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How to Find and Work With a Local Sawmill Service

Using a Local Sawmill Service: How-To

Sawmill Service Primary Equipment: Wood-Mizer LT40-HDG35

Sawmill Service Primary Equipment: Wood-Mizer LT40-HDG35

Finding and Contacting a Sawmill Service Provider

I ask every customer the simple question, “how did you find our sawmill service?”  A majority of the time, the customer has started with an on-line search.  Take your pick, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.  Next up on the hit parade, referrals from past customers.  Reach out, either on-line, or to your friends and neighbors, or both.  There are industry websites that might also prove useful in your search; Wood-Mizer’s Find a Local Sawyer, and portablesawmill.info are two such sites.

When using Google, the prospective customer will click on a link in the search results, and from there, with a simple click can be taken to a website, in our case it would be our Sawyers page regarding sawmill services.  Our result is shown below.

sawmill services southwest Michigan

Google search result, sawmill service southwest Michigan

Do your due diligence; there should be more than one service available,

Primal Woods Contact Form

Primal Woods Contact Form

though the industry took a pretty good body blow when in 2008-2009 the housing bubble burst.  Consider reviews or testimonials, on the website or a Facebook page, if the provider maintains either of those.

Once you have found one or more sawmill services that might be able to do the work, make contact.  On our Sawyers page, you will find a Contact Us link.  At that point you can simply fill out and submit the form, email one of us, pick up the phone, send us a message on Facebook, or, if in our neck of the woods, send up a smoke signal.  At this point it is simply time to get into a conversation. You will develop the necessary level of comfort with your sawmill service provider, or not!  If it’s the latter, keep looking.  Once you are in communication with a sawyer of your choosing, both parties to the process will have a number of questions.

Setting Expectations for the Sawmill Service Experience

I would argue that the collaborative setting of expectations is key to having a great experience when engaging a sawmill service provider. And this goes both ways. In our work, this expectation-setting generally takes the form of an exchange of emails, text messages, and/or phone calls, and may begin days or weeks before the scheduled service takes place.  Pictures have been found to be worth at least a thousand words.

sawmill service site view

stack of white oak logs, Wood-Mizer LT40, stickered and stacked quartersawn white oak boards

As the sawyer, the sawmill service provider, I am interested in several details:

  • How many logs are to be milled? The more logs, the more log handling; in getting logs presented to the mill, and onto the mill, safely.
  • How big are the logs? To a degree, bigger is better, but both very large logs, and smaller logs, drive again, additional log handling.  What is very large? Relative to mill capacity, in the case of our Wood-Mizer LT40, larger than 22 inches in diameter, on the small end, is large.  Lengthwise, over about 16 feet long is large.  The “sweet spot” for size is 16 to 20 inches in diameter, and 8 to 12 feet in length.  Having said that, the mill can handle diameters up to 36 inches, and lengths to 20 feet, but expect extra log handling as a part of the process.  The size of the logs also defines the limit on how much lumber can be produced.
  • How misshapen are the logs?  Think phone pole-straight, with little taper, say 4-6 inches smaller in diameter at the small end than at the large end; perfectly manageable.  Lots of flare (aka taper, normally this is in the butt log, the first log above the ground), more than 8 inches, and the “toe boards” on the mill do not have the range to center the long axis of the log above the mill deck; this impacts the amount of board feet produced negatively.  The stubs of old branches that have not been removed to flush with the bark on the main stem, are cause for additional log handling.  “Bent,” or significantly bowed logs; more log handling, fewer board feet, especially if the log is longer, relatively speaking, or smaller in diameter.
  • Are the logs clean?  Sand, pebbles, dirt and all manner of debris, collect in the bark as the log is being skidded from point A to B; this debris shortens blade life.
  • Were the logs taken from yard trees, or from trees that were on a fence row?  This can be bad news. Folks will frequently drive nails in to available trees, or use them as a back-stop for target practice. Or, the tree can simply grow around wire fencing.
  • Are the logs stacked nicely, such that they can be presented to the mill easily with a cant hook or Peavy? Or does the customer have heavy equipment for moving logs to the mill?
  • What species are the logs?  Blades are designed to work with harder or softer woods, and the mill head travels more slowly through hardwoods.  A lubricant that cuts pine tar is necessary when cutting logs from conifers. And so on.
  • How long have the logs been on the ground?  Rot can reduce the quantity of lumber produced.
  • What types of lumber are requested?  Plainsawn, the usual, is quicker and easier than quartersawing. Quartersawing results in more stable lumber, if a bit less of it, and takes twice as long to process.  See our post on this subject, THE QUARTER-SAWING PROCESS, AND PROBLEMS, OH NO!  The sizes of lumber are typically a discussion of thickness. One inch thick boards, 4/4 lumber (four quarter lumber in the vernacular) is common.  Sometimes a customer wants 6/4, 8/4, or 12/4 for a particular application (1.5, 2 and 3 inches thick respectively.)  Is a “live edge” on one or both sides desired?  Live edge is popular at the moment, perhaps it is a trend.  Leaving the natural profile of the tree on the edge of the board, is especially attractive on thicker slabs.  Visualize a farm table top, or a mantle, for example, perhaps a rustic bench.
  • And finally, will there be a helper, or helpers, to aid in the log and lumber handling?

This may seem like a lot of questions, but they are generally answered quickly in the normal course of a conversation.  The customer too, will have questions:

  • How long will this take?
  • When can you do the work?
  • What will the work cost?
  • How do I dry the lumber?
  • How much lumber will be produced?
  • Is the species of log that I am milling suitable to its intended use?

All but the last question should be answered by the sawmill service provider, assuming his questions have also been answered.  To the last question, I consult The Wood Database if the customer nor I have the answer at the ready.  Feel free to ask of the sawmill service provider any questions you might have.

You may wish to formally contract with your sawmill service provider, or the provider may use a contract routinely.  Our contract form is provided for reference.

Primal Woods Sawyers Sawmill Service Contract Form

Primal Woods Sawyers Sawmill Service Contract Form

Safety Considerations

As the sawyer, I wear boots, gloves, and hearing and eye protection religiously.  If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction I may wear respiratory protection, too.  I recommend that my customer use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as well.  The most dangerous part of the operation by far, is the log handling, and any heavy equipment that may be operating in the handling of logs and/or lumber.  Logs are heavy, as is heavy equipment, naturally; consider those to be the irresistable forces.  Consider the sawmill to be the immovable object.  Let’s just say that you don’t want to be in between the irresistable and the immovable.  Pay close attention to what’s going on, and mind your hands and feet around pinch-points.  On-site, after I have set-up the mill, I conduct a short safety briefing of those involved, to discuss and answer any questions regarding the safety considerations.  I carry with me gloves and hearing and eye protection for two people besides myself.

Additional Sawmill Service Considerations

  • If you want to know or be aware of more of the “lingo,” Wood-Mizer’s Learning Center is a good place to start.
  • Generally, you will need a flat space to stack the lumber, and “stickers” to separate layers of lumber, allowing for sufficient airflow to dry the lumber.  Stickers are typically 1×1’s, 4-5 feet in length.  The base of the stack is usually a few 4×4’s again 4-5 feet in length.  Stickers can be made by the sawmill service provider, from the logs being milled, the 4×4’s too for that matter.
  • Breakdowns:  Murphy shows up occasionally, according to Murphy’s Law.  You should not be charged for downtime; your lost time is enough of a penalty.  If the sawmill is well maintained, downtime should be minimal, and cuts accurate.
  • Costs breakdown into a few categories:
    • Mileage.  The first 50 miles round-trip is included in our delivery and set-up charge; “your mileage may vary.”
    • Delivery and Set-Up.  Inside 25 miles one-way, we charge a flat fee for delivering and setting up the mill.  It typically takes 20-30 minutes to set-up the mill.
    • Milling. The mill having been set-up, we charge by the hour, or by the board foot; by the hour is the usual.
    • Blades.  There is no charge, or rather the cost is embedded in the Milling price, for blades used in the normal course of millng lumber, typically 4-5 blades per 8-10 hour day.  If we hit something in a log or logs, there is a flat fee for blades so damaged.
    • Take-Down.  We do not charge for take-down of the mill; the clock stops when milling is completed.
    • Payment is typically cash or check, we also take plastic
  • Production: I measure every log, length and diameter at the small end, when it is presented to the mill.  This is recorded together with start/stop time for each log, breaks, blade changes, fuelings, etc.  This information then allows me to tally an estimate of the board feet of lumber produced for the customer.
  • Portable sawmill services can be provided in most any weather, hot, cold, or in between, even in snow.  The one weather condition that stops milling is rain.  Some sawmill service providers are concerned about the electronics on the mill, and indeed, most of the moving parts are moved by electronic control of electric motors, either directly or indirectly.  Electronics are not our concern; what is our concern is that when wet the sawdust created thoroughly “mucks up the works.”  That is a scientific term obviously.  Also, if heavy equipment is involved, wet ground can be problematic, not to mention messy.  If it’s rainy season, you may want a back-up date on the calendar.

The Fun Bits

First up, meeting the people.  It just seems that our customers are great people, people not keen to waste precious resources, artisans including furniture makers and builders, farmers, homesteaders, etc.  Seeing the smile on the face of a customer at the end of a long day is a huge bonus.

The process; the attention required, being out of doors, the sawmill running flawlessly, having the tools and parts on-hand when Murphy shows up.

Watching the stack of lumber grow, smelling the wood, and seeing the grain exposed for perhaps the first time in 50 to 250 years.

Subsequent to “the day,” seeing your project brought to life.  It just can’t be beat.

sawmill service project photo

20 foot long 4×8’s and 10 foot long 10×10’s form the structural elements of this addition; cut as part of our portable sawmill service on the Wood-Mizer LT40, in the depths of December 2016

I hope you have found this post both informative and useful.  Please add your value in the comments section, which it turn will help us to improve.

All the best,


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Peach Trees – Actions against Peach Tree Borer

A brief update on 3 of the fruit trees, the peaches, planted in June of 2016.  The details of all of the fruit and nut trees and shrubs can be found in the blog post “FRUIT & NUT TREE AND SHRUB WALK-AROUND JULY 2016.”  It’s safe to say I have provided all of the trees and shrubs planted with near-zero support.  So far we have only lost one peach, the “Flamin’ Fury,” and that was last year; it did not look good from the git go.

Yesterday I was prompted to check the remaining peaches for peach borer by my friend PJ.  ‘Shor ‘nuf, they appear to have recently been at the O’Henry Peach, and perhaps less recently, and less aggressively, at the  Loring Peach.

The first indication upon lifting the protective wrap (to dissuade critters from foraging and girdling the trees), was a gelatinous mass near the ground; enough to fill my palm.

A gelatinous mass, something produced by the tree perhaps in response to the attack, or resulting from damage to the cambium layer, which the borer larvae feed on

Having removed the gel-like substance, a significant wound, and the tree’s attempt to heal the wound, were evident.

Damage caused by the Peach tree borer; evidence that the wound has been there for while is the trees attempt to close up the wound

Early this afternoon I went back, after having done just a little bit of research on-line, and having heard from PJ and Mike Hoag, Lillie House (on Facebook), yesterday. More of the gel-like material had been emitted.  I tried the wire idea, which is to follow the path left by borers with a thin wire, and to kill the dirty bastards unceremoniously. No joy, I could find no path to follow.

More gel; poked around with a wire, slightly less than 1/32nd inch in diameter, had no luck finding a way in

To this point I have pictured the O’Henry peach; the Loring also showed signs of prior damage, though lesser, no weeping of gel, and an attack is perhaps not in progress; aybe the Loring is somehow more resistant to the borer

Damage to the Loring Peach; past attack perhaps

After failing with the wire on the O’Henry, I resorted to “plan B” on both trees, which in this case is to paint the trunk with latex paint. It seems, especially perhaps in our neck of the woods, in the shadow of Lake Michigan, winter freeze-thaw cycle can cause splits in the bark, which potentially provide access to the borer. The white paint reflects light, reducing the amplitude of the thermal cycle, and lessening the probability of damage, or so goes the theory.  I would imagine it also provides a less tasty path for the borers, and perhaps even some physical resistance to their progress.  Also, the borers clearly like being near the ground, or even 0-3 inches underground, when they make their attack. It probably doesn’t help that the protective wraps I am using shield them from view. In my research it was mentioned that “stone fruit” trees like peaches and plums, should not be heavily, or “pyramid” mulched. I used a 3-tine garden cultivator to remove the small amount of mulch that there was about the base of the trees.

A partial can of white latex ceiling paint was on-hand, so that was used to paint the trunks to the height of the tree protector

We might put the tree protectors back on as winter approaches, but the deer do less browsing with the dogs around, and we have not seen evidence of deer having browsed at the front of the house since we have owned the property.  I will keep my eye on these trees, and I will also look at our four plums for any evidence of the borer.  Then, is sounds like I will have some regular periodic maintenance to do to (hopefully) keep the borer at bay without the use of chemicals.

I was a bit surprised to find that the tree, or trees, were under attack; they look SO good, and both have put on 3 feet or more of new growth this year. Here is a look at the O’Henry:

O’Henry Peach, 2017 Jul 15

And the Loring:

Loring Peach, 2017 Jul 15; O’Henry in the background

We will give this a go.  If you know of additional protective measures, please see fit to benefit us by leaving a comment.

Thank you for reading, and kind regards,

John, at Primal Woods

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Planning for 2018 Maple Syrup Expansion

Improvements will be built upon the foundation of the current process, as defined in the “Process Flow-Maple Syrup” diagram

It is is mid-June, and already I feel a bit late in putting together the improvements necessary to significantly scale up maple operations in 2018. This is my first pass at identifying what needs to be put in place to increase production by a factor of 8x to 10x. The number of taps will go from 50-70 in 2017, to 400-500 in 2018.  What will stay the same, and what will change? Read more

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Paleo f(x) 2017 #pfx17 Recap – 4 Recommendations for Radically Improving Health

Clockwise from Upper Left: Michelle and Keith Norris, Geri & John in the #pfx17 afterglow, Robb Wolf, Dr. Josh Axe, Abel James and family, Abel James

Geri and I made the trip to one of our favorite towns, Austin, TX, for Paleo f(x) 2017. It was worth every penny.  And as I began to put this post together, a now-familiar problem came to the fore, that being an inability to separate “Paleo,” as it relates to our diet, and more, from our lives in general, and from Primal Woods in particular. By the way, I am using the word “diet” as defined, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” That is to say, not as some temporary aberration, defined as, “a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome.” In other words, our diet is not a weight loss plan, it is part of our lifestyle. So, I will be sharing our experience at #pfx17 in the larger context of what we are up to at Primal Woods, and in our lives.
Read more

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The Quarter-Sawing Process, and Problems, Oh No!

The best image found representing the process being documented. “Steps taken to quarter saw a log, a quarter sawn log and a quarter sawn board (clockwise from top left).” Image attribution: https://www.domain.com.au/news/diy-working-with-timber-at-home-20120322-1vllr/

The first step towards improving any process, is to understand the current state of the process, and in my opinion formally documenting that process in words and pictures is a solid foundation for improvement efforts.  It’s important to keep in mind that this process is not the “be all and end all” just because it is documented; it is though the process currently in use. Read more

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Revisiting the End of Maple Sugaring Season – Based on Growing Degree Days

Sugar Maple buds, iPhonography through telescope 2017 Apr 04

Of course our maple season ended some time ago, the last sap was evaporated on March 21st; the end having nothing to do with Growing Degree Days and reaching budbreak, but having everything to do with the trees healing the tap holes to the extent that sap flow was stifled. As I looked out the window yesterday though, it was clear that the two mature Red Maples in our backyard were in the process of leafing out, and with the naked eye it looked like the Sugar Maples on the south side of the house were budding out, if not yet flowering or leafing out. Read more

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Predicting the End of Maple Sugaring Season – Caveat emptor

Back to the Growing Degree Days (GDD) calculation, and “knowing” that Sugar Maples budbreak between 30-50 GDD°C base 10 (54-100 GDD°F base 50), how then does that help us?  Even predicting the end of the season is of dubious value I suppose, but it seems like a good exercise.  So, I’m just taking a relatively uninformed shot at this prediction; I have not tested the results against “real life” as recorded in prior years, nor have I used records from real life in prior years to inform this prediction.  In other words, caveat emptor.  Below is a chart showing in the blue columns, against the left hand y-axis, growing degree days as they have been witnessed so far this year.  We started to see some growing degree days accumulate in the last week of February, prior to that 1 had been chalked up on Jan 21st.  We have accumulated year-to-date, that’s the bold orange line near the bottom of the chart, against the right-hand, and second y-axis, somewhere between 15 and 20 GDD°F base 50, the actual number is 16.  Remember, we need at least 54 to get to Sugar Maple budbreak, and the end of sugaring season.  The thin orange line, also against the right-hand axis, is a best-fit exponential curve predicting the future accumulation of growing degree days based on our history so far this year.

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Estimating the End of Maple Sugaring Season – Based on Growing Degree Days


Not so much

Today’s lack of sap flow, in the face of a 50⁰F daytime high, after a low in the mid 20’s overnight, has me concerned.  It certainly seems as if the sap should be running from the taps.  So, I thought I would revisit the issue of Growing Degree Days, and perform the calculation using data from a bit closer to home.  A couple of “revelations,” if you will: there are Celsius, or Centigrade GDD, and there are Fahrenheit GDD.  It is often not specified in literature, and I tripped over this distinction, or the lack of a distinction, in my earlier post on the subject, “MAPLE SYRUPING SEASON – STARTING, ENDING, OR BOTH?”  In the wikipedia entry on the subject of Acer saccharum, aka Sugar Maple, it is written that “flowering occurs in early spring after 30–55 growing degree days.”  GDD Celsius or GDD Fahrenheit not specified, naturally.  Since the units in the balance of the entry are in metric units, with English units noted parenthetically, I finally made the connection that flowering will occur at 30-55 GDDC (Celsius).  If GDDC is then multiplied by 1.8, the result is a GDDF (Fahrenheit) range of 54-99.  Okay, so now that that’s cleared up, where are we now?

Until now I have used South Haven data available at Wunderground to look at GDD, today I decided to get data closer to home; from our friends at the nearby OverGrown Acres Farm Wunderground weather station in Lawrence, Michigan.  After downloading the year-to-date data, I made the GDD calculation, and just out of curiosity, I also made the Heating Degree Days calculation.

Growing and Heating Degree Day calculations, from OverGrown Acres Farm weather data

Interestingly, we chalked up 9 GDDover the course of just 3 days in mid-February, so clearly the situation can change quickly.  But, at just 11 GDDF year-to-date, there seems to be no reason to think the end of the season is upon us now, with budbreak no expected to occur for at least another 43 GDDF.

So, I’ll rest a bit easier tonight, and just be thankful for the day of inside work, rest, and some much-needed time with Geri.

All the best,


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Maple Syruping Season – Mid-Season Update

New snow

I am guessing we are at mid-season, and hopeful that it will run through the end of March.  Having said mid-season, we still have only chalked up 4 growing degree days (GDD) since Jan 01; that’s at the South Haven station, 16 miles to our northwest, and on the shores of Lake Michigan. Read more

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Maple Syruping Season – Starting, Ending, or Both?

I have been asked that question a lot lately, sometimes in more general terms, and I have asked it of myself as frequently!  Unfortunately I have had nothing resembling an answer.  Then yesterday, my early homesteader education continued, as the concept of “Growing degree days,” Gdd or GDD for short, came to my attention.  As it turns out, there is some science that can be brought to bear on the subject of when trees will bud out, and that so-called “budbreak” signals the end of the maple sugaring season. Read more