How to use a chainsaw mill

Piles of logs to be used with a chainsaw mill
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A chainsaw mill can be daunting if you’ve never used one before. Essentially, this large device helps you transform logs into planks, ready for your home improvement projects. Learning how to use a chainsaw mill enables you to cut large pieces of wood with precision. You’ll be rewarded with perfectly straight, consistent planks.

Don’t be lured into a false sense of security because you’re not using a standard chainsaw. Safety is crucial. Remember to wear safety gear and take necessary precautions to protect yourself and those around you.

First time using a chainsaw mill? If you find it intimidating, we're here to help. We’ve consulted an expert for their advice, and we’ll take you through how to use a chainsaw mill safely. 

If using a chainsaw mill gives you a taste for lumberjack life, why not check out our guide to the best chainsaws? Whether you want to stock up on firewood or prune overgrown trees, you’ll find a device for your needs.

How to use a chainsaw mill

Learning how to use a chainsaw mill can be satisfying. “A chainsaw mill is a great tool for the home or farm," says Melody Estes, Landscape Gardening Supervisor and consultant at The Project Girl. "But if you're going to use it, you need to know how,” she adds.

First, equip yourself with the right tools for the job. Chainsaw mills come in all shapes and sizes - be sure to hire or buy an appropriate size for the task. If you want to convert logs into planks, you need a special type of chain called a ripping chain. 

Before you begin, don’t forget your safety gear. That includes eye protection, sturdy boots, chaps, ear plugs, and chaps.

Start the chainsaw mill according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. “Don't worry about cutting too fast,” says Melody. Go slowly, so you can correct course if necessary.

If you’re converting logs into planks, the aim is to create an oblong piece of wood you can slice into planks. Make four cuts lengthways to remove the outer bark. Rotate the log 90 degrees after each cut so the bark faces upwards. 

Once you have an oblong piece of wood, line up the mill to slice it into planks. For ultimate precision, use a speed square. This triangle-shaped ruler helps you align the mill correctly to nail even results. 

How to choose the right chainsaw mill 

There are several factors to consider when choosing the right chainsaw mill for you. Price, saw size, and cutting power are all important things to take into account when searching the market for a new chainsaw mill.

Some features will greatly impact the amount of money that a chainsaw mill costs. For example, if you need a mill for cutting small logs and smaller pieces of wood then it won't cost you as much as one that is designed for cutting through large, hard logs. Some mills with extra cutting power will also cost a lot more money than weaker ones - stronger mills tend to be designed to cut through large, cured logs with thick knots. 

Professional chainsaw mills can cost upwards of $1000, but these are only really worth the money if you have a large amount of heavy, thick logs to cut. Professional chainsaw mills are also quite large, so if you have a smaller garden then these will take up too much space and may be unusable. 

How long does it take to use a chainsaw mill? 

The amount of time that it takes to use a chainsaw mill can vary greatly. This depends on the size of the chainsaw, and of course the size of the log or wood that you are cutting. Cutting a larger log to size with a normal-sized chainsaw will take an average of 10-15 minutes. 

If you have smaller logs or a bigger chainsaw then this time will be reduced significantly, with cuts taking 5-10 minutes or less. It's also important to take your time and not rush - while these times may sound long, rushing a job like this can be dangerous. 

Equipment that reduces cutting time, such as a large or more powerful chainsaw is likely to cost more money, so keep this in mind if you are looking to reduce your cut time. 

How to keep your chainsaw in good condition 

There are a few easy steps that you can take to make sure your chainsaw stays in good condition. Chainsaw maintenance is vital to keep your chainsaw cutting smoothly and effectively. 

Keeping your blade/chain as sharp as possible is very important. A shaper blade will cut through logs much easier, reducing the wear on other components inside the chainsaw and keeping it in good condition for longer. 

Another easy way to keep your chainsaw in good condition is by making sure it's adequately lubricated. Much like a sharp blade, a well-lubricated chainsaw will cut through logs easier, therefore, reducing the wear on the blade and other parts of the chainsaw. 

If you haven't used your chainsaw in a while, then emptying the old gas and using new gas can help to keep your chainsaw running well. Old gas can sometimes have problems with combusting and can clog your chainsaw which can stop it from running altogether.

Is it better to mill logs green or dry? 

There are some benefits to milling logs both wet and dry, so it depends on what you plan on using your logs for. 

Wet logs are much easier to cut as the water content acts as a natural lubricant, reducing the heat and wear on your chain. The problem with cutting wet logs is they can reduce in size once they have dried. If you plan on using the logs for firewood, or something that doesn't require high levels of accuracy then cutting wet logs is the way to go.

If you need a precise cut, then cutting dry logs will eliminate the problem of the log shrinking. Dry logs will require a well-lubricated blade, as it can be tough to cut through the hard, dry knots and bumps without it. Dry logs are also more prone to splitting, which can damage an accurate cut. To avoid this, we recommend taking it slow or cutting wet logs if you want to be extra careful.

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Louise Bond

Louise Bond is a UK-based writer and the founder of The Cove Copy. She has been published in The Guardian, Breathe, Fit & Well, Top Ten Reviews, and more. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her out in nature, whether hiking in the woods or pottering in the garden. 

With contributions from