One of the most expensive aspects of Timber Frame Building is the cost of the large dimension lumber that you need for construction. Not only is it expensive but the ability to purchase the materials will vary depending on where you are located. If you are considering building your own timber frame building and you have the resources in your area to cut your own or purchase raw logs for milling then you might really consider milling as an option vs purchasing finished beams.
There are a variety of different ways to cut raw logs into the structural components you will need for your frame. If you are in a remote area you might consider a Chainsaw Mill which is an attachment for a chainsaw that will allow you to cut logs. Another option is a bed mill that runs off of a bandsaw that will run the length of the log on rails. The third option is a circular saw blade mill however if you are considering this type of mill you are going to be very limited on the size of log that you can mill. There are blade depth restrictions with a circular saw mill when you are dealing with a smaller consumer mill vs the large saws used by sawmills.
There are always a variety of different grades of machines available on the market and this changes quite often. A lower end mill might be great for doing a short run of timbers but you also have to consider that if price is your primary motive you might also have a machine that it is difficult to find parts to make repairs and the repairs might be required more often.
Chainsaw Log Mills
Chainsaw log mills or what some call Alaskan Sawmills are really limited in their ability and if you are building a conventional structure that is not in a remote area you should really shy away from the idea of using one long term. On the other hand if you are building a cabin with round logs that you will notch and place and won’t need to mill and then using your mill to cut your dimensional lumber for your roof and window cutouts and other minimal needs then a chainsaw mill is an excellent choice. The second problem with a chainsaw mill is accuracy. If you are building a remote cabin or even a barn the accuracy of your cuts and the waste due to the thickness difference between a chainsaw bar and a band saw bade is not an issue. Your primary concern in that situation is getting the equipment to the job site and you might need to 4wheel it in or maybe even pack it in in pieces. However in conventional construction accuracy and waste does matter so you are better off looking at a Band Saw Mill when you will be cutting a large number of timbers of extreme length.
Hydraulic vs Manual Sawmills
One of the hardest parts of sawing your lumber will be loading the logs and rotating them when you are cutting them. If you are an individual builder then a hydraulic sawmill is probably worth the investment because you won’t be able to easily load and rotate large logs on your own. Yes you probably can get through a few logs on your own you are thinking but if you have to deal with 50 or more 25 foot long logs then you are going to be beyond your limit and could end up hurting yourself which is really not an option.
Loaders on these mills only lift the log off the ground when it is placed directly to the side of the mill and even at that point it can still be difficult. You will need other equipment to position and rotate the log so it is in proper position for the mill to load it. Some people use things like winches however its much better to have a piece of equipment like a backhoe or small excavator with a long reach and there are optional tools that you can hang from your bucket that will pickup a log easily and allow you to rotate the butt end of the log it in place manually before loading it on the deck. Tractors are also an option if you already have one but they don’t have the reach and the lift that construction equipment has so you are better off looking at buying used and then selling or long term rental from someone in your area not using their backhoe.
The initial cost of the mill is one factor but the supplies to keep it running are also something you must consider. For a chainsaw mill you are looking at about $500 for a good quality mill but they can range from about $200 to $1,000 just for the mill and then you have to include a heavy duty chainsaw with a strong engine and then a few rip cutting chains so you aren’t sharpening your blade all day. That is important when you are considering the length of the day because you can sharpen your blades after the sun goes down.
Manual Band Saw Mills are a larger investment but you can normally find one used for somewhere between $5000 and $10,000 depending on its size, engine and ability. There are lower end sawmills that can cost you much less and start at about $2,500 but remember if you are going this route then you will probably need to make alterations to the equipment to beef it up and extend it before you even think of loading a 20 foot log on it. Most of the better grade mills come with engines that are above 60hp which can run all day for many days without service. Lower end models might come with engines as low as 10hp which is not even as strong as many lawn tractors so they won’t be able to run constantly or at a speed fast enough for milling enough timbers and other lumber needed for an entire home. Smaller mills are better suited for wood workers that want to harvest hardwood trees to get larger materials that you just can’t easily find such as a 10 inch walnut board for cabinet making and in that case the wait is ok.
Blades and Sharpening
If you are lucky enough to have a blade sharpening service in your area you can ask them about the cost of sharpening the blades before you make your purchase. Sharpening blades requires skill and specialized equipment you can not just pull out a file and get good results. Normally this service costs about $5 to $10 per blade and if you are cutting large logs in the 20 foot range you can expect to need a new or sharpened blade for each log. The cost of new blades is also a factor because you want to have enough blades to use during the day and keep in stock until your blades can be sharpened by a shop. You can easily expect to go through 20 blades in a week if you are working with a team and in good production.
A purchase of this type for your project should be considered carefully. You might think you can save a lot of money by going cheap but what you might end up doing is having a sawmill that it over burdened and unable to get the work done in a reasonable amount of time. You have to consider that you will be saw milling for probably weeks before you raise your first timber and then if you are going the additional step of sawing all of your siding and interior lumber needs then you will need a machine that is strong enough that your project doesn’t eat it up and cause it to break down. You won’t have any time to deal with repairs.
So in this situation if you can not afford a new machine there are people just like you who have completed their project and are ready to recoup their investment by selling. You can often get pretty good deals on lightly used sawmills but you do have to do your research and then buy new parts for it like bearings and maybe blade guides. That will depend on the hours on the equipment and its condition.
And remember when you are done with it you can resell it and get back a good portion of your investment.