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Free-hand milling of lumber with a chainsaw

 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Someone posted a neat video on this recently, but I thought that it deserved it's own thread.

Personally I have mucked around with the logosol timberjig on my MS360 Stihl saw. It worked. It was fiddly and not very quick, but we got a decent number of servicable boards which we used for some out door applications. Having seen some of these videos though, I think we may be able to dispense with the timberjig, at least when we only need rough cut boards.

Clearly these guys are pretty skilled but I'm sure it could be learned with practice and even rough sawn boards could be run through a plane/thicknesser if you needed a more accurate finsihed product. If building with rough cut beams I'm sure joints could be hand finished with hand tool to ensure nice fits/flush surfaces.

Key parts of the method:

  • You need a powerful saw with a long blade
  • Ideally work on logs raised slightly off the ground - you don't want to cut into soil!
  • Always saw with the cut vertical - don't attempt to make cuts at an angle into the wood (trust me on this - it just ends up messy)
  • Use the tip of the saw to score a straight shallow groove along the line you want to cut
  • Take a face off your log to give a flat surface
  • rotate the log flat surface down and take off the next two faces
  • Rotate once more and take off the last face - you now have a roughly squared off beam. It doesn't matter if this is a bit off square as the final boards will still end up very good.
  • Use a pencil to mark guidelines for your boards (remember the wide kerf of the blade)



  • Downsides of this approach -
    As with any chainsaw mill you make a lot of sawdust, so you waste a lot of potential lumber.
    Boards are a lot rougher than you would end up with from a proper mill - operator skill is a big factor

    Benefits -
    No need to spend a few £1000 on a saw mill to cut just a few boards
    Make better use of available resources - lumber rather than firewood
    Cut wood in situ - no need to move heavy logs, requiring skidders when you can just carry out cut beams by hand.





    Mike
     
    Fred Morgan
    steward
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    Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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    Yes, I have seen people do this, and for rough, it can work. But, I caution you, be very very careful - and don't let someone stand in front of you like you see in the video. That guy in front is dead if the chain goes, which is always a possibility.

    You honestly are better off finding someone local who will cut for you for half the wood, instead of turning half the wood into sawdust by using a chainsaw.
     
    Michael Cox
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    Aye - obviously stay safe, but you'll note that these guys aren't even wearing shoes, let alone chaps, goggles, ear defenders etc...

    Regarding getting someone in to mill a single log or trunk - this isn't always feasible depending on location and resources and often in our case the alternative is turning good trunks into firewood. This is a low investment way to add functionality and value to timber on your land.

    Personally I'll be practicing this - I need a lot of lumber to build a new chicken coop this year, and have some fallen trees (low timber value) to work with right on site.
     
    Fred Morgan
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    If someone is just needing a little wood, not an issue as long as you are very VERY good with a chainsaw. I live in the tropics and own plantations of wood (like 900 acres) and I know all about people who act like they are indestructible. Seen the scars and worse from it too.

    People in third world nations are more fatalistic than people from developed nations. You don't have to go overboard on protection, but you don't stand in front of a chainsaw, either.

    I personally would be looking at making some kind of simple guide for the blade, doesn't take much to keep it straight. Lots of inexpensive solutions out there which are less than an Alaskan mill, or you could make your own if you are good with tools.

    Beam Machine is usable and only cost about 42 dollars. I used to have one once. Hard work for sure, but much better than just using a chainsaw, free hand. I know those who cut free hand fell in love with mine when they saw it. Hard to go wrong for 42 dollars - you will probably make it back in wasted wood, if not gas since you will be able to cut much faster if you aren't struggling to keep a straight line.

    Wood fights you, and when you see people cutting a log free hand, you can be sure that was a log with no knots, twists, or tension. Heck, it is hard enough to cut wood straight using a sawmill when you get a log that isn't perfect.

    A full-size Alaskan saw mill is about 250 dollars - hope you are built like an ox if you use one with a Stihl 090. lol Just looking at an 090 can give you a hernia. Not sure you can even buy them anymore in the states.
     
    Isaac Bickford
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    The last video - Amazon woodworking is exactly how things are done where I live in the amazon. Except the people where I live don't always have a sharp chain.

    Where possible, people here will use free hand chainsaw to prepare "doble piezas" (about 4 inches thick) which are then dried on site and hauled to a local mill to be processed into beams, boards, etc. depending on the project.
     
    Jay C. White Cloud
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    Hey Mike!

    Thanks for sharing the video, very nice to see.

    (Fred M. and Izzy if you ever need a timber frame or one of my other eclectic skill sets I would love to come back down to the "real south" for a stay... Fred M. sorry if I am about to counter some of your advice in any way...apologies)

    Mike, among my many eclectic skill sets, I am a sawyer, arborist, logger, and woodcrafter in several folk traditions. I have owned (own) several chain saw mills (up to 3 m or 8 feet but now only a 1.6 m) several band mills, a couple of swing blades, and started as a "pit man" before becoming a "tiller," in the true traditional methods of making plank. I have done this with both European and Asian modalities of hand sawing, as well as, water mill circle and sash mills. So your idea of taking a "properly rigged" chain saw and "board racing" (or ripping" with it is more than plausible.) I will give you the basic action steps you need to know that are not being shown in the film, and it is not as hard as many will tell you (though slower than a production mill with band, or circle blade.)

    Before I start, as disclaimer:

    Chain saw and tree work is lethal! Don't think otherwise. The more of it you do, the more bone and flesh you will give to it...I know this first hand. You are going to get cut, no matter how safe you are. What gets you is not the "perceived risk," (fellow in videos are pretty safe not considering going deaf or blind) but the hidden actual risk (bee sting and falling over with saw...been there done that) So just know that you should take all the safety precautions you can, yet understand you will still get hurt if you do this work for any length of time no matter how safe you are. Protective clothing is good, but I have seen many in the tropics (white men) fall over from heat stroke do to wearing heavy chainsaw protective gear...I don't. I depend on my bone and muscle to keep me away from the blade, and glasses and simple ear plugs for the other to soft spots that need real protection doing this work. You choose according to your comfort level and KNOW the risks. Keep others away, though the fellow standing in front of the chain saw "tending" the "Sawyer" is exactly where he (the "tender") does stand most times (though he should have eye and ear protection.) A chain will not fly off and kill anyone, it just stops spinning 99.9% of the time. "Kick up" is the biggest issue in "board racing" and you will learn that first hand from the "log and the saw" when they teach you this lesson experientially.


    Step one:

    Get a proper lumber "tree," then make a "log," then section that into "bolts," then rough out your "cants." Don't know the words and what a proper lumber tree is...then read a whole lot or work with a sawyer that has at least 20 year "bush milling" experience. I could keep writing on step one alone and fill a complete volume of text.

    Step two:

    Crib your bolt for milling with "dogs" of some fashion (it really should be free of bark at this point especially for beginners.) "Box" your bolt end with a level marking out the plumb and level lines of a cross. Then mark out in ink the outline of the "cant" end you are about to make. Then, from the corner points of your projected "cant," snape a grease line or ink line (chalk blows away) done the bolt to the corner outline on the other end of the bolt. This is the line you are racing (cutting.) Now it is time to "clear the cant from the bolt," by removing the "slab rounds" off the bolt.

    Step three:

    Prepare for milling the "cant." You must now figure out what you want from the cant, as it could be done now and just have a big timber, or if you want planks, you need to know what size they are to be (don't forget to remember "kerf waste" caused by the thick chainsaw blade.) Also, do not try to cut anything thinner than 30 mm, it just is not worth it. Once you have made your selection, you are going to snap lines that represent the planks, and for beginners (or when I am out of practise) you should also snap extra line that represent the "kerf" left by the cut intself. This will help you stay on track.

    Step four:

    The milling is going to start soon, and you should have the largest chainsaw you can get with a minimum of a ~ 1 m bar (longer is much better) and it should be slung with a "ripping chain" not a "cross cut." So you are going to have to buy one or "file one out" (the latter takes great skill in sharpening that few I find have.) If you can not hold this machine out in front of you, arms fully extended, with the bar and chain on, and the engine running for at least one half minute you really are not strong enough to do this work safely or efficiently. (get in shape first) If you are a climber, like myself, you have to be able to do this with one arm out to your side, saw at full ideal run, with any saw you climb with, or you are consider deficient in using the saw safely.

    Start the saw on the end of the cant between your "kerf lines" you snapped earlier, which now should extend the length of the log and down over the edge on the end of the cant outlineing every thing you are about to cut. Some like to stand straddling the log with their backs toward the direction of pull, while others start this cut facing the end. (the latter can be more accurate but much more risky for "kickup" from the bar.) You are going to "rough in" every board you have outlined on the cant. When you are done "roughing in" you should just about be out of the first tank of fuel and the cant should have the ends completely scored in and the length of the cants should have very straight, neat and clear "kerf channels" or "daddo" to follow when making the planks. I also recommend for beginners that you do both sides of the cant (the outline of the planks) and that your "daddo" are no deeper in the beginning kerfing process than the depth of the chain tooth plus 20 mm give or take.

    Step five:

    "Freeing the slabs." Now you are ready to start milling some planks, but there is a very important point that many, even what some would call experienced sawyer forget, and that to leave the planks attached to each other until they are all cut out. I leave them attached with a little "relish" of wood on both ends, then role the cant to "clear them off." Remember when doing theis work to leave as much of the bar and cutting chain in the wood as possible to keep things running smooth, straight and true. It is not untill you have "hours" (year?) of experience that you can do what you are seeing in the video, as he is using way too much tip work to be either safe or to produce quality planks, which may have been fine for his goals.

    Those are the basics of "racing planks" out of a tree with a free hand chainsaw. I don't think I forgot any thing but will edit if folks find some missing. There is much, much more to this but you will learn that experientially from the better teach than myself, which is the tree, and your saw.

    Good Luck.

    j
     
    Michael Cox
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    Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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    Ok, so I finally had a chance to play at this. We just needed some rough boards 9' long to bolt to the sides of our woodshed.

    I took a 9' section from one of our fallen pine trees and ripped it down the length splitting it in half. I rolled the halves on to a couple of logs to hold it off the ground then by eye scored approx 2 inch thick boards along it's length. I didn't need them totally squared off so left them with one rough bark edge.

    For rough functional garden slabs this worked fine - the cuts were pretty true and with a longer bar it would have been cleaner. I was using 20" on a mid range stihl.

    Speed wisest seems comparable to using our timber jig, but a lot less faff and perfectly adequate for our needs. Sometime soon we'll be building a chicken coop and could easily cut all the rough lumber we need from the wind blown pines here. Particularly appealing is cutting big chunky posts.

    At a rough guess two hours work this morning, tidying up trees that I would have had to work on anyway, saved us around £100 in lumber. I'll do a bit more this afternoon too, if my aching muscles are up for it - I'm out of practice, too long at a desk recently.
     
    Michael Cox
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    Some photos from today - crude boards, all cut by eye with no measurements.

    The planks will go on the sides of the woodshed.
    image.jpg
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    Luke Townsley
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    Location: Dugger, IN Zone 6a
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    Here is my attempt at freehand chainsaw sawmilling. I need to experiment with how I sharpen my chain to get faster, but the technique does work remarkably well. I'm not, however, suggesting it is easy or safe. If you try it, beyond the safety issues of running a chainsaw this way, you have to watch out for the log shifting as you cut. What will you do when an 800 lb oak log rolls over on your leg? Or when you have a defective bar fall apart as my 36" Stihl almost did? There are dangers to this technique that aren't immediately obvious. In other words, being knowledgeable and careful may not be enough to prevent disaster for you or those around you. You have been warned.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akYkfTKTJK4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkfUo4l9ruc
     
    Burra Maluca
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    Thanks for sharing those Luke. I've embedded them below.



     
    Bryant RedHawk
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    nicely done for what you wanted.

    Just a thought about all that sawdust, I like to use mine (mostly white oak and hickory) for growing mushrooms.

    J. C. and I come from similar backgrounds, though he has a much greater range of skill sets than I do.
    If you practice what he laid out, you could get very acceptable boards for house/ barn building.

    I use ink line and full skip chain when I need lumber.
    I tend to only cut what I will need short term since it does take some time to do well.
    I learned this craft (sawyer) working in the timber woods of Northern California. Got to try the pit with a planking saw at knots berry farm back in the 1960's. That is hard work.

    If I have a lot of it to cut, I do have a cousin that has a friend that owns a band saw rig.
     
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