The Pros and Cons of a Portable Sawmill

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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My husband spent a great deal of time researching the reviews and costs of different brands of sawmills before we finally could invest in our own portable bandsaw mill in July 2015. While I will not be discussing any specific brands, I do want to talk about our experiences in order to help anyone who may be considering purchasing a portable sawmill for themselves. The prices will vary, but I will tell you to expect to spend a few thousand dollars for a good mill. Even for a used bandsaw mill, expect to spend only $500 under the price to buy it new!


You have the option of choosing an electric engine (which requires a battery), or gas engine. You can also add on many other features such as a track/bed extension, log loading/ramp package, lap siding and shingle kit, log rollers, and even a package that allows you to haul the sawmill as a trailer.

By the time you start milling up wood, you can sell boards to help cover the costs of more blades (and gas if you choose that type of engine). In a day’s work, we make more than enough to cover the cost of a box of blades and a full tank of gas.

Even scrap lumber can be sold or used for many projects. (Refer to end of this article to see how much we’ve made from selling/crafting with scraps.)

A well cared for bandsaw mill can last you over 10 years. Taking the time to maintain and protect your sawmill is worth it. If you do ever get in a rough spot, though, you can sell them for only slightly less than what you paid for it.

If you are looking to build for yourselves, the sawmill will quickly pay for itself once you start looking at the cost of wood at lumber/hardware stores and comparing it to what you are cutting.


The company we got our mill from gave the option to have part of it pre-assembled and shipped for around $1,000. Unfortunately this was just the carriage (where the saw is at) that was assembled, not the track that it rolls down. We chose to assemble it all ourselves, and the sawmill came in 19 different boxes in the back of an 18-wheeler. It took a little over a week to put together and it was frustrating — the instruction manual was over 200 pages long!

Leveling the track can be a challenge — you need to make sure this is done right and quadruple-checked before you start milling, or you will end up with problems such as bad dips in your boards and the carriage shaking while you cut.

When we first got started, we had NO idea how to go about cutting boards out. We had a lot of wasted wood before we finally started measuring outside of what we originally needed from the log, and getting a few extra 1-2-inch pieces. It takes time to get in the swing of cutting for as little waste as possible.

It is NOT a one-person job — you need at least two or more people to run one of these portable sawmills, because there is a lot of work involved. For a person by themselves, consider looking into a chainsaw mill.

It is a necessity to constantly monitor that you don’t hit anything else while cutting — we learned this quickly, after losing a brand new blade by breaking the teeth and bending it. The first time we milled, we accidentally hit one of the metal log supports. This is a good reason to have more than one person- someone needs to watch and make sure there are no obstructions.

If you are considering purchasing a sawmill for yourself, I thank you for reading this, and please consider some of the points listed here. I will say that we’ve estimated by the time we finish building our cabin, the sawmill will have more than paid for itself. Though it has been hard work, my husband and I have been very satisfied personally with the results thus far!


Savings from Home Milling Lumber

We have not even owned our mill one year, but I want to leave you with some numbers that may influence your decision:

• $1,000+ lumber order for a customer
• $200 from selling SCRAP pieces in our local bulletin board
• $50 + from artwork made with scrap lumber and sold at local arts and crafts festivals
• $350 in savings – we just cut up 70 boards for our cabin’s flooring and started nailing them down. I checked prices at hardware store and this is how much we saved by milling up our floor boards. This doesn’t even count the boards that we used to frame out the floor and support it.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, along with raising chickens, rabbits, & ducks. In Spring 2016, they will start growing a large crop of heirloom Indian corn that they will save to sell and make cornmeal with. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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