I have been wanting to get some form of portable mill for a long time now. Portable mills can be divided into two categories, bandsaw mills and chainsaw mills. After much research, I finally settled on a chainsaw mill. My reasons for this were as follows:
- Cost. An entry-level chainsaw mill costs a couple hundred dollars (not including the chainsaw), while an entry-level bandsaw mill costs a couple thousand.
- Portability. The chainsaw mill is obviously considerably smaller than a bandsaw mill and so has the edge on portability.
- Width of cut. Achieving a wider cut with a chainsaw mill is simply a matter of putting on a longer bar, assuming you have the power head to run it. A wider cut with a bandsaw mill starts to mean a much bigger and more expensive mill.
- Waste. While the waste due to the kerf of a chainsaw is considerably more than that of a bandsaw, this was not really a major factor for me. I don’t plan on milling a huge amount of wood and I am milling the wood for my personal use, not for resale. Also the vast majority of the wood I will be milling will be reclaimed wood and won’t cost me anything so a little bit wasted due to the thicker kerf is not a big deal.
- Ease of use. The bandsaw mill requires a whole lot less effort to use. Again, due to the limited amount of milling I will be doing, breaking a sweat with the chainsaw mill occasionally is not going to be a big deal.
Having decided on a chainsaw mill I needed to decide on which model/brand. Taking into account many of the reasons above I decided to get an Alaskan Chainsaw style mill. I was all set to purchase one of the original Granberg Alaskan Chainsaw Mills when I came across the Panther Chainsaw Mill. Looking through the website and searching for reviews of the mill I liked what I saw and placed my order for the Panther Mill II, along with a 6′ slabbing rail and an auxiliary oiler.
I knew that the mill was made by a small outfit, a guy based here in Florida on the other side of the state. I also read that delivery was not always quickest as the mills were made to order. I was in no hurry so that didn’t bother me. My mill actually took just over a month to arrive. I called about the order two weeks after it was placed and received an apology that he had some health issues. Another call two weeks later and I was told the mill was in production and would be shipped shortly. A couple of days later it arrived. It would have been nice to have received an email about the delay but at the end of the day it wasn’t that big of an issue.
The following are my first impressions of the mill. Actually they are also my first impressions of milling in general. This is a totally new area to me. I have done a lot of research into it, but today was the first time I’ve seen any sort of mill in real life. So bear that in mind while reading, I’m just getting started with this!
Opening the box, I saw the contents had been well packaged and it was obvious from the outset that the mill had been built well and by someone who cared about what he was doing. Just lying in the box it looked rock solid. No buyers remorse at all, I was very pleased with what I saw.
As well as the obligatory warning page, a couple of pages of assembly and use instructions had been included. They were well written and it seemed like I wouldn’t have much problem putting the mill together. It would have been nice to have had a couple more detail shots, but between the pictures and written instructions it was easy enough to figure out.
The first step was to attach the skid bar to the main body and bar clamp/height adjuster. The later came in two halves and each had already been assembled.
Next I needed to attach the push bar to the main body.
Finally I could loosen the bar clamps and slide the chainsaw into place.
Here are a couple of detail shots of the bar clamps at the tip of the bar and near the power head.
Two big bolts, one on each side of the main body, allow for the height adjustment. I initially set the assembly for an 8/4 cut.
A couple of technical specifications. I am a running a Stihl MS066 power head with a 32″ bar. I got it used on eBay from a guy in Canada. The mill is the Panther Mill II 42″, so I have the option of putting a longer bar on the chainsaw at some point in the future. The chain is a regular chain, not a ripping chain. I may be mistaken, but I did read that all a ripping chain does is provide a smoother cut. I’m not sure if it puts less stress on the chainsaw. As a lot of the wood I’ll be milling will end up on the lathe, I’m not really concerned about getting as smooth a cut as possible.
Now that it was fully assembled and all the bolts double checked it was time to head outside and put it to the test. I had been saving a log of maple for this occasion, it had probably been in my shop for about four to six months. The first step was to screw the slabbing rail to the log. This was going to provide a level and straight platform to register the first cut from.
Here are some action shots of the first cut in progress. I got a bit caught up in the moment and totally forgot to put my hearing protection on! Just left the headphones lying off to the side, my bad. Unfortunately I also miscalculated by about a quarter-inch the depth of the screws fixing the slabbing rail to the log. This after specifically reading in the instructions to watch out for this. Lesson learned. The chain was dulled by the brief contact with the screws as I realized my mistake and definitely made the cut a lot more work than it needed to be.
In spite of my rookie mistakes, the cut came out really well, and removing the slabbing rail revealed a smooth surface in the spalted maple. Here in Florida the challenge is often how to get the wood not to spalt!
Having removed the slabbing rail, the smooth freshly cut surface now provides a platform to register the next cut from. All subsequent cuts are now registered from the previous cut. I did realize to that I needed to adjust the height before the second cut as the depth had increased due to the slabbing rail not being used. Here are some action shots of the second cut.
The instructions had warned of a big grin after cutting your first slab. They were right!
All in all I’m really pleased with my purchase. I plan on using it to mill wood but for my woodturning, platters, bowl blanks, hollow form blanks and wall hangings, as well as my woodworking goal of making natural edge slab tables. I think it will work very well for what I intend to use it for.