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:
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.
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.
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.
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.