Ah, Valentines! While other peoples’ fantansies may turn to love, the true sawyer is dreaming of yarding up some logs and kicking out some sawdust as soon as the snow retreats if not sooner. Whether you mothballed your mill for a few months or toughed it out and kept on cutting through the Winter—or enjoyed cutting in a more moderate climate— February is a good time to show your portable sawmill a little love. Hanging valentines from it may be a nice gesture, but a little maintenance will have you’re mill humming with lumber-producing affection in the long run.
If you live in an area where the ground freezes and thaws (especially when the ground is saturated with moisture), the mill supports can “frost heave”, throwing your sawmill out of straight and level. Even if your mill sits on a concrete slab or the support posts go below the frost line, it is worthwhile to check the mill for level now and then and to make sure all supports are in contact with the mill. Most portable mills have leveling feet or screw jacks for adjustment, but even wooden wedges can be used to level the mill and support it evenly. Once leveled, run the carriage down the track to be sure it rolls smoothly. If there are any bumps or rough spots, the track may be bent, possibly from dropping a log on it or bumping it with a loader. Sometimes love is harsh. If necessary, remove the piece of track and straighten it against a flat iron rail.
The drive belt takes just a few minutes to check and adjust. If it shows cracks, it would be a good time to replace it. Even if it looks good, it pays to have a spare handy. Go with the portable bandmill manufacturer recommendations on changing the oil, spark plug(s) and filters. While you’re at it, give the engine’s cooling fins a blast of compressed air to clear out the accumulated sawdust. Do the same with the oil cooler, if your engine has one.
Winter is hard on batteries. Fortunately, many electric start mills also have recoil starters, but you can save yourself some cranking time if you have a 12V power supply and a pair of jumper cables handy. It is easiest to clip onto the positive terminal of the mill where it connects to the starter. Then connect to the good battery and clip the negative clamp to a piece of bare metal on the sawmill engine. When you turn the key, the engine should crank over (and hopefully, start). If the mill’s battery won’t take or hold a charge, it may be time to replace it.
So what should you look at if the engine won’t start? On many of the best portable sawmills, there are safety switches. A big red “kill switch” might have been bumped to the “off” position or the safety switch on the blade cover may not be making contact. Moisture may have also condensed in the fuel tank over time. If the engine doesn’t start, or runs roughly, drain the fuel line and the bottom inch of fuel from the tank into a glass jar. If you see water in the bottom of the jar (under the gasoline), you’ve found the culprit. Hook up the fuel line and try again. It may sputter a bit, should smooth out in minute or two. If no gas flows through the fuel line, you’re either out of gas, have a blocked line or a clogged filter. Look for nut shells around the engine, a sure sign squirrels (or other varmints) have been nesting there (especially if you’ve covered it with a nice cozy tarp) and have possibly chewed through a wire or two during the winter. It happens! If none of this works, check the spark plugs. Dry plugs (after attempting to start the engine) indicate the engine is not getting fuel. Wet plugs indicate the engine is is either flooded or not getting spark.
Finally, check the blade tracking, spray a shot of silicone lubricant in both ends of all cables, re-calibrate the height gauge, check the blade guides and give the mill a small, but loving kiss of grease in every zerk. It is springtime, after all and even sawyers deserve a little love!