Woodstock, Ont. — Portable sawmills come in three varieties: Band saws, chain saws and those historical six-foot diameter big blade saws. More recently, manufacturers have developed small blade mills as a viable option.
I spent a year working at a bush mill where we mainly produced railroad ties, along with dimension lumber with the side slabs, so I have some experience in this area.
That was a conventional big blade setup, which must have been five feet in diameter. More recently, I harvested some large oak trees from my property and hauled them to a local band sawmill. We wrecked three bands that day, at a price of about $40 each. The sawyer didn’t cut much of a profit and he swore off cutting oak.
So when I saw this small-diameter disc zipping through big trunks at the Outdoor Farm Show in September, it caught my attention.
Richinda Bates brought her D and L SB 1020 SuperPro swing blade saw to the show to demonstrate the efficiency of the latest portable mills. A manager at Blacks Creek Innovations at Kemptville, Ont., Bates said the SuperPro is designed so the log never has to be moved or adjusted once it’s on the rack. The mill only requires one person to operate.
“This is a mill for farmers who have land with timber and they’d like to convert that timber into dimension lumber for construction, or build a new house, or just sell for cash,” says Bates.
“For guys wanting to convert timber into cash, there’s a big market for what they call slabbing. We take a great big thick slab off a tree that has lots of gnarly knots and character, and leaving some live edge on it, leave the round outer surface. It’s very popular.”
Live edge wood slabs can be used for table tops, bar counters, benches, log-style homes and fences. Each slab is one of a kind.
“This is a 180-degree-swing blade mill. That means you can do a lot of different things with it. If you want to build a log home, you can slab three sides at 90 degrees and leave the round side for the exterior. You can do all that without moving or adjusting the log.”
Bates was doing demonstrations with 36-inch-diameter logs, held in place by log dogs. She says the mill can handle logs up to 48 inches in diameter, but they have yet to find a log that big to try it. The standard setup handles logs up to 20 feet long. With optional extensions, it can be much longer.
She says another money maker is the bevel setting for making siding. The first cut is on the 90 and the second cut is just a little thinner.
“The owner of the D and L lives in British Columbia. He’s built three large log homes using just his portable mills. Blacks Creek got involved because of the work we do in Africa. Their ancient mills were breaking down, and that was becoming an economic factor because they were losing cash flow. And very dangerous. They have these huge blades.
“This is also a versatile mill. There’s attachments for a planner, a slabber bar, an orbital sanding disc and a router bit. You can do finished lumber or tongue and groove. You can router notches in big logs for a better fit in log buildings.”
One drawback to small 25-inch diameter blades is that your maximum cut depth is limited to 10 inches. The slabber attachment is limited to a four-inch cut.
On the positive side, the entire mill is built of aluminum and stainless steel. All moving parts are off the shelf. A unique guard system follows the blade, thus protecting the operator at all times. The mill is powered by a 35 horsepower Kohler electric start.
Without the attachments, Blacks Creek sells the D & L SB 1020 SuperPro swing blade for $20,995. That price includes two blades, a carriage transporter to move the rig and a 12volt diamond sharpener.