Getting Started Guide to Sawing

Sawing your own lumber appeals to many different people. Woodworking hobbyists, sawmill business owners, farmers, and home builders are just a few of the many different people that buy a sawmill. Many are compelled to buy their own mill after seeing one for the first time, and don't come from a lumber producing background. This section is to help get you familiar with portable sawmills, the lingo used in the industry, and how easy it is to get sawing your own lumber, no matter what your background.

A Portable Sawmill: How it works

Making lumber with a portable sawmill is simple. Pass a bandsaw blade through a log from end to end a few times, and the result is boards! Wood-Mizer founders Don Laskowski and Dan Tekulve came up with this brilliantly simple method way back in 1982, and basically, it hasn't changed much since. The simple design was perfectly suited for easy transportation. Instead of bringing logs to your mill, you can take your sawmill to the logs. This flexibility is what makes the portable sawmill so popular for custom sawing businesses.

Watch this television feature from 'Eye on America' about Wood-Mizer and how portable sawmills are easy on the environment.
Portable Sawmills - Easy on the Environment

Another new introduction to the sawmill industry by Wood-Mizer was the use of thin blades to cut lumber. This is called "thin-kerf", kerf being the amount of wood removed by the blade. Conventional circular mills use thick blades that remove up to a quarter inch of wood every pass. (In the diagram to the left, see how thin the kerf is from Wood-Mizer blades on the log to the left, compared to the conventional kerf on the right!) Wood-Mizer ultilizes blades that only remove less than 1/10th of an inch! A Wood-Mizer sawmill will produce (on average) about 20% more boards per log than circle mills, giving you more product from your log supply.

Setting up a portable sawmill

Drive to the logs.
The sawmill tows like
any trailer with most small trucks
Disconnect Hitch
A 2" ball is used for
most Wood-Mizer mills
Rough Level
Wood-Mizer's unique mills do not have to be 100% level
Load Logs
Load logs onto mill with cant hooks, hydraulic arms, or with a tractor
Wood-Mizer mills only take minutes to set up and start sawing

How do you turn a log into lumber?

Although there are many advanced techniques for achieving the best and most lumber from a log, anyone can get great lumber by following this easy method.

The first cuts
are made across the top of the log.
Flip Log 180°
onto the flat side and saw.
Rotate Log 90°
Clamp a flat side of the log against the side supports to cut the 3rd side.
Saw the last side
to square the log into a four-sided cant. 
Rotate the log
several times while sawing to produce the maximum amount of lumber
Edge Boards
by standing a number of boards up and sawing the rough edge off.

Procedure for Developing Grade Lumber 
Study this document produced  by the Forest Service for more details on techniques for sawing logs.
Wood-Mizer Sawing Glossary  

Board Foot - A unit for measuring wood volume. A piece of wood 1'x1'x1", or a piece measuring 1"x3"x4' both contain 1 board foot of wood. 

Buck - To saw felled trees into shorter lengths.

Butt - The base of a tree, or the lower end of a log.

Cant - A portion of a log sawed on all four sides.

Cant Hooks - This traditional logger's tool is used to roll, lift, move, and pivot logs using the handle as a pivot lever. Two are recommended for basic log handling capabilities.

Check - A lengthwise separation of the wood. It often goes across the rings of annual growth. Checking is usually due to mechanical stresses during drying. 

Conifer - Usually evergreen;cone-bearing; and with needles or scale-like leaves. Pines, spruces, firs, and cedars are conifers. 

Cord - (1) A standard cord is a stack of cut wood 4' (1.22 m) high, 4' (1.22 m) wide, and 8' (2.44 m) long. (2) A face cord is 4' (12.2 m) by 8' (2.44 m) , but the stack is made of sticks under 4' (1.22 m) long. These are usually 12, 18, or 24" long (304.8, 457.2, or 609.6 mm).

Crown - The leaves and branches of a tree.

Cull - (1) A tree or log of marketable size but having no market value. (2) A tree or log which cannot be used for the intended product and is not measured. Cull includes such things as rot, crookedness, cavities, and too many branches.


Deciduous Tree - A tree which loses all of its leaves at some time during the year. May include some conifers, such as larch.

Dimensional Lumber is a term used for lumber that is finished/planed and cut to standardized width and depth specified in inches . Examples of common sizes are 2x4, 2x6, and 4x4.

Flitch - A portion of a sawn log which is insufficient for finished lumber (due to bark or defects on one or more sides). Usually intended for remanufacturing into lumber or veneer.

Grading - Evaluating and sorting trees, logs, or lumber according to quality and value.

Hardwood - A term used to describe broadleaf (usually deciduous) trees. Oaks, maples, ashes, and elms are hardwoods. 

Heartwood - (The Heart) The inner core of the tree. It is usually darker in color than the outer sapwood.

Kerf - The width of a cut made by a saw in a piece of wood.

Log Rule - A printed table which has log volume based on log diameter and length.

Pulpwood - Wood cut to be converted into wood pulp to make paper, fiberboard, or other wood-fiber products.

Sapwood - The outer part of a tree. Its main purpose is to carry water and store food.

Scale Stick - A flat stick, similar to a yardstick. It is marked so log volumes can be read from it when the stick is placed on the small end of a log of known length.

Seasoning - The process of drying lumber or other forms of wood by natural (air-dried) or artificial (kiln-dried) processes.

Slash - What is left on the ground after logging, pruning, or other forest operations including tree tops, branches, and bark.

Stand - A group of trees in an area that are enough alike in composition, age, and condition to be set apart from the surrounding forest. A forest stand is said to be pure if 80% or more of the trees are of the same species. If less than 80% of all trees are of the same species, the stand is said to be mixed.

Urban Forestry - A new field that was developed in the 1970s. It deals with management of urban trees, parks, and green spaces for a better environment.

Veneer - A thin sheet of wood cut on a veneer machine. Veneer is often used for plywood facing and requires big, high-quality logs.

Windfall - A tree uprooted or broken off by wind.

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