The Chainsaw Lumber Mill Explained

If you want to turn raw logs into usable boards, there are two types of chainsaw lumber mill that will do the job for you.

| September/October 1984

  • chainsaw lumber mill - man using horizontal mill
    The author demonstrates the use of a horizontal chainsaw lumber mill attachment. Notice the guide board nailed to the top of the project log, and the vertical-thickness calibrating device that allows for adjustment of slab thickness without removing, repositioning, and reattaching the guide board.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • chainsaw lumber mill - man using horizontal mill

A chainsaw 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 chainsaw 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 foot!)


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