Product Review: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV Portable Chain Saw Mill

Granberg Sawmill
Granberg Saw Mill

How cool would it be to mill your own wood directly from the source?  Very cool, indeed.  I had the opportunity to do just that the other day when fellow woodworker, Jacob Hummitzsch, and I tried out the Granberg Mark IV Alaskan Portable Chain Saw Mill to cut some slabs out of a downed white oak nearby.  If you are considering sourcing your own wood, I highly recommend it.  Here is some of the intel on the Granberg:

 

Advantages

White Oak from Sawmill
White Oak from Sawmill

End Result.  As you can see from the picture at the left, there is minimal waviness in the boards we cut.  If you use a large bandsaw, which is typical for this kind of work, there can be some pretty significant waves in the wood to deal with.  The slabs we cut with the Granberg should be very easy to plane.  The boards we cut were as large as 16 inches across and my planer can only handle 12 inches, so if I want to keep the entire width would need to take the boards to a hardwood dealer or sawyer for planing, OR I could build a rig using a router to plane the wood.  I’ll likely go the router route at some point in the future when I get more into making table tops.

Granberg in Action
Granberg in Action

Ease of Use.  Once we got the hang of it, cutting slabs was a breeze.  You just lean forward and rock the saw a bit from side to side, so the entire saw blade is not engaged with the log and it’s easier on the chainsaw to make the cut.  The Granberg can easily be maneuvered by one person, but it’s a good idea to have a Wingman tapping in wedges behind you to keep the void behind the saw open as you cut.  It’s also good to have a Wingman to alternate cutting slabs with you because it does get tiring.

Cost.  In only 2 hours we cut six boards which were 1.5 inches thick, 16 inches wide, and 64 inches long.  That works out to about 65 board feet.  The last time I bought white oak (which I selected and costs more), it was $9.90 per board foot.  Jacob’s and my little expedition netted over $600 in retail white oak with a couple caveats.  One caveat is that our wood is not kiln dried and will require some time and space to dry out.  Another caveat is that the white oak I purchased was S2S grade (read our post here about wood grades), and the slabs we cut will need some additional milling, particularly planing.  However, for the cost of the Granberg and the chain saw we saved hundreds of dollars.  Over several years, this could add up to thousands saved.  If you read our post on pricing your work, you can see that sharply reducing your expenses over the long haul can really add up.  Could Mrs Woodworker be right when she says she saves money when she goes shopping?  Nah.

Controlling entire supply chain.  There is a lot to be said for sourcing your own wood, since you are controlling the level of quality from start to finish.  In addition, you can select trees with unique characteristics, and dry them in a method you know and trust.  You can also be more selective in which boards are used for which purpose which is an important aspect of craftsmanship.  In building our current commission, the black walnut gun cabinet, it was important to have half a dozen raw 8 foot boards to choose from so I could match grain and color for different parts of the cabinet. If you are sourcing your own wood, you will have a much larger selection of grain and color to choose from.

Cons

Stability at Beginning and End of Cut.  One of the disadvantages we saw was that when you first start cutting and when are at the end of the cut, the saw can flop around a bit because there is not as much of the frame to rest on the log.  Once the saw gets going, the entire frame is resting on the log.  There may be extensions available to mitigate this, but we didn’t have any and had to eyeball it a bit to make sure the saw was horizontal.

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

Saw Sharpening.  This is not really the Granberg’s fault, but we had to sharpen the saw after every two boards, or so.  We sharpened it by hand, and can probably speed this up with an electric sharpener.  There are four bolts to loosen, so freeing then tightening the saw did not take too long.  It’s important to take the time to sharpen the saw, or you’ll be wasting your time over the long haul (see our post about efficiency and sharpening the saw here).  Here is a link to some sharpeners available on Amazon.

Storage.  As you can imagine, storing many boards that are around a foot wide and eight feet long will take up a lot of space.  Given that my current shop is in half of the garage, I don’t have much room for storage.  If you have some land, this may not be an issue and you could store your wood in a shed, or outside if it is covered with a tarp.

If you’re looking to mill a lot of wood, for example to build a house, a larger portable saw mill like a Wood Mizer might be more appropriate.  Jesse and Alyssa at Pure Living For Life have a great video on their experience with using one of these larger mills (in this case, the Wood Mizer LT15).  Click here for the video.  We referenced their journey in our post on the RSS hack and they seem to be making a lot of progress in their journey to living off-grid and debt free.

Overall, I’d give a “buy” recommendation for the Granberg.  It was a lot of fun to use and can save a serious woodworker hundreds, and maybe thousands, of dollars in the long run.

3 Reasons You MUST Invest in the Best Tools You Can Afford! Festool Saves the Day: the Refrigerator Saga

Have I told you the story about the refrigerator?

fast moulding project
Fast Moulding Project

One day, Mrs Woodworker decided that she needed one of those gargantuan stainless steel refrigerators to spruce up the kitchen.  I reckon’ I don’t have a problem with that, since the other appliances were already stainless steel or were about to be upgraded to stainless steel to jazz up the kitchen.  Being the awesome husband that I am, I told her to buy whatever she wanted.  She’s pretty frugal so I figured this was a low risk offer.  So she did some serious refrigerator reconnaissance, ordered one she liked, and the company delivered it.  Lo and behold, it didn’t fit in the alcove in the kitchen!  Now if I was buying a refrigerator, I’d measure the opening and buy an appliance that fits the hole.  But that’s not how the mind of Mrs Woodworker works.  She thinks “Aha, I’ve got a husband that makes things and has really awesome Festool tools.  I’ll buy whatever I like and he’ll figure it out.”  Which is what we did.  Thank goodness we had invested in good tools.  Here are 3 reasons you should invest in the best tools you can afford:

Reason #1:  Speed

unfinished fast moulding project
Unfinished Fast Moulding Project

All sarcasm aside, it was fun to whip out this project over an hour or two last weekend.  We had to knock out some of the drywall to the left of the fridge when we installed it, and there was an ugly jagged edge there where the drywall was missing.  Given how close the refrigerator was to the wall, we couldn’t just slide the refrigerator out and replace the drywall.  Using the planer, track saw, mitre saw, and router, we were able to cut moulding as shown in the pictures to 1/4″ thickness, 1″ width, and then routed the edges with a 3/8″ round over to make it blend into the wall a little.  In addition, I mitered the upper corners to make it look nicer.  After a coat of paint to make it match the walls, we were done.  That sounds like an incredible amount of work, but it only took and hour or two.

There are a couple ways that buying into a system of tools increases your speed.  One is that if you have the entire core of tools, you don’t have to jury rig something to make the desired cut, which I’ve had to do in the past. You already have the right tool for the job and can get right down to the work.  In addition, if I had had a myriad of tools that weren’t part of a system, switching the dust vacuum back and forth between tools could be an issue which would reduce our speed.  For example, with the Festool system you can very quickly switch the vacuum from tool to tool.  Speaking of the dust vacuum…

Reason #2:  Your Health

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying quality power tools along with a dust collection system.  For this project, I was able to shift the dust collector from the sliding compound mitre saw, to the track saw, to the router in no time flat.  Unfortunately, the planer generates a ton of shavings and dust so I just did that outside.  When cutting small pieces like this moulding there is usually plenty of ventilation outside, but for planing large boards, use a mask.  But most of the work you do will be inside, and that’s where a HEPA dust collection is so important.  Those tiny particles you are generating with all those tools will lodge in your lungs over the long haul and you will be incapacitated.  I have read multiple articles over the years about woodworkers who didn’t think carefully through this and developed lung issues.  No one wants that.  Get the dust collection system.

Reason #3:  Simplify Decision-Making

trim piece
Trim Piece

I was giving a shop tour to a young fella the other day who was trying to get some ideas for setting up his own shop and was deciding whether to invest in Festool.  If he does go that route, he’ll have the advantage of owning great tools much earlier in life.  I didn’t start buying my high end tools until 2014.  Now when I buy tools, I don’t have to agonize over it.  I’ve bought into a system of tools that interconnect and have proven themselves in the shop.  If I need a new tool, I just buy Festool if they have that tool.

Truth in advertising here, I’m not a Festool affiliate and receive no compensation from them.  I’m just a Festool Fan (see our post here about why I love Festool and our post here about tools and minimalism).

As we said in the title, buy the best tools you can afford.  They will increase your speed, save your health, and simplify your decision-making.  You won’t regret it.

 

Choosing Woodworking Tools, or Why I Love Festool

Festool tools
Joy of Festool

I am so thankful I crossed paths with my pal, Steve Patoir, in Afghanistan.  He was a stark raving mad lunatic about some tools called Festool (check out their website at festoolusa.com) which I had never heard of.  I figured when I got back to the States, I’d give them a try and boy, am I glad I did.  I’ve been using Festool almost exclusively now for 2 years and they are worth every penny (that’s a lot of pennies, more on that in a minute).

If you are just starting out in woodworking, let me give you a few thoughts to ponder.  As Steve says:  “a cheap tool, is an expensive tool.”  Why is that?  Because if you buy a low-budget tool you don’t really want in the first place, you’re going to end up replacing it anyway.  In addition, it’s probably not going to last very long or do the job that you need it to do.  You need to think in terms of decades when you are buying tools.  Is this tool something you will enjoy using for the next 10, or 20 years?  If it frustrates you because of the way it’s designed, you’ve got the wrong tool.

So why are we such Festool fans?  Let me give you a few reasons:

Precision.  Once you’ve worked with the Festool mortise and tenon machine (Domino), sliding compound miter saw with laser (Kapex), and table saw equivalent (Track Saw), you can easily work within the millimeter precision window.  Festool has designed their gear to be incredibly easy to use and incredibly precise.  I’m still amazed and overjoyed to see that the cuts come out perfectly every single time.  When you are making something like the cornhole set we profiled in another post, precision is not quite so important, but when you are making something like a picture frame, it is very important.

Interoperability.  It wasn’t until I had built up a core group of Festool that I saw how interoperability equalled speed, which is crucial in a woodworking business.  You can quickly switch the dust collection hose and power cord from the dust collector to each power tool in seconds.  For example, on the gun cabinet project I found myself quickly transitioning from cutting pieces with the Track Saw and Kapex to cutting mortises with the Domino in no time at all.

Dust collection.  I go overboard when it comes to shop safety.  Why poke your eye out if you don’t have to?  Always wear hearing protection and eye protection.  In addition, all the dust floating around your shop can kill you (in the long run).  A dust collection system will keep all that floating crap out of your lungs and keep them healthy.  Festool has a great system that screens out fine particles and is easy to use.  Also, having the vacuum automatically turn on when you trigger the power tool is pretty slick.

And most importantly:  Joy.  Those German designers have thought about just about every situation a woodworker will encounter in using their tools.  Steve and I are still swapping stories about some ergonomic tool feature we had overlooked.  I absolutely love using these tools (also see our post about the gulag and craftsmanship joy) in the shop.

So you may be saying “Jerry, that’s great but Festool is really expensive!”.  You know what?  You’re right.  I saved up my deployment bonuses to buy my tools and my super sister bought me one of the more expensive Festool as a welcome home present.  You may not be so lucky, so consider buying one per year (or every other year if necessary) to spread out the pain.  I would NOT advise using a credit card to finance tool purchases.  Try to grow your hobby or business organically (more on that in one of the business-related posts which will be rolling out soon).  If you are going to go the Festool route, start with the smaller Domino.  You will use it a LOT and using mortise and tenon joinery to eliminate metal fasteners will set your work apart.  Then I’d get the TS55 Track Saw (the 55 means it can cut to a depth of 55mm) when you can afford it.

Do I only have Festool?  No.  I’m a big fan of Harbor Freight tools (harborfreight.com) because they are inexpensive and durable.  If you have an edge that’s not going to be visible to the client and will not sacrifice the quality of your joinery, then a HF tool may do the job.  For example, I have a HF bench top bandsaw.  You are never going to use a band saw to produce a finished edge on a piece since you will always be filing and sanding that band sawn edge.  Along those lines, I’ve got a HF bench top drill press which does the trick just fine.

The bottom line is it’s important to think about exactly what you are going to be doing in the shop then the appropriate tool that will allow you to do that task quickly and with precision.

For the experienced woodworkers out there.  What are your favorite tools and why?