Portable Sawmilling

Portable Sawmilling

by Guest Author: Katrina Amaral

Thinking about a timber harvest? Depending on the size of the cut and the quality of the trees, you might want to consider hiring a portable sawmill to come turn your logs into usable lumber. Of course, the cost consideration is a factor. Will it be more economic to sell the saw logs rather than to hire someone to mill them? If you have a number of building projects coming up, love woodworking, or you’re interested in selling lumber products yourself then hiring a portable mill could be the way to go.

My husband and I run a small sawmill operation in central New Hampshire. We have done portable milling jobs for established farmers harvesting from their woodlots, landowners who have just cleared a small bit of field, and homeowners whose hazard trees had been taken down from around their house. There’s such a variety of uses for lumber, from patching those rotten boards on the garden shed to building the coffee table you’ve always dreamed about. Here are some things to keep in mind if you want a sawyer to come mill up your trees.

Find a sawmill. Searching “portable sawmilling [in your area]” can be one of the easiest ways to find someone. Wood-mizer maintains a list of sawyers through its Pro-Sawyer network. You can also check Craigslist. Sometimes people selling lumber also hire out for portable jobs. Call around and ask for time and cost estimates.

Know what you have in your woodlot. Are you thinning out low-grade pine? Taking down beastly sugar maples? Focusing on high-quality saw logs? Having a good idea of what’s coming down will help you figure out what to mill out of the logs.

Make a cut list. It’s basically a shopping list for your trees. If you know you’ll be building a barn/chicken coop/sugar shack in the near future, figure out the dimensions. If you’re looking for hardwood flooring stock or countertops, calculate the board-footage you’ll need.

Do some site prep. A portable mill will need a reasonably flat, accessible area to set up on. It helps the workflow when the logs are stacked neatly. Milling generates quite a bit of waste in the form of slabs and sawdust, so consider where that will go. Support equipment (tractor, skid steer, pair of eighteen-year-old lumberjacks, etc.) can be critical, especially if you are milling something like a 24-foot 8”x8” beam for your new barn.

Have a plan for post-processing. Slab wood can be burned and sawdust can be used in chicken coops, but the lumber also needs some attention. Wood air-dries at the rate of an inch of thickness per year, so a two-inch thick future countertop will take 2 years before it is truly workable. (Although some species are more forgiving than others – we slapped some fresh-off-the-mill pine down for temporary countertops and they are working out fine.) Wood dries better if it is sticker-stacked and covered. Your sawyer should be able to answer any questions you have about different wood behaviors and drying times.

Bug your sawyer. Speaking from personal experience, it can be easy to forget about that portable job you tentatively scheduled 4 months previously when you are staring at a log-truck worth of logs that need to get milled into other orders. Don’t be afraid to remind the sawyer about your job. But also understand that trailering a mill in the rain or after the roads have been salted isn’t good for the equipment and there may be weather-related delays.

Ultimately, being able to use lumber milled from your own trees is incredibly satisfying. I love being able to look at my house and see all the various wood that we’ve milled and used over the years. And it is equally as rewarding when our customers send us photos of their finished projects!

Katrina Amaral

Timberdoodle Farm