The Chainsaw Mini-Mill: We've Tested Two

If you're building a log structure, and have lots of time but not much money, a chainsaw mini-mill is a viable way of preparing the wood you'll need.

| September/October 1984

Put simply, a chainsaw lumber-milling attachment is a device that clamps to the guide bar of a saw and rides down a rail attached to the top of the log being milled. Most are uncomplicated aids that allow a patient sawyer to make perfectly straight, parallel ripping cuts just like those made by an honest-to-gosh real lumber mill.

These milling attachments can be roughly divided into two categories, depending on whether the saw mounts horizontally for "flat" milling, or vertically with the saw riding atop the log rather than beside it. The horizontal units are generally larger, more complex and expensive, and much more efficient for high volume professional work. The vertical "mini-mills" are smaller, less complex, and less expensive, but we wondered just how capable they could be.

So we rounded up the two least-expensive vertical mills we could find and headed out to MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ EcoVillage research center to make some sawdust. From our battery of chainsaws we chose a midsize Poulan Model 3700 (3.7 cubic inch powerhead) with an 18" guide bar, because it fell within the size range (14" to 21" bar) of saws owned by the average nonprofessional woodcutter. We were working with 8' lengths of 16"-diameter pine log, freshly cut, green and sappy (why make it easy on ourselves?).

Of Beam Machines and Lumbermakers

We decided to evaluate the smallest, least-expensive mills on the theory that very few folks will ever have reason or opportunity to run enough logs through a multi-hundred-dollar horizontal mill to pay back its purchase price. But more than a few industrious MOTHER EARTH NEWS-readers will build backwoods cabins during their lifetimes, and even more will have occasion to mill out a beam or a few boards from time to time. Neither of the tools tested — the Haddon Lumbermaker and the Bushpilot Beam Machine — retails for over $50. That means, at least hypothetically, that milling just a few boards, or even fewer heavy beams, could pay off either of these tools in its first day of use.

Great. But do they work?

The answer is yes, both of them do. But the sawyer works even harder. Milling lumber this way isn't a job for the languid. But then, neither is any sort of work with a chainsaw. Coaxing a bar through the length of a large log over and over again requires strength and stamina. It also demands patience and perseverance.

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