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The Benefits of Portable Sawmilling

If you want to learn much more about sustainable saw milling, take Dave Spicer’s upcoming (27 November 2011) 1-day course, where you can gain from his extensive expertise in this area.

We all need to be loggers and we all need to be greenies. We all live in timber houses. — Bill Mollison


Low tech and high tech saw milling

In 2006 I brought a portable Lucas sawmill and have been milling timber ever since. I must say it’s a great feeling turning a raw resource into a useable product on site.

“Mill to the log”

I’ve milled timber in town right in the front yard, and on farms with no hauling.

There are many types of portable sawmills, even a chainsaw used to mill timber.


My brother Pat, hard at work in
Tasmania on a Lucas mill

I use a Lucas mill which is a circular saw for cutting timber/lumber. This model can cut up to 150mm x 300mm up to 8m in length and it also has a chainsaw bar and chain attachment for slabs that can cut 1200mm wide. But, there are other types of circular saw mills that can do the same job. I chose a Lucas for its portability.

On average you can cut 2 to 4 cubic meters a day depending on log quality, but you need a machine/tractor to load logs on to runners to roll under the mill or if there is no machine available you can simply break the machine down and move it to next log.

These trees were destined for firewood — we cut 4 cubic meters of timber and 1.5 cubic meters of slabs and there is still 3 to 4 years worth of firewood left.

There are also band saw type portable sawmills, which have less waste in the cutting process but are bigger and harder to get into difficult places and need a machine/tractor to load onto the deck of the mill or, with some models, onto hydraulic arms to lift the log onto the deck.

The average stationary hardwood mill generates about 60% waste, whereas portable sawmills have on average 20% waste. Of course it depends on what you call waste and its up to your imagination on utilizing the waste.

All permies, I think, should know about these machines, whether it’s for your own place, or for consulting, aid work, farm forestry, or managing natural forest — knowing that you can bring in a portable sawmill and mill timber/lumber on site to the dimensions and length you need.

The cost savings work out to be around 50% cheaper or more.

So the advantage of these machines is we can go in and have minimal impact on the environment, selectively thinning the forest, spot milling and then just move to the next area.

  • No expensive and destructive roads need to be constructed
  • No big machines/tractors to snig logs out of forest.
  • No trucks to haul logs to stationary mills.

In urban environments you can simply take the mill to the tree that needs removing and break it down into high value timber or slabs, rather than wood chips.

The timber industry in my town is in a position of only being able to cut uniformed logs, so there are trial plots here that were planted from 1928 to 1950 by State Forest that the mills can not take, and now they are being sent to the local pulp mill for paper and boiler fuel simply because industry is geared up for the monoculture of forestry and not a diversity of species.

If you want to learn much more about sustainable saw milling, take Dave Spicer’s upcoming (27 November 2011) 1-day course, where you can gain from his extensive expertise in this area.

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David Spicer

David Spicer’s approach to design and education is based upon a proven emphasis on practicality, having over 18 years experience in Permaculture education working and teaching with Bill Mollison at the Permaculture Institute (Tasmania) and Geoff Lawton, the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and Zaytuna Farm. He is renowned for his ability to explain concepts and ideas simply, conveying the basics. David previously worked as farm manager of the renowned Tagari Farm and Zaytuna Farm in northern New South Wales. He has taught and worked extensively within Australia and internationally on various projects, covering six Australian states, Morocco, Jordan, New Caledonia and Palestine covering a broad array of different climate zones. David is a valued member of the permacultureconsultants.com team headed up by Geoff Lawton. He has the distinction of being Registered Teacher #5 with the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. David currently serves as Lead Consultant and Educator for permacultureworks.org.

5 Comments

  1. David, this is great! I would totally take your course if I lived in Australia. Now we need more designers to put long term timber in the plans, thinking 50-200 years out.

  2. yea I agree Jason, the link Craig put up is a great example.
    for any one who can;t make it we will put a post up of the course and course notes I’ll get Nick Huggins to put up on resources page
    the work Deborha is doing in sustainable harvesting at Edenfarm is also a great example of how to manage exciting forest

  3. Craig, thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen this article. You got a ton of info out of Darren in that interview. I love his work, though always have tons of questions for him. I’m trying to find a way to bring him out to Colorado to do some Regen Ag workshops. Ever lusting after places with just a little more rainfall than here; it is amazing what just 6 more inches of precip per year can do.

  4. Hello,
    I am the Communications Director for CongoVoice, serving in the Ubangi region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over half the land is covered in forest. Sawmills are a great job opportunity for the community. There only several operating sawmills in all of Gemena, where as people transport planks on their heads walking barefoot for miles through creek beds and jungle for 50 cents a plank. CongoVoice desires to be fully sustainable and is interested in a sustainable sawmill initiative, where we do not cause land infertility and desire to harness even the biowaste from the sawmill. I would love to learn more. A portable sawmill would be incredible for the Gemena region. Thank you.

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