Home Made Sawmill
So I'm looking at all the trees I dropped and thought about taking them into a sawmill place to get them cut up. There are a few in
the area and my brother John had a bunch of his trees cut up to lumber he used to build a pole barn. Pretty cool. The charge to cut up
the logs to lumber is roughly half and a bit more than buying from Home Depot or Lowes. Being the frugal person I am I decided to make
my own sawmill. So the below is my journey to that end. Start date - 1 March 2013 -
I did a bunch of research and watched a lot of YouTube videos
and got an idea on a design that would work. I couldn't afford
the $45,000.00 price tag for the saw I really wanted and wouldn't
settle on a cheapy small one at $6,000.00-plus. No sir, I needed to
make my own based on my best guess on how it should look and
operate. It needed to cut a 32" diameter log. That's the size
of the biggest tree I have in the pile plus it had to be made
from materials I had around the yard. If I had to buy anything
I needed to make good purchases to make it inexpensive.
I bought the blades first, a box of 10 from Cooks Sawmill.
I did a few drawings and figured out I needed them to be
13' 11" round, and 1-1/4" wide x .042 x 7/8". Pretty
standard blade, just the length is the key factor. Cost
almost $200.00 for the box of 10.
The flywheels needed to be at least 16" diameter and heavy
to have momentum to carry it through the cut. I saw folks
using small trailer tires and rims, so I went to Walmart and
bought two 21" wheels. They aren't all that true but I figured
I might be able to grind the tires true if need-be.
I had to make the hubs to mount the wheels to, and I bought 1-1/4"
steel rod for the shaft. I used the milling machine and rotating table
to make the hub pieces; basically just 2 round steel plates welded
together. By cutting it on the mill I was able to get very accurate holes
to fit snug on the shaft and to line up the lug nuts to the wheels.
I used standard bolts and nuts but tapered the nuts on the lathe
to make them self-align to the wheels like a standard lug nut.
I also bought some pretty heavy duty shaft bearings from a bearing
outfit in Tacoma. They cost about $45.00 each and I got 4 of them.
So I clamped the bearings to a tool box top and tightened it all
together and gave it a spin. All went well so far.
The main head assembly must ride on a track. I figured I'd use
"V" shapped wheels on angle iron. I've used these before on my
front gate and they work pretty good. I wanted to make the
"legs" heavy so I had some very heavy 1/2" "U" channel I picked up
some years back. Cut them in 3' lengths and welded angles on each
side to bolt the wheels to. I got the wheels from McLendons for a
whapping $50.00 each. That hurt.
I used 3" galvenized pipe as the 4 main legs of the main frame.
The main frame will hold the main head (as I call it). It will
fit over four 2-1/2" galvenized pipes that will be attached to the
V-wheels. The main frame will then slide up and down the 4 smaller
pipes so as to cut each board as I go through the log. You'll see
what I'm talking about later. The pipes were about $15.00 each.
Even though I started out with drawn plans, I found myself laying
the parts out on the ground and seeing what worked and what wouldn't.
I wanted to make sure as I built the frame and such that it would
actually fit. Here I have the wheels layed out and the blade on both
to make sure I had the frame wide enough to mount them and allow for
adjustments to the wheels. I mentally modified the plan so many times
that there are only a slight resemblance to the original. Oh well, hopefully
it will all work out.
I wanted hindges at the top of the wheel mounts to make 1 for tightening the band and the 4 adjustment bolts on the other.
But that didn't work out because of the amount of pressure on the blade it twisted so bad that it requires a very heavy duty
hinge, one I'd have to make. So for now I have 4 adjustment bolts for each wheel mount. That way I can adjust the wheels in
any direction to get it straight and tight.
An electric motor delivers 30% more torque than a gas motor. So I wanted an electric one but wow they're expensive. In the
research I've done the smallest electric motor tested was 8HP. That's usually a 3-phase motor, which I don't have 3-phase. I
thought about borrowing one of my gas generator's gas motor. But we loose power out here so often I'd hate to be out of power
because of my sawmill project. I did have a few 3HP electric motors, the biggest 110V motors made but I needed something bigger.
This is an electric motor I got free from a neighbor about a year ago.
It use to run his big shop compressor but the capacitors blew on him.
It's a 5hp single phase 220v motor. Bigger than anything else I had.
The wires coming out of the motor to the caps were disconnected but
labeled, or at least they were, but now faded away. The capacitor kit
cost $150.00, so I didn't need to wire the new caps up wrong and take
a chance on blowing them. So I did a bunch of research, ohmed out the wires
and made my best guess on how they went. And I must have got it right cause
The motor rotates at 1745rpm. After some calculations I figured I needed between a 2" to 3" pulley on the motor and
a 9" to 12" pulley on the wheel shaft. Neither of which I have so I'll need to buy them.
Not sure if anyone cares but you can calculate any of the 4 pieces of information by having any 3 of the other:
As = Pulley A size As = (Bs*Br) / Ar
Ar = Pulley A rpm Ar = (Bs*Br) / As
Bs = Pulley B size Bs = (As*Ar) / Br
Br = pulley B rpm Br = (As*Ar) / Bs
So if Ar=1745 and As=3" and I want the speed of Pulley B to be 400rpm then I need Pulley B to be 13.09" diameter.
Now to get the blade guides made. I had a long solid bar, about 2-1/2" diameter that use to be used to move large rolls
of rug around. I got the thing from someone I don't remember who but I've been cutting the solid bar into smaller pieces
and turning things on the lathe with it for several years now. So it certainly works well here. Above are a few pics of me
turning one of the blade guides. I plan to turn the one end to make one and flip it around and turn the other guide out from
the other end and then cut it into 2 to make the 2 guides. The third picture shows the bearing fit on one end, there will
be 2 bearings for each guide pressed into them and that will be bolted to an adjustment arm.
So I tried the blade guide with sealed bearings but when I sinched down the mount
bolt it bound up so tight it wouldn't turn. So I went for plan B and turned down
a piece of brass and made bushings instead. I made the OD of the bushings about
.015 larger than the ID of the blade guide. Then I heated the guides in the oven
at 500 degrees for 1 hour and pressed the bushings in place. They went really tight
but I did get them seated. The picture to the left is the result.
I took the mount bolt, drilled a small hole down the center about half way in and then
through the side. Taped a zirt to the bolt end and can now grease the bushing from the
front. The next picture shows how that turned out. Made two of these and the mounts to
hold them in place.
One side of the blade guide mounts needed
to be adjustable, the other can be solid.
That way I can make one side of the frame
where the log will rest on it and make the
other side adjustable depending on the size
of the log. The frame is still upside down
so the blade guide mount on the right will
be on the left when it's ready to be used.
square channel is more expensive than L angle
so to make the adjustment arms i just welded
two L angles together. Fitting a smaller in a
larger one makes it slide in and out. I'll
take some nuts and bolts and and weld a few
on the outside square to serve as adjustments
so I can make sure the guides meet the blade
level and straight. Both are able to push in
and out to line up with the blade and how it
rides on the wheels. Those too will have
adjustment bolts and nuts for alignment and
to make solid so the blade keeps straight
I understand that the ideal position is to have the blade wheels facing forward about
3/32" to help it cut through knots and keep going. So that I can adjust on the wheel
adjustments and then blade guides help stabilize the blade. I need to put some
pressure on the guides but I really don't know that yet. So in my design I'm trying to
make sure I can do those adjustments. I'm hoping I have enough slop in the square
channels to get the full range of adjustments. I would hate to have to cut these
mounts out just to make them a bit longer or move them left or right, or whatever.
Guess it will all come to together once I try using it the first time.
So now it is flipped over and sitting upright with the 4 inner poles at each corner.
I have the V shape wheels placed under the poles but not yet welded on. I have to figure
out the best way to get it level and the wheels aligned perfectly straight and true before
I weld a thing. Right now the whole thing is set on blocks. Its pretty heavy now too so
flipping it over took two of us.
I have the two top bars to mount the electric motor to. Made sure it lined up with the big
pulley. All seems to look good so far. I also added the lock bolts to the blade guide
You can see I had to cut away some of the
side rails to make the large pulley fit. Had
to do some reinforcing of the sides and add
a thick piece of U-channel to make it strong
enough and prevent twisting when tightening.
I might attach the up and down adjustments
next before welding the wheels on the four
poles. Just to make sure I got things
aligned right. I've already done my share of
cutting off welded mistakes. Need to try to
minimize that as best I can.
Cheap Walmart trailer wheels are not round.
Both are out of round just a little bit which
caused the blade to go up and down and made
the whole saw shake because they were out of
balance. So I took a Dewalt drill and roped it
to a pole and put a wire wheel on it and spun
the tire as I sanded it round with a grinder.
Pretty creative I thought. Then I took them
to a garage and had them balanced. They did
it for free.
Now it's onto making the felt blocks to lube and
cool the blade. We had some leftover felt from
project so I cut one sheet into several 1"x2" squares
and stacked about 12 of them together. The pics below
shows what I mean. Then I need to make square holders
that I can fill it with the felt for the water/oil drip
tubes I have still to make. I plan to have a reservoir
mounted on top with petcocks to adjust the flow to both
sides of the blade. I need one on the outside of each
I think I've spent about $500.00 on different sizes of angle iron to make this thing.
In today's higher prices I'm paying more than I'm use to. So I try not to make too many
mistakes and waste material.
I welded 2 small pieces of angle iron together to make squares to hold the felt pieces
and then welded them to the saw just above the blade. The idea then is to run tubing
from a reserviour at the top to each of the 2 square felt holders to lube, cool and
keep clean the blade. They also act as barriers to stop wood fragments from getting
between the blade and wheels.
The lube tank is pretty simple really. I had the petcocks for another project I
borrowed from, with the copper pipe. Threw in a few pieces of rubber tubing and
there you go. While I was running the saw for the first time it took a few tweaks
to get the flow just right. I had it turned up at first and was slinging water
everywhere. Turned it down a bit and it seemed to work okay.
For now I'm just using water, which seems to work fine. They say you can mix diesel
fuel with the water but I'm not sure I'll do that.
So it is done, well sort of. I still have
a few things to do to make it better but
I am cutting logs into lumber. My first
small 12 foot fir yielded four 2x6s and
five 2x4s. Doesn't sound like much but it
very exciting for me.
The log on the right is my second one, a
lot bigger and already got at least 3 2x6s
and two 2x4s just from the rough cuts.
Finished 2 June 2013 (3 months almost to the day).
After cutting 5 logs now, each between 12 and 14 feet long I learned a few things. I don't really know what I'm doing as far as the best way to cut the logs and square them up, which seems to be a good idea and to basically prep them for the final cuts for the lumber you want to make. Each log is different and I find that the best looking fir are usually dense and take a bit to cut. So to me, it seems logical to flatten the 4 sides to make a very large beam and not wasting as much wood as possible. So here's what I was doing:
I position the log with the larger diameter toward the saw so it cuts first. I make my first cut and go down 1" into the meat of the wood and discounting the bark. This will usually take off more on the base than the end. Then I keep going down 1" at a time until it looks like once all 4 sides are cut just a little bark is at the corners. To me that's not a bad thing, especially with cutting 2x6's. A little rouch on the edge is cool. Then I roll the log so the freshly cut side is verticle to the ground and on the stationary side of the blade guide.
Then I reset the saw and do as I did on the first side and keep going down 1" at a time until it gets down to just a little bark on the corner. The nice thing about going down 1" at a time is you can get some pretty good 1-bys off the slices you take of. Not all that long but a 1x6 that's 5' long can be used for shelving of making bird houses, etc. So I then roll the log over and this time it sits flat on the table from the first cut. Once I do my 1" cuts I roll it one more time and do the last side. Now comes the fun part.
I usually have to swap out blades or sharpen the one that's on to make sure the cuts go well on the lumber. I'm still figuring out the best way to sharpen by hand, which really sucks. I need to get a real sharpener or make one. But anyway, having a good sharp blade at this point is a good idea so you can get the lumber cut to the dimensions you want. Plus coming up with your cutting plan before you make the next cut is crutial to ensure straight boards. I was cutting 4x4's out of one log, got 16 lengths out of it, which was 4 across and 4 down. But the third one on the buttom warped at the base by 1/2" by the time I made the cut to the other end. I was amazed. Not much I could have done with 4x4's but there is a technique to minimize warping by keeping the grain going from side to side along the short sides instead of along the long sides. It's called "Quarter Sawing", which I have not done yet.
So I've been cutting the short side dimensions first through the whole thickness of the big square block. I like 2x4's and 2x6's so I'll cut 2-1/2" thick slabs one at a time and remove each one as I cut. Once the whole block is cut down to all these slabs, I then set them up vertically and tie them together and brace the left side because the blade pulls the stack to one side in the same direction as it spins, which makes sense. Then I'll cut these at 3-1/2" for 2x4's or 5-1/2" for 2x6's. I have not come up with a good way to stand up the vertical slabs in a way that prevents the blade from binding and prevents the blade from wandering. For some reason, even with a sharp blade, cutting these slabs on their edge seems to be the hardest thing to do. The slabs are not that tightly secure so they wobble and can pinch the blade so much it stops. Plus the cut wanders all over the place. I need to add the table locks the real saws have where metal pads with burs on them pivot up from under the table, and push hard against the sides of the wood. The nice ones are all hydraulic. I saw a mechanical kind that looked pretty good. So my next mod will need to be fixing this.
So there you have it, 3 months of work and a small pile of lumber I cut up myself. I'll be modifying this over time and eventually put guards up and maybe even paint it.
5 logs at 12' and 14' long produced this amount of wood:
Several 1x4's, 1x6's, and 1x8's at varying lengths.
Things I've learned:
1. The saw blade dulls fast, especially when cutting through a thick fir tree or dirty bark from laying on the ground.
2. You have to learn to sharpen the blades. The sharpeners cost 2000-4000 dollars new. Still looking for a used one.
3. Dull blades cause the cut to wander and produce uneven boards.
4. Take your time and don't hurry the blade and keep the RPMs up and the cut will stay straight.
5. Dirty bark dulls the blades fast. A pre-cutting wheel that cuts a swath of bark away in front of the blade is a good idea.
6. Blades cost $20.00 each and you could dull a blade cutting up one 12' log -- learn how to sharpen.
7. Boards will warp almost immediately after cutting. Knowing how to cut so that you prevent warping is a must.
8. Need to come up with a good way to safely and reliable cut vertically standing lumber slabs.
9. Need a way to electrically raise and lower the blade while measuring the wood you want to cut so it can be set easily.
10. Need sealed roller bearings for the blade guides versus greased bushings so I don't have to grease the thing so often.
11. Need deflectors of some sort to divert sawdust from hitting blade guides and gumming them up.
12. Need a solid, but easy way to adjust the moveable blade guide in and out and keeping it straight to the blade.
13. Keep the width between the two blade guides at a minimum to keep blade straight and prevent it from wandering.
14. Need a blade tension meter of some kind to know how tight the blade is.
15. Need to know how tight the blade is suppose to be and adjust it to that.
So I've cut 9 logs now. Each were 12' to 14' long and I've learned a lot in that time. I've learned how to sharpen a blade, well sort-of. I can sharpen it enough to allow me to continue cutting more lumber without changing blades. I've done a few oops here and there and cut into the blade with the grinder wheel more that I wanted but I've been able to make 1 blade last through 4 logs.
I had to do a few modes on the saw, like for instance I had to tilt the wheels back about a half inch because the blade was facing downward and causing my cut to be off. So I have the blade flat now. I also added a bar that allows me to adjust the movable blade guide in and out more than before. I needed to shorten the amount of space between the blade guides so that the gap was just big enough for the wood being cut. I also need to change my blade guides to just 2" sealed bearings. I find myself having to grease the blade guide bearings after 2 or 3 cuts. Sucks.
Here are a few pictures of what I'm doing. I have currently gone through a little over half the wood pile and cut enough lumber to pay for the saw. The rest is now gravy.
16-19" diameter logs
Over 19" diameter logs
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