Chainsaw Mills: Practical or Plain Wasteful ? You decide!

It has come to my attention, that there is a great interest in chainsaw mills. This is why i thought i should post another piece on, to elaborate a little on this one and to adress unanswered questions. First of all, I want to tell you about the distinct advantages and disadvantages of portable chainsaw mills.

Advantage # 1 – Save Money!

Yep, you can save a ton of money if you decide to mill your own lumber. If you’ve recently been to a hardware store, you know that lumber prices are skyrocketing. So why not utilize the ressources you already have? If you own land with a lot of trees, it can be a great idea to buy a cheap alaskan style chainsaw mill to cut your own boards. Sometimes, you have to rode your property in order to develop it further. In many cases it would be a shame to use the trees you had to fell as firewood!

If you’ve got that many logs to mill: Stop reading because a chainsaw mill isn’t for you…

Advantage # 2 – Amazing for DIY purists!

We are into DIY for a reason. It is a way of life and if you say otherwise you’re just plain wrong ;). Creating something with your bare hands is empowering – so why not take it to the next level? It is already great to walk into your living room just to be greated by that lovely cabinet or stool you’ve built. Now imagine how amazing it must feel to know that this stool is made of lumber you’ve milled yourself? The world is created by sweat & tears and i firmly believe that the additional labor you put into your projects is well worth the rewards!

Advantage # 3 – Great if you already own a powerful chainsaw

If you already own a powerful chainsaw, it would be a total waste to buy a small sawmill. Sure, small woodmizer are convinient, and they can be had for as little as 3,000$ USD, but what if you just want to get rid of that lonely log sitting around on your property? What if you can’t find a place to rent a woodmizer for a day? A simple alaskan type sawmill is a great and inexpensive way to turn that log into usable lumber.

Advantage # 4 – Superior Portability

Living in the woods? Far out? Well, tell me an easy way to pack up a lumbermate to use onsite and you’ll be my hero! Chain saw mills are truly portable and therefore allow for great flexibility.

But it’s not all roses and daisies, so let’s take a look at the downsides of using a chainsaw mill:

Chainsaw milling is a terrible choice if you believe that sustainability is important, because it creates a lot of waste. In fact, chainsaw milled wood was banned in ghana because of it’s low recovery efficiency. If you just want to use that one lonely tree standing in your backyard, this might not be an issue. On a larger scale though, this type of milling may support deforestation. Regular bandsaw mills fare way better in this regard.

Ever wondered how much lumber is in one medium sized log?

Disadvantage #2 – It’s very labor intense!

I know that you’re probably a strong dude, but still i have to tell you that chainsaw milling is bound to make you break a nice sweat! The reason for this: A regular saw chain is designed to cut across the grain and not with the grain. The ladder is much harder. You’d probably need to buy a special ripping chain to use for milling (extra cost you have to factor into your decision). For more information on this i recommend you to take a look at the classic „Chainsaw Lumbermaking“ by Will Malloff.

Disadvantage #3 – It’s a slow and raw process

If you’re used to a bandsaw mill, you’ll probably notice how long it takes to make cuts. Hobbyists are usually not in a hurry, but for commerical applications, a chain saw mill is simply to slow. Furthermore, they produce a pretty rough cut, even with special milling chains. You have to refine your boards later on and this takes additional time.


Especially small time users in remote locations can profit from using a chainsaw mill. These devices are cheap (you can even build them yourself), portable but also harder to handle. Unfortunatly, they also produce a pretty rough cut and a shunned for their wastefullness. This makes them a terrible choice if you want to produce timber commercially.

If you still want to go ahead, here are a couple of tips & tricks to make your milling experience easier:

  • You need powerful gear! Start with the best engine you can afford (a small electric chainsaw won’t cut it…pun intended 😉 ) and get a ripping chain. If it’s a used one, sharpen it!
  • Try to elevate the log if possible. Because chain saw milling is a slow and exhausting process, you do not want to mill on your knees or bend too much. It kills your back!
  • Try to put your log on a slope, so you’re milling downwards. Why not use gravity to your advantage?

Also, do not forget to:

  • Wear a dust mask. Like i said, this type of milling is very wasteful and there will be a lot of sawdust flying around. A ton of people underestimate the dangers of sawdust. Don’t be one of them and preserve your health!
  • This is a general tip and pretty much common sense, but it needs to be said over and over again: Wear ear protection! Especially important because you’ll be using a very powerful and therefore – loud – chainsaw! Use at least 30db muffs.

After you’re finished, seal the ends of your logs if you want to air dry them. Otherwise they’ll split! Observe this protocol:

I would love to hear from your personal experience. Just write a comment using the box down below and let the toolerant family profit from your experience.

Thanks and have a great day!