October/November, 2001





Kick Plenty of Tires Before Settling on a Particular Portable Sawmill

By Tony Kryzanowski

Portable sawmills have undergone significant technological advances over the past decade with regards to production capabilities, sawing quality, ease of operation, improved portability and general sturdiness. Combine improved technology with the escalating value and growing scarcity of timber - particularly in less plentiful species - and operating a portable sawmilling represents a viable business opportunity.


There are two types of portable sawmills, band saws and circular saws, and literally dozens of brands. In addition to forest industry magazine publications like TimberWest, the Internet is also an excellent research tool. Here is what a few portable sawmill owners had to say about their experiences with specific brands. Their testimonies are not intended to promote one brand over another, but to give a reasonable representation of the type of portable sawmilling technology available.

Wood-Mizer is one of the most recognizable names in portable sawmills, and is an excellent representation of band saw technology. Band saw portable sawmill manufacturers frequently tout the lumber quality they can achieve, and Wood-Mizer is no exception. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, and with a branch in Wood Village, Oregon, the company manufactures a wide variety of portable sawmills. Laibrooke Springs Forest Products owner John O'Brien operates a custom harvesting and sawmilling business using a Wood-Mizer LT40 HD G35 portable sawmill. He is a registered forester with a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry from the University of Montana. 

His biggest concerns when he began shopping for a portable sawmill were how easy it was for one person to operate the sawmill, how easily it could be towed and set up, and what sort of dealer support he could expect. After investigating five different brands, he settled on the Wood-Mizer because its ease of operation and hydraulic system. Dealer support was also important. John explained that Wood-Mizer provided a representative for a couple of days to demonstrate the entire mill set up, mill operation and blade maintenance as part of the purchase agreement 

Bruce and Stan Gordon of Gordon Bros. Sawmilling operate their Enercraft/Baker Silva-Sawmodel 30H portable band sawmill.

They were really the only ones that had such an extensive program that way, says O'Brien. They also have a 1- 800 number that you can phone if you have any problems at all. There is a technician who can help you on the phone. He emphasizes that blade maintenance is critical, and this is a common area of concern with all band saw Kara thin kerf sawmill owner, Robert Nagy portable sawmills. O'Brien has purchased Wood-Mizer's automatic sharpener with his sawmill package. It took a while to learn the art of blade sharpening, but he can now sharpen a blade in about 15 minutes. "Blade maintenance is something that you have to pay attention to," says O'Brien. "If you are going to be cutting with dull blades, you are not going to produce good lumber and your production is not going to be very good." He typically uses a blade for two to three hours before replacing it. 

An eight hour work day results in about six actual hours of sawing when he considers time spent replacing blades and general maintenance. Blades themselves are not a huge expense, he says, and he is able to sharpen each blade at least 15 times before disposal. His Wood-Mizer is powered using a 35-hp Wisconsin V4 gasoline engine. It generates power to operate a 12-volt electric motor that controls the dual hydraulic system on the carriage. He uses a 158-inch blade that is one and one quarter inch wide. He has established a client list where he saws anywhere from 2000 to 65,000 board feet from species such as pine, white spruce, trembling aspen and black poplar, depending on individual customer needs.

Laibrooke Springs Forest Products owner John o'Brien operating his Wood-Mizer LT40 HD G35 portable sawmill.

One of the most respected worldwide names in portable, thin-kerf, circular saw technology is a brand from Finland called Kara. Anumber of dealers are available throughout North America, and information is available on the company's Website. This Scandinavian-designed oneman sawmill has found a market in 60 countries, and may represent an alternative to band saw technology for some. Kara has been around since 1918, and as a worldwide provider of sawmilling equipment, has developed a complete line of options depending on the needs of individual purchasers. 

More information is available on the Internet at www.karasaw.com. Kara offers three fixed and three mobile YS models. Owners can attach either a 37 kW electric motor, or a 75- hp power supply that can even be derived from a farm tractor. Robert Nagy, owner of Nagy Land and Lumber, explains why he chose his Kara thin-kerf circular saw over a band saw after an extensive review of various portable sawmills.  "I decided to go with the thin-kerf circular saw for reasons of blade maintenance associated with band mills," he says. "The cost was similar to high end band mills, so I just decided to go with the Kara." He can manufacture as much as 1000 board feet per hour from pine, birch, tamarack, or poplar. If you can do 1,000 feet per hour with two or three men, you can make it pay," Nagy says. "We are achieving more than double the production of a band saw. The quality of the sawing is very high, and it is well suited for value-added type projects. It is very accurate and creates smooth boards. Actually, you can take the lumber and build with it without planing." 

He has the sawmill set up on a high-bed, highway trailer. While the Kara sawmill is manufactured in Finland, Nagy says the vast majority of wear items such as bearings and hydraulic hoses are common parts that are readily available in North America.

D & L Double Cut 
Another circular saw design that is making a name for itself from a production standpoint is the D & L Double Cut sawmill, manufactured in LAC LA HACHE, British Columbia. "The most my neighbor has gotten with his band saw is 1200 feet per day," says D & L Double Cut sawmill owner, George Brough. "I'll have that sawn by coffee time. At the end of the day, I've got maybe 4000 to 5000 board feet." D & L Double Cut Sawmills claims to produce better quality lumber than any other band saw. In fact, most of Brough's production - using fir, spruce, trembling aspen, pine or tamarack - can be used in building construction without any plaining where stamped lumber is not required. 

D & L Double Cut manufactures four double cut circular saw models with the saw operating on a horizontal plane, as well as two double cut twin saw models, featuring a vertical head saw and a horizontal edger saw combination. The sawmills are called "double cut" because on its single saw system, the operator manually pushes the carriage and manually feeds the saw down the log on the track system. Once at the other end, the saw is pushed out and manually fed back through on the opposite side of the log that was just cut. The twin saw models come equipped with a power feed. More information is available at www.doublecut.com. Brough's TS 30 double cut twin saw model is capable of handling logs from 6 to 20 feet long, and up to 30 inches in diameter.

Bruce and Stan Gordon have experienced considerable success in their retirement years using an Enercraft/Baker band saw. They are using the band saw manufactured in Hillside, Ontario, Canada and available throughout the world to primarily saw white cedar for cottage and deck construction. Although cedar is a difficult wood to cut because it dulls blades quickly, Gordon Bros. sawmilling is earning a good return tapping into this niche market. They are using an Enercraft/Baker Silva-Saw model 30H. It is a mid-size portable sawmill in the company's line of products. The company was recently purchased by Missouri-based Baker Products. 

"We certainly felt that it was well built," says Bruce. "It's quite a solid machine." Solid but not complicated. "A lot of the replacement parts are available at auto supply or hardware stores." Gordon Bros. found that for a retirement business, buying a hydraulically powered unit saved on a lot of manual labor and made the job a lot more enjoyable. It is a band saw, powered by a 20-hp Kohler gasoline engine. Like many other portable sawmills on the market, the Enercraft/Baker product line comes with diesel or electric power options. 

Enercraft/Baker has been manufacturing portable band sawmills, edgers, and resaws since 1985, and its mills are capable of sawing logs from 24 to 42 inches in diameter. Models range from manual to fully hydraulic units. The company recently introduced a 36HTL model to fill the gap between its 30HTL and 40HTL models. They have also launched a model 18 hobby saw that can be mounted on an axle and towed from place to place. Once the sawmill is in place, the axle can be removed so that the sawmill sits close to the ground. 

While this is far from a complete list, these models will give any prospective portable sawmill owner a good base from which to make comparisons. Ultimately, personal comfort and financial circumstances play the most important roles in what brand and model fits each individual's needs.



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