Qualities to Look For in a Portable Sawmill


  1. Quality-Built in the USA & Canada – Where is the sawmill made and by who?  It’s not uncommon to see Chinese and Polish-made mills on the market.  And the companies selling them don’t tell you that’s where they’re from!  Good luck getting parts for some of those foreign mills!  Protect yourself!  Make absolutely sure that you know your mill is quality-built in the USA or Canada and that the company behind it is well established.
  2. Capacity – What diameter logs do you plan on milling?  What width boards do you want to cut?  These two numbers are critical to getting a sawmill that will meet your needs.  Don’t cut this too tight either.  For example, if you generally plan on milling 20″ logs, don’t get a mill rated for anything less than 26″ – Regularly maxing out your mill will drive you crazy because very few logs are perfectly straight – they have knots and bends, all of which take space on your sawmill.  Length is generally no problem – simply add bed extensions to cut longer logs.
  3. Rigid or Cantilevered Sawhead? – Much debate surrounds bandmill sawhead design.  Proponents of cantilevered sawheads say it’s easier to offload lumber.  Critics point to sawhead sag caused by the weight of the unsupported sawhead combined with the strain as the blade goes through the wood. They also point to the wear and tear of the load-bearing parts in the cantilevered system.  Rigid sawheads supported on both sides of the track (by at least two or preferably four posts) eliminate these issues.  
  4. Fit and Finish – Your sawmill is an investment.  It’s going to be out in the weather and will be worked hard in tough conditions.  It’s important that it’s well protected. Powder-coating increases the cost of parts by up to 20{ecddf9adde44d27d9b15adaf662c1dc75823d7a27d1c0a3dca6c68c19970fb5c} whereas spray-paint costs virtually nothing.  Because it’s cheap, many sawmill manufacturers choose to wet-coat their parts and put the money they save into their jeans.  But then it’s you who pays the price! In just a short time, your mill will start to rust.  Make sure that your mill is powder-coated.
  5. PortabilityDo you need to move your sawmill from place to place or do you plan on setting it up in one place and bringing the logs to the mill?  Of course if you need a portable sawmill, you’ll need to make sure that the mill you choose is, or can be, equipped with a trailer package.
  6. Manual or Hydraulic – There are a few considerations when choosing between a manual and hydraulic machine:


    Physical Work: Manual mills are just that – manual.  The sawmill has no hydraulic or power functions that help load, turn or clamp the log, or raise/lower or move the blade through the cut.  In other words, be prepared for a certain amount of work.  With a fully hydraulic mill, you essentially stand at the end of the bed, and manipulate levers and the sawmill does much of the work.   Of course, you still have to get the logs next to the mill where they can be loaded.


    Cost: Manual mills are much less money.  This greatly reduces your initial investment.  Not surprisingly, hydraulic mills cost a lot more which means that you need to mill a lot more wood to justify the investment.
    c. Complexity and Reliability: There is a lot that can go wrong with hydraulic mills and when something breaks, your milling day is over.  Manual mills, by virtue of being much simpler, are more reliable. Of course, that also means that hydraulic mills cost more to maintain; be prepared to pay more for parts to maintain those more complex systems.
  7. Versatility and Value – More often than not, two things are true for most sawmill buyers:

    (1) They’re new to milling, and
    (2) They have a limited budget. 

    a.  If you’re new to milling, you may not know exactly where your sawmilling journey will take you.  For example, you may only think you’ll mill a few logs at your own place, but then find that you can make good money milling at your neighbors’ places and so need a portable mill. You may find that you start milling longer logs and so need extensions.  Or you may find that, over the years, you become a little less spry and want hydraulics to help you handle the logs. Look for a sawmill that can grow with you.
     b. If you’re starting with a limited budget, or if you want to keep your initial investment to a minimum, you’ll probably want to start with a manual mill.  Without all the expensive hydraulics and electric components, a manual mill can be very good value.  But remember the versatility point – Look for a mill that, while very cost-effective, you can add to over time.  Most mills are either manualor hydraulic which limits your choices.  We only know of one mill designed for flexibility – Norwood has developed a versatile sawmill platform in the LumberMate Pro where you can transition from a manual mill to a hydraulic mill at any time.  This keeps your options wide open.
  8. Failure Engineering – I have heard from several good sources that one very large sawmill manufacturer engineers some parts to fail.  That way, they get a valuable flow of parts sales for years to come.  It may be tempting to go for the big name, but remember that this is your money and your investment. Do your homework and make sure that you invest wisely.






[ Photo Credits: Norwood Portable Sawmills ]