Using a Portable Sawmill to Make Homestead Necessities

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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A few years ago a major piece of our homesteading puzzle fell in place; we bought a Wood Mizer portable sawmill. Up to that point we’d been, as most people, dependent on the lumber yard and it’s supply, as well as friends and acquaintances with occasional stacks of lumber for us to rifle through or logs to mill somewhere else. We don’t have any heavy equipment to transport logs with so anything cut on our land had to be moved, by someone else, first to a mill, then back here. 

Now, on every first day of a new building project, we start where all building projects ought to start; in the woods. That tree and that tree for the frame, those for the walls, those for the roof. We fell them, haul them with our people powered log hauler and turn them into lumber right here in our yard. Last year we built a timber framed hut from a red oak that started to shade the garden; that entire frame didn’t travel more than 300 ft, from the stomp to the mill to the site.

But, not all logs have to come to our yard either; the mill isn’t bigger or heavier than it can be loaded onto our trailer and hauled behind our Subaru. This week we have the mill set up a couple of miles down the road at a friends place. He’s a tree feller and have stacked up a pile of cedar, black locust and spruce, real nice red spruce that’s all ours as a trade for milling the hardwood for him. We get the perfect lumber for our next project, interior work in the hostel building, and he gets the perfect match lumber for the sauna he’ll build at his place.

Of course we bought the mill to provide our own building material and to make use of the trees that need to come down around our yard, but the byproducts we get have turned out to be just as valuable to us as the lumber. For one thing, the sawmill gives us slabs, the off cuts that have the bark on one side. Tons of slabs and for anyone cooking on a small wood stove, there’s nothing better to get your tea water boiling with than some dry spruce slabs. We get enough for ourselves, and more. So we give slabs to neighbors and friends and in return we get something else. Like warm spaces to start tomato seedlings in, help to look after our chickens if we go away somewhere or just the general feeling of giving and getting.   

Then it’s the sawdust. It might sound timid, compared to the $1000 pieces of locust we cut this morning, but I don’t know what we’d do without the sawdust the mill gets us. I don’t know what we did before we had the mill; we use sawdust in our outhouses, to pack the root crops in for storage, in our chicken house. We go through perhaps 60 feed sacks every year, a resource we’d have to go somewhere to get if it wasn’t for our mill. So to say the sawmill is a piece in the homestead puzzle might be a slight understatement. In some ways, it’s a key factor. It enable us to progress with our building projects without necessarily having the money it would take, it ties us to our community in a good way, both with labor trade and resource trade and it makes it easier for us to store food, have nice outhouses for the hostel guests and keep livestock. Some of the essence of homesteading, right there. To provide for yourself and your community using your own resources while making the most of all what’s around you. Who would ever have thought, a Wood Mizer machine would to the trick?