Many folks rely on their woodlots for a ready supply of firewood or a combination of firewood and fence posts. Others might even add rustic building materials to that list. But if you make frequent trips to the lumberyard in support of all those workshop projects, you might consider adding another perspective to your view of those lovely wooded acres. Wherever trees grow, you can harvest them and use them directly as building timbers for small structures, or you can saw them into timbers and lumber in support of all kinds of construction projects. And you don’t need to be a fine carpenter to make it all happen.
Tale of two lumber mills
While pondering a kitchen island project one day, an urgent need for material led us to investigate small portable sawmills instead of the lumber prices at the local home improvement store. In fairly short order, we had a small Granberg Alaskan chainsaw mill in hand — the entire package cost less than $200 in 2010 — and within about an hour’s worth of cutting, we had a large accumulation of hard pine timbers and boards — enough to build the carcass, doors, drawers and legs of a kitchen island.
In the meantime, Hud-Son sent us a Homestead model bandsaw mill to demo. This machine is lightweight, easy to set up, easy to use, and capable of handling 21-inch-diameter logs — including the American black walnut we intended for the kitchen island’s top (See “Hud-Son’s HFE 21 Homesteader Bandsaw Mill” further along in this article). The bandsaw mill is a little faster and wastes less wood in the form of sawdust, but it costs about 10 times the price of the Alaskan mill.
Woodlot to lumber mill to DIY kitchen island
Access to sawmills makes it possible to create dimensioned lumber for all kinds of projects, including basic cabinetmaking. In our case, we also had a garage-sale thickness planer to do some initial sizing and smoothing of the boards as needed. Building with homemade lumber takes a little more time, but the payoff is huge in satisfaction, price, and the fact that you precisely control the dimensions of the boards.
The first step in the process was to generate a rough design. We decided on a 34-inch-wide by 42-inch-long base footprint that would be 2 1/2 inches short of the other countertops in the kitchen. The top would be 2 1/2-inch-thick solid walnut, 46 inches wide and 44 inches long. The extra width allowed for an overhang. The base and top put together would match the height of the other countertops in the kitchen.
The project began with sawing heavy 3 1/4-inch-square leg material and 1 3/4-inch-thick rail material using the table saw. I next ran the pieces through the thickness planer to bring the dimensions down to 3 inches square for the legs and 1 1/2 inches thick for the rails.
Framing it up
For this cabinet’s framing, we used through mortises let into the legs. We cut the mortises using a 3/4-inch bit chucked into the drill press and cleaned them out with an old set of mortising chisels. I used the table saw to create the tenons on the rail’s ends.
Once the base was assembled and glued, we installed 1/2-inch-thick planks for the sides and back, and installed a 3/4-inch-thick bottom, built doors and drawers, and then moved on to the top.
For the top, I chose the best pieces of 2 3/4-inch-thick black walnut we had, and just as I was running them through the thickness planer, it decided to eat part of its armature. It was time to tune up the hand planes and use them to bring the planks to final thickness and to true their edges for gluing.
With the top assembled, I spent about an hour working it flat with the hand planes, sanded it smooth, and encapsulated it in epoxy. This will help keep the thick top dimensionally stable. More sanding and several coats of polyurethane later, and we had a lovely, kitchen-friendly island top.
The final stages of the project included finishing the base, setting the top and installing hardware.
Read more: Get an in-depth look at Hank’s kitchen island, from start to finish in Building A Kitchen Island Part 1: Working With Homemade Lumber.
Editor-in-Chief Hank Will spends significant time in his workshop crafting such things as homemade hay rakes, fence posts and gates, and kitchen islands with integrated butcher blocks out of the Osage Orange and other trees on his Osage County, Kansas, farm.
Granberg’s Small Alaskan Chainsaw Mill
Our Granberg Small Alaskan Chainsaw Mill arrived with slabbing bars, a new 20-inch bar and ripping chains to fit our Husqvarna 357XP saw. Assembly took about 20 minutes.
Making the first cut with the slabbing bars installed ensured that subsequent cuts would be true. After cutting a couple of feet of the first slab, I installed a wedge into the end of the cut to keep the slab’s weight from pinching the saw and causing it to bind.
Next, I rolled the log and repositioning the slabbing bars 90 degrees to the first cut, removed the slabbing bars and proceeded to slice the log into several 4-inch-thick and 2-inch-thick pieces for use on the kitchen island and other projects around the farm. The money cuts created several timber-sized planks and many thinner boards.
The Alaskan mill worked flawlessly, and the Husqvarna 357XP powerhead was able to drive the ripping chain, no problem. It took 4 to 6 minutes to make the widest cuts at 8-feet long. You certainly won’t go into the lumber milling business with this setup, but you surely will be willing and able to saw logs that you wouldn’t even think of dragging off to the mill. That and the fact that you can easily bring the Alaskan chainsaw mill to the logs instead of having to grub them out of the bush make the tool indispensable for us.
Hud-Son’s HFE 21 Homesteader Bandsaw Mill
The Hud-Son sawmill arrived on a pallet that was easy to move into my shop with the help of our loader tractor. It also would have been possible to unpack the pallet and carry individual pieces to the assembly point.
Our Hud-Son came with a bolt-together track system — it took me about an hour to get it all together the right way with the rails parallel, but I am pretty meticulous when it comes to squaring things up or getting them plumb. The manual and a few hand tools were all I needed to accomplish this.
The next step was to mount the saw and carriage to the track. I managed to do this alone, but it would have been a little easier with a partner. When rolling the saw back and forth on the track, I noticed that a couple of joints between rails were a little wider than they should be, so I loosened a few bolts and tapped things closer with a hammer. Getting it all square again was a breeze with the saw already on the track, and within no time I was ready to install the blade.
After removing a couple of guards and releasing tension from the drive wheel, I was able to slip the blade into place and position the blade guides as outlined in the manual. I tightened the tension nut to the specified torque, reattached the guards, and went to work on the engine. Our saw is equipped with the 6.5-horsepower gasoline engine. I checked the crankcase oil and found that it was clean and full. Next I filled the tank with unleaded regular and fired it up.
Before sawing, I added a very dilute soap solution to the blade cooling tank and operated the valve to be sure I understood how it worked. The HFE 21 is equipped to saw logs up to 21 inches in diameter, so I rolled a black walnut log onto the track and pinned it in place with the log dogs that were included as part of the kit. I adjusted the depth of my first cut, fired up the engine, turned on the cooling water and adjusted the throttle to full-speed, which engaged the centrifugal clutch. Wow, I was sawing.
The first couple of passes, I cut flitches off the log but then rotated it so that I’d have at least one fairly straight edge to plane true before ripping the planks into dimensioned boards. I was astonished at how easy it was to create stock anywhere from 1/2-inch thick to several inches thick with the Hud-Son Homesteader. I also was astonished that I was so easily able to convert several logs into hundreds of board feet of usable lumber that very first day, especially considering that I had never milled wood with a bandsaw mill before. And when I was finished for the weekend, I was able to move the entire setup to the side so I could park the tractor under cover. For those of you wondering why I didn’t asphyxiate, my shop building is voluminous with 14-foot-tall doors on two sides that make it quite airy inside.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.