post is not intended to represent an exhaustive approach or complete authority over the subject matter. It is intended to provide basic tips of portable sawmill maintenance for smaller operations, such as that of a homestead. Assuming that all safety guidelines are followed throughout, let us begin where many woodcraft dreams are made: At the blade!

Sawing a plank
Photo by Pexels/cleyderduque

Blade Care

Quality sawmill results start and end with sharp blades.

Sawmill blades offer their best results when they have been properly sharpened. A homesteader may have their sawmill’s blades sharpened and set using a sharpening service or high quality sharpening equipment.

Sharp blades provide an operator with better wood production overall. Sharp blades offer more precision, accuracy, fuel and time efficiencies.

Blade break-in period. Allow a break-in period after installing a new sawmill blade. To do this, perform a couple of test cuts at a moderate rate of speed. You should also limit the amount of skim cuts made with only one side of the set tooth operating.

Blade tension. For best blade performance, it is essential that blade tension is checked periodically. Proper blade tension permits higher blade speed performance. It is also a good idea to check hydraulic tension, springs and air bags.

Belt tension. After installing new drive belts, take care to maintain proper belt tension. New belts have a tendency to slacken. Tighter tension allows for a better transfer of horsepower and RPM to the sawmill’s blade.

Blade wheels belts. The blade wheel belts must be in good condition to reach peak performance, because worn belts can lead to blade tracking problems. Swapping drive side and idle side can extend belt life.

Blade guides. Check blade guide alignment to prevent any cutting irregularities. The guides should be aligned straight, without being pitched up or down and the rollers should be clean, secure and spinning freely. Rollers should be replaced if they have been worn slick or are cone shaped. The blade should have complete freedom of movement and not rest on the roller flange or back guide.

Blade cleaning. Cleaning cuts down harmful, wearing debris on blade teeth. It’s a good idea to use a debarker on logs prior to cutting. Small rocks, dirt and general debris that’s contained in the bark can wear down the blade prematurely. Debris is abrasive and wearing on blades and diminishes blade life and cutting performance. 

Blade lubrication. Lubricated blades provide ease in blade cutting performance by keeping the blade smooth and clean between sharpening service. Lubrication also helps stabilize chain length pitch by reducing build-up and extending the overall life of the blade as a whole.

Feed rates. Take care with feed rates. Slower speeds diminish band saw blade life. Feed as fast as possible without lag or decreased cutting accuracy.

A very portable sawmill – chainsaw
Photo by Pexels/karolinagrabowska

Wood Species

Become more knowledgeable about different wood species and the specific wood that you are cutting. For example, hardwoods’ versus softwoods’ characteristics or older, drier wood being more difficult to cut than younger, moist wood and the proper cutting techniques and feed rates that should accompany them. 

The aforementioned points will help provide for a good portable sawmill operation experience, while also protecting or preserving its associated parts.

This concludes Part 1 of basic portable sawmill maintenance.

Next up: We will look at engine and battery maintenance and a few additional areas that will help keep your sawmill running smoothly for years to come.


Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on FacebookTwitter and InstagramRead all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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