A Beginners Guide to the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
If you have ever wanted to saw your own lumber, then we have something in common. I have been in that boat for a long time, wanting to make my own lumber but there was always a missing link. The sawmill itself. That’s where this blog post begins.
Truthfully, owning a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill was never really something I had considered, but looking back, I think it was the perfect option for me. I had always pictured myself owning a bandsaw mill, but as you’ll read below, there were too many hurdles that I just wasn’t ready to overcome. As I worked through my options, it became very clear that the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill was the perfect option for me.
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How I Decided to Get a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
Have you ever had your eye on a potential new hobby for what seems like years? And every time you finally consider jumping in head first you find a way to convince yourself that it is either too difficult or costs too much money? If you are crafter, artist, woodworker or maker of any kind, I’m sure you’ve been there before.
Well, I have found myself there on more than one occasion. And to be honest, I was there just a couple of years ago. I have walked through the idea of building bigger workshops, taking up metalworking or blacksmithing, working with leather, drawing, and the list goes on and on. Most of us, as makers, can find just about any excuse to halt a dream project or new venture. I know that is true for me.
For some reason, the thought of tackling a new project or pursuing a new hobby brings out the internal naysayer in me. Whenever I start scheming up a new tool purchase or a new hobby, I often think to myself, “you don’t have enough money” or “the learning curve is too steep.” Ultimately, I say to myself, “maybe someday.”
Getting a sawmill was one of those new tools and hobbies that I had thought about all of the time. And that “maybe someday” would soon become a reality.
I often talked to some of my woodworking friends or my wife about the possibility of owning my own bandsaw mill one day. Sawing up my own lumber and making live-edge slabs honestly intrigues me. It almost feels like a connection to a long-lost art or trade you would find in a medieval town.
But every time I visited the thought of purchasing a sawmill I was constantly met with internal resistance. Sawmills cost a lot of money. Sawmills take up a lot of space. You need a heavy-duty truck or trailer to haul heavy logs. The list goes on. Each of those thoughts ultimately quashed any possibility of pursuing my sawmill story.
A few days ago, I was talking to a good friend of mine whose family owns a local chainsaw and mower business, Hildebrand’s Mowers and Saws. He asked me if I had ever considered getting a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill. To be honest, the thought had crossed my mind but for some reason, I was so stuck on getting a bandsaw mill that I just didn’t really see any other option as being viable.
Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw mills certainly have their shortcomings when compared to bandsaw mills but they also excel in many areas
So I did it. I bought one. I bought a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill almost immediately after the conversation.
Purchasing My Granberg 36″ Alaskan Chainsaw Mill (And Chainsaw)
This older saw has a displacement of about 70cc and was plenty enough power to get me started, but don’t ever settle for power. If you ask yourself, “do I need a bigger saw?” You probably do. Paired up to my chainsaw, I also purchased a 28″ Oregan bar and ripping chain from them as well.
NOTE! Something you should know before purchasing your Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill. A 36″ Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill will NOT have a cut capacity of 36″. After doing some research, I knew what to expect so I wasn’t disappointed. After you set up your chainsaw mill, you will lose about six to eight inches of cut capacity with the mill affixed to the bar of your chainsaw.
So with my new 28″ bar, I could cut about 21 inches, which is still a decent-sized log. I purchased my Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill on Amazon after watching prices fluctuate for a few days and finally sealed the deal. This was a huge step for me. For years prior, I thought sawing my own lumber would be unattainable. But now, the only thing standing between me and a beautiful walnut slab was a few days of shipping.
Getting the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill – Unboxing and More
It wasn’t more than a few days later my Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill arrived on my doorstep. I watched the shipping companies tracking information every day. I felt like a little kid waiting for his dream toy to arrive in the mail. This is what makes being a maker so much fun. There are so many different types of makers that there is a niche in making for everybody.
The mill arrived in an excellently branded Granberg box and immediately had me daydreaming about slabbing up some live-edge white oak trees. The next step was unboxing and assembly. We have a YouTube video that outlines the entire process of assembly and unboxing of the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill.
Using the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill For the First Time
To get started using my Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill I found myself watching as many YouTube videos as I could. Every video and every person that I watched had different insights about how to use the sawmill. There are also many other brands and types of chainsaw mills on the market but they are nearly all of similar design and function.
Before actually slabbing up lumber using the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill I had to assemble the mill first. I have a video showing that whole process. Apart from a few of my own mistakes reversing a few bolt alignments, it was very straight forward.
Granberg did a great job outlining the instructions with clear wording and appropriate photographs showing each step. Kudos to them for that. The overall process, if I remember correctly, took me a little over an hour to assemble. It would have taken less if I hadn’t made a mistake on one part and had to disassemble and reassemble to correct the goof.
After watching a few YouTube videos on how to get started slabbing using the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill, I felt that I was ready to go. I cut up an old wooden ladder into roughly an eight-foot section for my first cut. That ladder gives you a level plane for the first cut because the bark and shape of the log are not going to be a stable and flat surface. I used pipe strapping to screw the ladder to the log I was cutting and got it level and secure.
When setting the cutting depth on your first cut, you need to ensure that you are cutting deeper than any screw used to secure the ladder to the log. It sure would be a shame to foul your chain on your first cut.
I generally have to set the depth of my first cut to almost six inches to clear the ladder and screws while minimizing waste. After you get your first cut through you can use the flat plane of the cut log as your surface for your remaining cuts.
When choosing the thickness of your slabs you should keep a couple of things in mind. The Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill has very clear markings on the depth posts that outline in inches how thick your cut will be.
Considerations when using your Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
There are quite a few things to think about when you’re using your Granberg Alaskan chainsaw mill. I will touch on a few of those below to help you as you start your journey as a chainsaw miller.
How Do You Want to Use Your Slab?
One consideration for the thickness of your slab is what your end product will be with that slab. Are you building a table? Are you planning on building a fireplace mantle? Are you going to make dimensional lumber? There are many considerations depending on the final project and intended use of the slab itself.
The bottom line here is that you need to make sure that your slab is thicker than what your final finished dimensions are or whatever project you intend on making.
You need to allow for the machining of your lumber to its final dimensions. After you have your lumber sawed, you will likely joint, plane and saw it to the final dimensions. If you want a two-inch-thick table and you saw your lumber at two inches thick, by the time you plane it down to a smooth finish, you will have a far too thin piece of lumber to use. So make sure you allow some wiggle room for the machining of your lumber to its final dimensions.
Another consideration is lumber checking. Checking is described as the separation of wood fibers along the grain of the wood. Basically, the splitting and separation of the grains of wood. What exactly does this mean?
So after you slab up your lumber and you stack it to dry (a whole other topic), your lumber is going to go through a process of drying. This is basically the act of moisture leaving the wood fibers. As the moisture leaves the wood fibers it actually contracts the fibers making the wood slightly narrower. So you’re probably wondering how this relates to the cut thickness of your lumber, right?
Well, so far in my short experience with slabbing lumber, the thinner you cut your lumber the more prone to checking it is going to be. I cut some beautiful white oak approximately one and a half inches thick and stacked it beautifully to dry and await some magnificent project.
About six months later, nearly all of the ends had cracked and warped slightly. After doing some research, I found that when you cut lumber thin, the ends often dry quicker than the interiors of the board causing the ends of the wood to check or split. So some of the other wood that I cut, I slabbed it at least two inches thick, if not more. So far it is drying much better.
Chainsaw Mills Let You Do Some Things You Can’t With a Bandsaw Mill
Really, this part of the post could be its own blog post completely. So without getting into much more detail, my first time using the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill had me hooked after the first slab.
Using a chainsaw mill to make lumber is very much hard work but it also very rewarding. Chainsaw mills offer a versatility that bandsaw mills cannot match. You can take the chainsaw mill to the log, slab it up where it lays. That is not something that you can often do with a bandsaw mill. I see some future posts, breaking down the process of using the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill.
Getting a New Chainsaw For My Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
Like I said above, each of these topics or headings could be a complete post in and of itself. This one isn’t any different. Choosing a chainsaw for your Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill might seem like a daunting task but really, there are MANY options.
One of the most significant considerations when choosing a chainsaw for your mill is ensuring that it is powerful enough to do so. Depending on the size of the mill you decide on, you are going to need a different size saw.
If there is one bit of advice that I could give about the size of chainsaw you need for a Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill is get the biggest saw that you can afford. I started out with a Husqvarna 365 Special saw which is about a 70cc saw. While this saw is truly a powerful saw, it seemed to slow down when cutting about 21″ logs. I paired the Husqvarna with a 28″ bar which allowed me to cut about a 21″ log.
The Husqvarna seemed to thrive cutting about 18″ wide logs and less. I honestly wouldn’t push that Husqvarna any more than the 28″ bar that I had on it.
Given that my chainsaw mill had a capacity of a 36″ bar, I had lofty dreams of getting a bigger saw so I could mill to the maximum capacity of my setup. For Christmas in 2019, Hannah surprised me with a vintage Echo 900EVL chainsaw. This is a large 1980s saw that has a HUGE amount of torque.
While it doesn’t have some of the technology and chain speed of newer saws, it has a lot of low-end torque. It is hard to bog down this saw or swamp it out in a huge tree as it will continue to grind through using its large amount of torque. This is about a 90cc saw and really fits my mill perfectly.
I was able to get a 36″ bar paired up and can now cut a maximum capacity of almost 27″. That’s a pretty big log.
As I said earlier, get the biggest saw that you can afford. When milling lumber, I wouldn’t recommend anything lower than a 60cc saw and would suggest getting larger than that. But if that is all that you can afford, don’t be disappointed when you can slab up that 30″ red oak. Only take on projects that will be reasonable for the equipment that you have.
Overall Review of the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
So far I have slabbed up about three different trees, a walnut, aspen, and a white oak. All three have proven to be different experiences, some more difficult than others. But one thing that was consistent each time was the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill. This setup is easy to use and produces consistent results.
Each time that I cut slabs I measured the thickness after the cut. And each time the cut was spot on. This showed me that Granberg is very accurate with its stamped thickness measurements on their milling rigs. So far, the whole mill has shown a consistent measure of quality and ease of use. I honestly cannot say anything negative about the whole mill. It is lightweight, easily adjustable, and easy to use.
I plan on writing and filming a more in-depth overall review of the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill in the future, so check back for that later.
Future of the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
Really, we don’t know where this will take us but we do like to dream. We would love to sell slabs someday and make a few extra bucks at it. I try to set goals for myself when trying out new hobbies. Here are some of my goals with the Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill.
- Sell a slab – I hope that I can someday make back the money that we used to purchase and set up this whole milling process, from the chainsaws to the mill itself.
- Buy a brand new chainsaw and a bigger mill – the cool thing about Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mills is that you can get all different sizes depending on the size of chainsaw you have – and I would love to saw up a 36″+ walnut someday.
- I would like to buy a truck and trailer to haul trees and our slabs.
- And lastly, I would love to also have a bandsaw mill – Hopefully, by selling slabs cut up by our Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mill, I would be able to save up enough money to buy a bandsaw mill someday and continue the business.
For now, keep up The Making Life. -N