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Innovator and ideas man
Nova Scotia’s Walter Rodler is a true wood products innovator, and his work has resulted in improvements in production and safety for equipment from chainsaw mills through to wood splitters— and he’s still working away on new innovations.
By George Fullerton
Walter Rodler is inspired by an energy conservation and sustainability ethic to refine small scale forestry equipment and tools. To cut to the chase, he likes to create and make improvements on small scale equipment that allows people to more safely and economically produce wood products.
Rodler sees chainsaws and ATV’s as a couple of the basic tools that can allow a woodlands owner to generate value added wood products for their own use, or to generate products that they can market.
Rodler’s backyard and workshop in the Village of Debert, Nova Scotia, is busy with numerous projects in varying stages of development. And if nothing, the projects are eclectic. They range from a hydraulic powered winch that quick attaches to a restored vintage Pettibone wheel loader, several iterations of wood splitters, adaptions to chainsaw mills, a conventional carriage sawmill with a chainsaw bar replacing the original circular saw, just to mention a few. Additionally there are experimental stoves, modified and created shop tools, and not to miss, a homemade duplicate lathe.
Rodler grew up near Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, in a large family with immigrant parents. He recalls that the entire family pitched in to help on the farm. Because cash was in short supply and their equipment line consisted of used equipment, that meant lots of time spent repairing gear. As the eldest child, Rodler was often at his father’s side repairing and modifying that aged equipment.
That background in repairing farm equipment prepared him for a career as a machinist, engine fitter and metal worker at the Halifax shipyard, where he works with engineers and talented designers and other skilled trades people. Rodler brings a combination of skilled tradesman and working on old equipment to his passion for innovating tools and equipment for small scale forestry operations.
“My father had natural mechanical skills and in addition to repairing equipment, he also modified machines to work better and even built machines from scratch,” he says.
One of Rodler’s pet innovation projects includes his own adaptations to improve the utility and accuracy of Granberg Manufacturing’s Alaskan chainsaw mill.
The Alaskan mill consists of a compact frame, with an adjustable depth guide, attached to a conventional chainsaw bar. The Alaskan Mill allows the operator to mill lumber from logs, either in the backyard, or in very remote sites. While not nearly as productive as a portable band saw mill, the Alaskan mill is far more economical and infinitely more portable for those remote distance and micro-sized projects.
In its original design, the Alaskan mill used a pair of 2 x 4 planks as a frame to guide the mill along the top of the log. While Granberg has developed a tubular aluminum frame, like the 2 x 4 frame, it has a fairly complicated dogging and leveling system that relies on attaching boards to the end of the log to set up the frame, and re-attaching boards if frame sections are added or moved.
“Using 2 x 4’s for guide rails might work ok if in fact you can find two dimensionally identical pieces to begin with,” says Rodler. “If the 2 x 4’s are not identical, it will be very difficult to adjust them so that the log is cut accurately.”
He added that as time goes on, the 2 x 4’s inevitably dry out or take up water, and change dimensionally. Rodler pointed out that some chainsaw mills use aluminum ladders with levelling mechanisms that can be very complicated to work with, and hard to match with different length logs.
Rodler’s adaption for the Alaskan mill uses 2 ½ inch by 1 inch by 5/16 aluminum channel for frame sections. Walter uses 3-inch long 5/16 inch bolts threaded through a nut welded to the inside of the frame rails for height adjustment and for levelling his frame. The height adjustment studs are located at 16 inch intervals, and are extended to the top of the log to level the frame.
Rails are held parallel by pieces of threaded rod. The threaded rods also act as the base for a wooden hinge mechanism that is shallowly toenailed, or screwed into the top of log, to add stability to the frame.
Rodler changes the length of the threaded rod frame cross members, depending on the diameter of the log being sawed. With large diameter logs, longer cross member threaded rod sections are used, to ensure stability and to saw dimensionally accurate lumber.
The aluminum rails are light and durable, and along with threaded rod and bolts, are readily available through local machine shop and or metal suppliers.
Rodler’s chainsaw mill frame is adjusted to match the length of the log being milled, by simply bolting on additional frame sections. He uses a machinist’s laser level to level the frame, and maintains level by extending the leveling bolts on the frame.
He has added a number of his own subtle modifications to the Alaskan mill itself to provide increased safety, accuracy and productivity.
While explaining the details of the chainsaw mill and frame, Rodler brings attention to the hydraulic lifts that raise the log to a comfortable and safe working level. His lifts are, in fact, two hydraulic ATV service lifts, direct from his local Canadian Tire store.
Rodler has fabricated and attached a folding ramp system to each of the lifts using the same 2 ½ x 1 inch aluminum channel stock that he uses for the mill frame. Once a log is rolled up the shallow ramps and on to the frame on the lifts, it is raised to the desired work height and the ramp is folded, so that the chainsaw mill operator can walk unobstructed around the log and mill.
The hydraulic lifts are raised individually, so their height can be set to compensate for uneven terrain. Rodler often mills his lumber right at the stump, pointing out the fuel savings in not forwarding the log out of the woods, and equally, leaving the milling debris in the woods.
“In conventional woodlot operations, there is a lot of investment in equipment and energy put into forwarding logs, piling them at the road side, then bringing a truck in on a constructed road to take the logs to the mill. A woodlot owner, or cottage owner, who wants lumber for their own use, or to sell to a neighbour, can avoid a lot of that expense and use of fuel with a simple chainsaw mill. Everyone has a chainsaw, so why not do some milling with it?”
Rodler likes milling wood in frozen conditions, explaining that it produces lumber with a finer finish.
He uses conventional chainsaw chain, explaining that he sees no advantage in using ripping chains. He contends that ripping chains are more susceptible to breaking, and present a serious safety concern. He also keeps his filing angle at five to 10 degrees, rather than a conventional 30 degrees, explaining it gives a smoother finish to the cut and the saw chains last longer.
Rodler mounts his Alaskan mill to the nose of his saw bar with a bolt through the tip of the saw bar, rather than relying on the manufacturer’s sandwich type clamp, saying the bolt provides a more secure mount. The bolt hole is drilled clear of the roller nose mechanism, so there is no tendency to squeeze the roller and cause any heating and subsequent failure issues.
Rodler has achieved a lot of personal satisfaction with his modified Alaskan milling system. In addition to having several thousand board feet of high quality hardwood lumber in dry storage, Rodler and his family also enjoy an extensive deck on their house, a garden shed and other construction materials generated by the mill.
The Rodler garden shed came about as result of salvaging four hemlock trees which were toppled by Hurricane Juan. Rodler estimates he invested ten gallons of gasoline in his 066 Stihl chainsaw to mill the trees where they had toppled on his woodlot. After milling the necessary 2 x 4, 2 x 6 and boards for the shed, he decided that it required clapboards, to finish the project off properly. He retired to the workshop, emerging several hours later with a clapboard milling attachment for his chainsaw.
The clapboard attachment is a fixed apparatus, which saws clapboards from a cant milled with his Alaskan mill.
When Rodler begins speaking about wood splitters, he draws attention to his little finger, which is bent in a rather awkward shape. He relates that the misshapen digit is the result of a wood splitter accident in his youth.
“Wood splitters can be dangerous, so I build splitters that offer a good measure of operator safety and energy efficiency,” he says.
His splitter rams are guided by rails on each side that are attached above the main frame, so that bolts of wood are cradled in position; there is no need to keep a hand on the bolt to keep it in position. He also locates the valve operating handles so that the operator is encouraged to keep hands clear of the splitter danger zone.
One of his splitters features a log lifter, which operates on the same hydraulic circuit that also runs the ram. He incorporated a bidirectional valve that diverts oil pressure to lift wood; once the block of wood is on the splitter, the valve is switched and the splitter ram is ready for work. Rodler also incorporates a fold-away drawbar on his splitters, so an operator can walk unencumbered around the machine.
Another splitter is built into an ATV trailer. It features fold down sides which allows the unit to travel into the woods, split a load of wood, then return to the woodshed for unloading. A significant saving in wood handling, compared to most backyard fire wood operations, and a lot of the debris, again, stays in the woods.
Rodler says he gains a lot of satisfaction in making machines safer, productive and with a good degree of sustainability. He hopes his development work will inspire woodland owners to get more value from their wood and maybe inspire their entrepreneurial spirit.
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.