If you’ve thought about learning how to saw lumber with a bandsaw mill, the good news is that it isn’t as hard as you may think it is, and brings with it a host of advantages.
A more efficient and affordable alternative to going to a lumber yard to purchase wood, it also gives you the feeling of satisfaction that you get from knowing that you’ve achieved something yourself rather than relied on someone else to do it all for you.
In this guide, we look at the benefits of sawing your own lumber as well as the practicalities that you need to think of and also the actual techniques that you need to use so that you can have the best possible chance of a successful enterprise.
Why Mill Your Own Lumber?
There are numerous reasons why you might want to mill lumber for yourself instead of buying it at a lumber yard. Apart from the feeling of satisfaction there are a number of other advantages.
You’ll save a large amount of money for each board foot as well as getting plenty of wood when you air-dry your own lumber.
Wood which is kiln dried is known to be more likely to chip because of its more brittle nature than lumber which has been air dried, especially if you will be working on it with power tools.
If you want to make high quality furniture, for example, air dried lumber is always best.
On the downside, you will need to wait a while before you use it because for every inch of thickness you need to wait one year. So make sure to factor that into your production time.
That means a lot of planning in advance – something you don’t have to do if you’re just buying your lumber.
What Do You Need To Know About Bandsaw Mills?
Bandsaw mills are very common and consist of a saw head that has two band wheels. They feature a steel flexible band blade which tracks round the band wheels and a frame that has a track which guides the saw’s head through a log. The sawyer will push the saw’s head into a log in order to cut it.
Here are some of the things that you need to know about bandsaw mills if you’re going to be using one to saw lumber:
- Production capability of a bandsaw mill – bandsaw mills are capable of producing from 100 board feet an hour up to over 600 board feet in an hour depending on the size of the model. For low production requirements, a 10 HP manual bandsaw mill is adequate, however, if you require a higher level of production, an automated hydraulic bandsaw mill is ideal.
- Saw Kerf – the narrow blade on a bandsaw mill allows for reduced waste and a larger number of boards produced. The blade also allows for smooth cuts on the lumber’s surface.
- Cost – the blades for bandsaw mills are inexpensive costing about $25 a piece. Blades can also be resharpened when necessary for under $10.
- Flexibility – although the bandsaw mill blade is flexible, this does mean that it also has a tendency to dive producing a wavy board. The blades also have a tendency to stick or break so care is necessary.
- Cutting capacity – bandsaw mills are capable of cutting logs with a 40″ diameter and sometimes more. Even a small sawmill can cut a board to 20″ in width.
- Price – a bandsaw mill can cost as little as $3000 or as much as $40,000 depending on the size and type of mill being purchased. The good news is that they do retain value, however, as long as routine and regular maintenance is carried out.
- Portability – some bandsaw mills are designed to be portable on a trailer, making them an ideal choice for moving to different jobsites.
Tips and Tricks
Although using your bandsaw mill can be very enjoyable and productive, it can be a waste of time if you approach it incorrectly. Planning ahead is important for saving frustration and time, so here are five top tips to help you know how to get the most out of your mill.
- Always use a sharp blade – if you leave your blade on your bandsaw mill for too long you won’t be able to produce a good result. A dull blade will end up diving and popping off which results in the blade becoming stuck into the wood. This wastes time, energy and also wood when you try to find a way of getting the blade out again. You can avoid this irritating situation by changing your blade whenever necessary. As soon as you notice that you need to keep tightening the blade while you’re cutting, this is a key indicator that you need to change it for a new one.
- Avoid a breakdown – although maintaining your bandsaw on a regular basis is time consuming, it is something that really has to be done to save money and time in the long run. Bear in mind that each time your saw breaks down it requires repairing, and this wastes precious time. Greasing your bandsaw mill every day only takes around 20 minutes and will guard against a myriad of expensive and time consuming problems arising.
- Preparing Your Logs – you should always take the time to prepare the logs properly before putting them on the bandsaw mill. Trim the butt log’s bell as near as you can to the remainder of the log’s diameter for the best results as this will prevent you from having to make adjustments to the mill in order to compensate. Also use a chainsaw to cut away any protruding knots or lumb nubs so that they are flush to the remainder of the log. If any of the logs that you are cutting are dirty, make sure to wash and clean them thoroughly. It may sound pointless, but dirt is an enemy to your bandsaw’s blade, so power washing dirty logs before sawing is essential.
- Edging – edging when using a bandsaw mill is a tedious task. Instead, you can save yourself the hassle and carry out the edging while you cut the board. Once the log has been squared into a cant, and you’re ready to begin slabbing off the boards, you should set the unedged boards back onto the bandsaw mill. Cut the boards from the cant just as you would normally, but then they have edged on one of the sides, just turn them over and repeat until the boards have all been edged.
- Never rush – one huge mistake that you might make when using a bandsaw mill to cut lumber is to be in a hurry. If you try to make as many boards as possible you’ll end up cutting corners, and pushing your equipment beyond its limits can also lead to problems. Your sawmill is much more likely to break down if you abuse it by rushing so always take sufficient time and don’t force your equipment to work too hard.
Different Sawing Methods
There are a number of different techniques and methods which you can use to turn your logs into lumber using your bandsaw mill. These include:
- Live sawing
- Plain sawing
- Cant sawing
- Quarter sawing
- Grade sawing
We’ll look at these different options here so you can determine which is best for your project.
Sometimes called through and through sawing or slab sawing, live sawing refers to when you saw a log to around halfway on its opening face before turning it to its opposite face and sawing again until it is finished.
While this is one of the quickest and easiest sawing methods, it also means that all of the lumber pieces have to be edged after being sawn to achieve the best value.
Lumber which has been live sawn will generally be heavy and wide, have a lower grade and also can warp excessively while it is drying out. You should therefore only use live sawing on low quality logs due to these drawbacks.
When you do cant sawing, you make your first cuts over the log’s top end before flipping it 180 degrees and sawing the second set of cuts across its opposite face. You then rotate the log 90 degrees, sawing a third side, before rotating 180 degrees further and sawing the final side.
The log will be squared to a cant or center piece which may then be sent to a different machine to be processed further or, alternatively, sold as it is – a heavy and large timber.
If you use cant sewing, you’ll be able to maximize the amount of board feet you produce per day, although it is best reserved only for low and medium quality logs. It is a good way of saving effort and time when working with poorer grade lumber.
Plain sawing is very similar to cant sawing and starts by rotating then sawing the log’s outer sides into boards to make the center into a 4 sided squared cant. Rather than leaving that cant as it is though, it will then be rotated and saw, producing as much lumber as possible.
If required, it’s then possible to edge the boards by sawing off its rough edge. While there are a number of techniques which can achieve the best yield and quality from logs, plain sawing is one of the easiest ways of getting great lumber.
When you use a grade sawing method you saw the log, turn it to its new face, saw and then turn again. You may turn it up to 5 times. If you’re sawing high and medium quality logs, this is the best method for you however it usually results in a lower production volume and may be difficult to achieve on some machines due to problems in turning the log.
If you were wondering how to saw lumber with a bandsaw mill, this guide should give you a good idea of how to go about it. Follow these instructions and you’ll find that you can quickly and easily produce your own lumber at home without the need to actually go out to a lumber yard and purchase it.