How to Build a Sawmill for Under $1,000

The author didn't know how to build a sawmill per se, but learned by doing.

| June/July 1994

Before I decided to build my family a log house in the woods of central Georgia, I'd had no experience with a sawmill or any association with the sawyers' trade. However, when it came time to square logs and cut extra-thick floor joists and roof beams, I found the most practical and economical way to get it done was to design and build my own mill ... from scratch and on site.

I am by no means an expert on sawmills, but I am happy to share with MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers what I have learned the hard way about how to build a sawmill, by "just doin' it."

You might ask why anyone would want their own sawmill. I have some good reasons. First, if you work with wood, you know how lumber prices have gone through the roof lately. A common construction-grade, kiln-dried, 8-foot 2 x 4 wall stud increased in price by another third just last winter to $3.50 in some places. A 2" x 10" x 12' board used for roof beams or floor joists costs almost $15. So, one advantage of having your own mill is cutting out the delivery middleman and eliminating the cost of shipping lumber all the way to you, which means saving money — a whole lot of money if you have a house, barn, or similarly large structure to raise.

Another appeal of your own mill is that you can cut lumber to any size you fancy The squared logs for walls and oversized timbers I wanted to use for rafters and floor joists were not sold at any building-supply outlet. I'd have had to order them custom-sawed since clear fir or spruce "dimensional" construction lumber comes stocked only in thicknesses and widths calculated to produce the cheapest stick-built house frames. Nearly all framing lumber is a puny 1 3/4" thick. The board that's called a 2 x 4 is no longer an honest 2" thick by 4" wide. That may be how it comes off the log as "actual-measure" rough lumber, but once kiln-dried and planed smooth (so every piece will be same-sized and true in all dimensions), the board is only 1 X 3/4" thick and 3 1/2" wide. You pay for the wood that was in the "kerf," the cut in the log that gets turned to sawdust, and for the thin shavings removed to finish the rough board smooth. You just don't get to take the wood chips home with you.

Boards left rough and splintery but full sized may be a tiny fraction of an inch out of true, but they can save you time and wood, as you can space larger boards further apart. Also, if left exposed to view inside the building, over-sized beams and rough-cut boards will give your home a rugged, hand-hewn look.

With your own mill, you can cut local softwoods to frame buildings and you can saw up local hardwood logs for mantles, doors, paneling and other house trim, or to make into furniture. I make use of such scarce hardwoods and hard-to-find softwood species such as black walnut, pecan, cypress, and yellow poplar that would normally be wasted; for example, overgrown shade trees cut out of house lots that are usually split into firewood or burned and chipped on the spot.

8/14/2007 9:34:35 PM

do you know where i could get a 1 3/8" nut washers and shaft

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