Store-bought lumber is expensive and can vary in quality. If you have access to a supply of logs, milling your own can almost certainly help you save money and offer better results. Milling also provides complete control over beam/board sizes and allows for close monitoring of quality.
Chainsaw mills offer a versatile, portable, easy-to-use solution for DIY milling. Many mills are also very affordable, especially if you already on a suitable chainsaw for felling or cutting firewood. That said, chainsaw mills aren’t particularly common, so don’t worry if you don’t know the first thing about these wonderful machines.
In this article, we not only offer some helpful tips and suggestions but also take a detailed look at some of the best chainsaw mills available. An in-depth look at the market and thorough product vetting went into creating this list of top picks.
- BEST OVERALL: Granberg Alaskan Mark-IV Chainsaw Mill – (36″)
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Carmyra Portable Chainsaw Mill 36 Inches
- BEST SMALL MILL: HiHydro Portable Chainsaw Mill
- HONORABLE MENTION: Granberg Chainsaw SawMill Alaskan, Model# G777
- ALSO CONSIDER: XRKJ Chainsaw Mill 36 inch
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Chainsaw Mills
A chainsaw mill (also called a “chainsaw sawmill” or “Alaskan sawmill”) isn’t a particularly complicated device. However, chainsaw mills possess a number of key features that differentiate them, which has a big impact on choice.
Chainsaw mill compatibility can be considered in two ways: in terms of power requirement or whether a particular make or model of chainsaw will fit the device.
Cutting planks with a chainsaw mill requires a saw with considerable power. While a few cordless chainsaws offer comparable performance for tree felling or log cutting, milling takes a lot of energy and soon drains the battery. The challenge with even the best corded electric chainsaws is overheating. While a safety cutout usually prevents damage to the saw, it makes them impractical for milling.
That leaves gas-powered chainsaws as the only sensible choice. When describing compatibility with a chainsaw, chainsaw mill manufacturers often describe their tools as fitting “most types of chainsaw.” However, restrictions exist in bar length, so a minimum engine displacement (cc) is suggested. While some mills clamp the chainsaw bar, a few require it to be drilled to affix it, something many users would rather avoid.
Bar Capacity and Cutting Depth
Chainsaws are usually described by their bar capacity: 16 inch, 24 inch, etc. When considering chainsaw mills, this bar size has a major impact on the maximum diameter of log that can be milled, and thus the width of plank.
However, the dimensions sometimes can be misleading. If the mill clamps the bar end, as many do, it reduces the length available for cutting. So, while bar size is important for fitting the chainsaw to the mill, also check the mill’s cut size to determine its actual capacity.
Cutting depth is another key feature, and that depends on the type of chainsaw mill chosen. Some cut with the chainsaw held vertically (often called “edging mills”). These offer unlimited versatility, but repeatable accuracy is more challenging. Other mills cut with the chainsaw mounted horizontally, which can be set to a consistent thickness. Most run from ½ inch to 12 inches, though cuts as thin as 1/5 inch are possible. Some large-capacity models can exceed 15 inches.
Ease of Use
Small chainsaw mills frequently arrive ready to go right out of the box, but larger models generally require some assembly. Hardware is invariably included, and the tools may be, but the user may need to grab a couple of wrenches. These are not complicated devices, but the quality of their instructions does vary.
As mentioned, most chainsaw mills clamp the chainsaw bar. Some require drilling, which entails extra work. As many options exist that don’t require drilling, it’s probably best to avoid these models.
Chainsaw mills fall into two categories: edging mills and horizontal mills. Edging mills must be run on a board mounted to the log, and they’re generally used for squaring up logs for building purposes rather than for cutting multiple planks. Horizontal mills rest on top of the log and cut consistent plank thicknesses. Adjustment is usually straightforward via a couple of bolts.
Portability and Durability
One of the biggest advantages of a chainsaw mill is portability. Often weighing in at just 4 or 5 pounds, even the larger horizontal models seldom go over 20 pounds. Because they’re so lightweight, users can easily take the mill to the felled tree and work on-site. With only the cut lumber to move, a trailer or pickup truck often is sufficient to transfer the wood.
Construction is generally a mix of steel and aluminum. Steel offers great strength, so it’s used for the main structural components that hold things together. Chainsaw mills are often electroplated (usually with zinc, nickel, or chrome) to protect against rust. Aluminum is much lighter, so it’s generally used for the guide rails. Look for a rugged build with consistent welds and metal with substantial thickness or cross-section.
How to Use a Chainsaw Mill
Chainsaw mills are a reasonably simple tool to use, but always follow basic safety precautions. Also take a couple of important steps when setting up the mill to ensure consistent, quality results.
- Ensure the log to be cut is stable. Use chocks underneath to prevent any chance of its rolling.
- Follow general chainsaw safety rules. Wear substantial footwear, gloves, a face shield, and ear protection.
- Check that the chainsaw chain is sharp. A blunt chain is not simply inefficient, it’s also more likely to bind or jump off the bar.
- The first cut is key. Used by itself, the mill rests on uneven bark and trimmed branches, making a clean, even cut almost impossible. To remove that rough surface, some kind of guide is necessary.
- Edge mills usually run along a length of shop-bought or pre-cut board that’s screwed to the log.
- For horizontal mills, a jig is affixed to the log. Some people rig up an ordinary aluminum ladder, but getting it level can be challenging. Purpose-built jigs are available that are much easier to adjust.
- Once the outer layer is removed, horizontal mills can rest on the now-flat surface. It’s not a complicated process, but take care when making the initial cut, because it provides the surface for each consecutive cut.
Our Top Picks
Now, let’s apply all this useful information to some of the best chainsaw mills currently available. Keep reading to learn more about some of the best chainsaw mills on today’s market.
The Granberg Alaskan Mark-IV takes top honors for its build quality, ease of use, and versatile capacity.
The sturdy construction combines heavy-duty zinc-plated steel and aluminum. It takes around 30 minutes to assemble, but once assembled, clamping and adjustment are fast thanks to clearly marked depth scales. At only 20 pounds, it’s portable too.
The Granberg Alaskan Mark-IV chainsaw mill is designed to take a maximum 36-inch chainsaw, and the manufacturer recommends a motor capacity of 70cc or better. It can take smaller chainsaws, but if working with a smaller chainsaw, consider a lower-cost mill: the Granberg isn’t cheap. The bar clamp takes 3 to 4 inches from the cutting capacity. So, if using a 20-inch bar, for example, the cut is restricted to around 16 inches.
- Bar size: 20 inch to 36 inch
- Cutting capacity: ½ inch to 13 inches thick; maximum 32 inches wide
- Weight: 20 pounds
- High-quality tool made in the United States
- Easy to assemble and set up
- Premium price
- Small bars restrict capacity
Get the Granberg chainsaw mill on Amazon.
With a well-proven design and constructed from high-quality steel and aluminum, the Carmyra is a premium chainsaw mill at a budget price. Unfortunately, the instructions are only fair, so assembling the mill can be frustrating. However, once put together, it has competitive capacities and should prove durable.
Carmyra claims a cutting width of 36 inches, but this measurement doesn’t take into account the clamp. While these always reduce capacity a bit, on the Carmyra, the loss is around 5 inches—not insignificant. Although the mill can take chainsaws as small as 14 inches, that only leaves a 9-inch cut, which seldom is practical. With this model, experts advise using a 30-inch or longer saw, which makes this an affordable option.
- Bar size: 14 inch to 36 inch
- Cutting capacity: ½ inch to 13 inches thick; 31 inches wide
- Weight: 16.5 pounds
- Good value for money
- Durable construction
- Light and easy to carry
- Frustrating assembly instructions
- Large bar clamp restricts width
Get the Carmyra chainsaw mill on Amazon.
Not everyone needs to mill large logs; in fact, 24-inch chainsaws are a more popular general-purpose tool than 36-inch models. The HiHydro mill uses these smaller chainsaws, yet it can still cut lumber from ½ inch to 12 inches thick, offering great versatility for hobby woodworkers or professionals. This portable sawmill is also compact enough to fit in the trunk of most cars.
Constructed with rustproof stainless steel and aircraft-grade aluminum, the HiHydro is very durable. However, assembly requires some patience, as the provided instructions are somewhat difficult to follow. Reports have been made of manufacturing faults, though these are relatively rare. The price is low enough that those undecided about milling their own lumber can do so without making a major investment.
- Bar size: 14 inches to 24 inches
- Cutting capacity: ½ inch to 12 inches thick; 18 inches wide
- Weight: 16 pounds
- High-quality construction materials
- Ideal size for hobbyists
- Poor assembly instructions
- Occasional quality control issues
Get the HiHydro chainsaw mill on Amazon.
Granberg classifies its G777 as a small-log chainsaw mill. While capacities aren’t equal to the Alaskan Mark-IV, the G777 is a quality tool that offers versatility in cutting depth. It’s also more compact and lighter than the Alaskan Mark-IV, making it ideal for field use when more modest log sizes are available.
The G777 tracks across the surface of the board like other horizontal mills, but it’s only supported on one side. As a result, users should take care when setting up the first cut. Subsequent cuts also require focus to maintain accuracy, though most users should acclimate to the tool quickly.
- Bar size: Up to 20 inches
- Cutting capacity: ½ inch to 13 inches thick; 17 inches wide
- Weight: 11 pounds
- Excellent build quality and durability
- Lightweight and portable
- Quick and easy assembly
- Less stable than those with twin supports
- Requires care and patience for first cut
Get the Granberg chainsaw mill at Northern Tool.
Featuring a similar design to the Granberg Alaskan Mark-IV, the XRKJ is a low-cost horizontal chainsaw mill that uses quality materials. For the occasional user, it also offers good value for the money.
Steel and aluminum construction mean that it’s not only strong but also lightweight. However, unfortunately, build quality can vary, which can make assembly sometimes frustrating. Although the minimum bar size is listed as 12 inches, the resulting maximum cut is only around 8 inches. Additionally, chainsaws of that size are unlikely to provide sufficient power, so a 20-inch chainsaw is the smallest practical size.
- Bar size: 12 inches to 36 inches
- Cutting capacity: ½ inch to 13 inches thick; 32 inches wide
- Weight: 17 pounds
- Well-proven design
- Takes a wide range of chainsaws
- Low cost
- Not for heavy-duty use
- Some quality control issues
Get the XRKJ chainsaw mill on Amazon.
The Granberg Alaskan Mark-IV Mill is an outstanding tool, widely recognized for excellent build quality and long-term durability. For those who plan to use a mill regularly, it represents money well spent. While not made to the same standard, the Carmyra Portable Chainsaw Mill is similarly designed and represents great value for the less-frequent user.
How We Chose the Best Chainsaw Mills
As the owner of a large property, I have considerable experience with chainsaws. I am also an engineer by profession, so I have a good understanding of the structure and function of chainsaw mills. When selecting our top picks, I used the following criteria:
- Build quality: Chainsaw mills aren’t likely to be treated with a great deal of care, so a primary concern is how well they’re assembled. Each of the models chosen has the strength and durability to withstand a tough working environment.
- Brand: Many of our choices come from brands that have long experience in the field and a recognized reputation. However, these units can come at a premium price, so I’ve also considered well-made tools from lesser-known manufacturers.
- Value: Most chainsaw mills are very affordable, particularly when weighing the potential savings over store-bought lumber. Nevertheless, we were careful to pick models with a range of prices to offer something for every budget.
The previous sections offer an in-depth look at the technical aspects of chainsaw mills followed by real-world examples. Together, they give the mill buyer extensive information on the subject. However, in researching this article, a number of questions came up that benefit from separate answers.
Q: Should I purchase a chainsaw mill or a band sawmill?
If you’re looking for an affordable, easily portable tool for sawing a modest number of logs per year, the chainsaw mill is probably the better choice, especially if you already own a suitable chainsaw. A bandsaw mill offers higher productivity and less waste, but most are a lot more expensive. They are more likely to appeal to those who are milling logs commercially.
Q: What’s the best size chainsaw to use with a chainsaw mill?
Each chainsaw mill has a maximum size chainsaw that will fit it. As this is one of those occasions when you can never have too much power, experts recommend using the biggest chainsaw possible within the specifications of the chosen mill.
Q: If I have a smaller bar, can I still use a larger mill?
Usually, yes. Most chainsaw mills offer a degree of versatility; however, a smaller bar restricts the size of logs that you can cut.
Q: How big of a chainsaw do I need for an Alaskan mill?
There are numerous models of Alaskan mills, ranging from the smallest, which can take a 12-inch chainsaw, to the largest, which can use a 60-inch chainsaw.
Q: How long does it take to cut planks with a chainsaw mill?
Chainsaw milling is not a fast process because so much depends on the log size and material. In general, it should take somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes per cut.
Q: How much power is necessary for a saw?
Most experts suggest a 50cc gas chainsaw as an absolute minimum, though 70cc or above is normally recommended.
Q: What is a ripping chain?
A standard chainsaw chain is designed to cut across the tree trunk for felling or cutting logs for firewood. Effectively, this means you’re cutting across the grain. A ripping chain is designed to cut with the grain along the length of the trunk, so it’s better when using a chainsaw mill.
Q: What are a chainsaw mill’s limitations?
Each chainsaw mill has a maximum depth of cut and a maximum width. How the mill clamps the chainsaw blade has an impact, so check the chainsaw mill’s specifications carefully.