The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Do it yourself plank production?

ripping chain basic chart for chainsaw milling

When we first got our 039 Stihl chainsaw we also got a ripping chain with a special adjustable guide that connects to the chainsaw body. The guide helps to make even cuts when you want to make planks from a tree.

I think we cut a total of 15 planks from a pine tree that were each about 2 feet long. They worked good for our foot bridge, but the process was not easy.

We decided making our own planks was a bit too complex for our skill level, but if you've got the time and a remote location that makes delivery a challenge then maybe a chainsaw mill is an option worth considering.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have an (I think it is called "Canadian sawmill") attachment for my saw. You tack a 2x4 along the top of a log, and the guide fits over it. Then you move the saw down the log to make a plank. It works OK, but my saw was pretty dull (not anymore- Thanks Mark!) I managed to make quite a few 1" x various" x 6' planks. And I am left with a good sized beam of heartwood.

Comment by Eric in Japan Sat Jan 28 18:46:25 2012
With the cost of gasoline it would probably cost a fortune to build anything with home milled lumber compared to just purchasing it premade.
Comment by Phil Sat Jan 28 19:01:46 2012

Well Phil, in my case, a 2x6x12' costs about 1300 yen- about 15USD. I can cut two of them (and a few smaller slabs as well) without filling my chainsaw gas tank- about 300ml. One liter of gas is 140 yen... so it costs less than 70 yen per board (about a dollar). Of course, it takes an hour of my time. I think it is pretty cost effective, if you have free raw material and time to spare to start with.

Comment by Eric in Japan Sat Jan 28 21:04:37 2012
Wouldn't a chainsaw used in this way waste a lot of wood and fuel? A bandsaw is much thinner than a chainsaw, thus wasting less wood and requiring less power. I know there are man-portable bandsaws for sawing up trees on the spot.
Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Jan 28 21:34:36 2012

Eric-The addition of a 2x4 as a guide sounds like a good improvement. I remember having some trouble with ours as the guide pushed up against the round part of the log for the first cut.

Phil-I agree. When you crunch the numbers it would most likely work out better to buy lumber at the store, and will surely last longer if you get treated wood that was cured by someone who knows how to do it right.

Roland-I've seen those man-portable band saws and agree that it would be a far better choice for lumber production and less waste. I heard of a guy who bought one for around 5000 dollars, used it for a project and then turned around and sold it for the exact same amount.

Comment by mark Sun Jan 29 08:23:24 2012
I suspect that both chainsaw mills and bandsaws have a place. The latter are a lot more efficient, but the former are more feasible in extremely remote locations or if you don't have a lot of startup cash.
Comment by anna Sun Jan 29 09:39:34 2012

It had never occurred to me but the ripping chain illustration and idea of using rip fences to guide a chainsaw has inspired me to consider the chainsaw for deep dado cuts in rough joinery of large timbers.

With an elaborate fence you could even insert a chainsaw end-first into a block of wood to create a mortise 24" deep . . . wow!

] j [

Comment by Jeremiah Sun Jan 29 22:30:18 2012
Jeremiah --- I think I understood about 2/3 of that, but got lost with dado and mortise.... Maybe you'll post about your experiments on your blog?
Comment by anna Mon Jan 30 07:47:33 2012

@Jeremiah: You mean like a chain mortiser? I wonder how much accuracy you'd get from a common chainsaw? The chains for a mortiser seem to be constructed quite differently from those of a chainsaw.

Besides, if you can use a feather tenon (tenons with rounded edges), which are easy to make with a correct router bit on a router table, you can use a simple router to make the mortises. With a good guide and a sharp milling cutter, I don't think you can beat the accuracy of a router. With our CNC milling machine at work we've cut jigs from plywood that fit together like a puzzle without discernable play.

Matthias Wandel of has done some interesting strength tests of different types of woodjoints.

In wood as in other materials, bigger joints aren't necessarily stronger. What matters most is where stress concentrations occur. Because that is where the joint will fail. Wood is an anisotropic material (it is much easier to split along the grain than across it) so the orientation of the grains matter.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 30 17:18:06 2012

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