How to Use a Sawmill? 


Using a sawmill may look simple enough in theory and on video; however, it is much more complicated in reality. You have to make sure that you know everything about how to keep yourself safe, as well as the types of lumber mills and how to use each of them.

A sawmill is a place where you can convert logs into lumber. Special blades called bald band saws saw the tree logs into rough lumber, which you can then use to manufacture furniture or buildings. 

What is a Sawmill?

Image by Tim Abbott via Flickr

Sawmills, generally called lumber mills, cut tree logs into lumber using saw blades. Lumbers are rough beams or planks of wood used to construct furniture or structures of any kind. Modern sawmills use motorized blades depending upon the size of the logs. In ancient times people used water-driven sawmills.

There are specific steps involved when operating one. Firstly, you need to cut down trees and then move them to the mill. The logs go through blades via conveyor belts, and they are then cut into lumbers using a machinery feeder.

You need to complete many subprocesses before you start using the sawmill itself. The logs need to be debarked before cutting. Following that is canting. This is a process where you cut the logs with at least one flat side. Afterward, you cut the cants into flat boards or planks. The final stages are edging and trimming. They give the final touch that squares up the logs.

Types of Sawmills

Image by Eli Sagor via Flickr

This article will explain the two types of the most used sawmills. Stationary sawmills are used for high-volume production in environments that sometimes work 24/7. At the same time, portable sawmills are mostly taken directly to the site for processing.

Portable Sawmills

A portable sawmill’s primary source of power is gas or diesel since there is no guarantee of the availability of electricity. They sometimes rest on trailers of trucks or can be set up using poles and bricks. They can process lumber up to the length of 16 to 20 feet. 

Many landowners or private forest owners own a portable sawmill to harvest directly from their land. It’s suitable for processing your timber without transporting logs into more extensive facilities. You can also provide milling services to locals and neighbors.

There are three popular types of portable sawmills. 

Band Mills

They have a saw head made of two band wheels and a frame that guides it through the log. Also, they are effortless to set up and are pretty portable. In addition, they range from small ones which are manually operated to larger ones used at processing plants. Also, it has a kerf range of 0.06 to 0.12 inches. You have the option to customize its configuration according to your cutting requirements. 

Swing Blade Sawmills

Swing blade sawmills have a movable head that travels along a specific track to cut a log. The kerf range of the blade varies from 0.2 to 0.3 inches. They are heavier compared to other portable sawmills. Therefore, you might need heavy transportation and several people to set it up. Despite their bigger size, they are very fast at cutting.

Chainsaw Mills

They are the most portable and easy to operate portable sawmills. You can efficiently manage this sawmill using one or two operators. Also, you can easily carry it yourself and take it to the desired location. It has a steel guide bracket attached to the chainsaw bar, 

The kerf of the chainsaw mill is about 0.4 inches. In addition, they are the cheapest among all the portable sawmills. The downside of this type of mill is its slow cutting speed and rough finishing. Moreover, further milling is necessary for a smooth finish on the lumber. 

Stationary Sawmills

A stationary sawmill is a large band saw, or a circular saw kept in a workshop or a garage. The most significant advantage of a stationary sawmill is you can work at it at any time without the need to set it up beforehand. You also need to bring all the processing logs into the workshop for processing.

You can add different add-ons to your stationary sawmill as per your requirements. In addition, a feeder will help you to feed the logs into the saw, the debarking module will let you debark the logs automatically, and many more. Also, you can set up your sawmill to process larger logs that a portable sawmill cannot process.

Things to Consider Before Using a Sawmill

things to consider before using a sawmill
Image by Peterson Portable Sawmills via Commons Wikimedia

It would be best to consider several things before using or investing in a sawmill. 

Safety: Keep safety as your topmost priority. Make sure that it has been adequately maintained beforehand. Moreover, you must familiarize yourself with all its manuals, safety requirements, and equipment.

Useability: You need to be clear if you’re using the sawmill for a hobby or if you want to be earning a living out of it. You can start with cheap portable sawmills that require very little expertise and experience to use for hobby purposes. If you’re going to use it for work, we advise you to go for professional-grade mills. We recommend that you gain some experience before getting your hands dirty.

Timber type: The sawmill you choose to use also depends upon the type of timber you’re going to cut down. If the logs you’re going to process are long, big, and sturdy, focus on sawmills that can be extended and flexible. You can opt for cheaper and smaller sawmills for smaller and soft logs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to cut lumber with a sawmill?

The first thing depends upon whether your sawmill has a feeder system or not. In the case of the absence of a feeder system, you’ll have to push the logs into the blades manually. This step can be overwhelming to new users and might seem dangerous, but you can do this task stress-free after a lot of practice and patience.

If your sawmill has a feeder system, the task becomes straightforward, and you need to align the logs in the conveyor belt that takes them to the cutting saw. You’ll need to collect the cut pieces for further processing.

How much will it cost to cut wood at the sawmill?

There is no published rate for cutting wood in a sawmill. Many factors can also manipulate the cost of using the mill. Hourly flat rate is the most common type of pricing technique that most people use, and you can expect anything from 50$ to 100$ hourly rate.

Another popular method is according to the board foot. You can expect a price anywhere from 0.25$ to 0.75 per board foot. For wood with a dimension of 4*6*10 inches, your board foot will be the total volume in inches divided by 12, i.e., 240/12 = 20. For 0.5$ per board foot, you’ll have to pay 20*0.5 = 10$ for cutting.

Is it easy to set up a sawmill?

The whole setup process depends upon the type of sawmill you’re setting up. When it comes to a portable mill, you need to carry it into the site and set it up. The simplest portable sawmills require several minutes to half an hour at most. Most of your task is to lay the log on and switch the mill on.

On the other hand, a stationary sawmill can take days to months to set up. The first and most important thing is to set up a structure with proper planning. You’ll need layouts of the placement of the processing units, storage units, parking, and many more. After testing and completing the wiring, you can start running the sawmill. 

Is it worth buying a sawmill?

If you want to look at it from a business standpoint, you may have to consider a lot before buying a sawmill. With a sound and well-calculated Return Of Investment (ROI) period, investing in a mill can be a good decision. If you are a contractor or own a forest, it might be worth your while to invest in getting one.

Suppose you’re only a hobbyist or want to learn the basics of the wood processing trade. We advise not to go for the more extensive and more expensive sawmills. You can always find cheap and straightforward mills or opt for a second-hand mill if you want to get familiar with the process.


We use different types of sawmills depending on a few factors. Whether you are using it commercially or just for a hobby is one of them. If you are a contractor or a forest landowner, we recommend you invest in a stationary sawmill. However, if you are a newbie or a hobbyist, it is a good idea to either rent a sawmill part-time or buy a portable one.

You must always put your safety first and ensure that you know how to operate the sawmill. Before using one, make sure that you have read the manual and have protective gear on. Once you have done all that, it is as simple as putting the log onto the conveyor belt and lining it up with the blade.

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