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Thread: Alaska Mill Blues

  1. #1
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    Default Alaska Mill Blues

    What the beeeeeeeeeeeep.

    Just back from the cabin where I "attempted" to cut and mill some boards from a spruce tree. This is only my second time using this thing, and the other time was a disaster as well. To be sure, I'm probably using an under powered saw. (Stihl MS 290), but it seems to me, I should be able to do at least a limited amount of milling with it. I'm building a tree stand, not a cabin.

    It's my gf's dad's saw. He sharpened it prior to me picking it up on Friday. It felled the 8" dia spruce tree lickety split. Limbed off all the branches pretty easy, too. Cut the tree into 8 ft long logs with no trouble.

    I grabbed the smallest 8 ft section, about 5-6" dia, as my first log to mill, and that's when the trouble started. It cut the first 12" pretty easily, then it just stopped-as though it had hit a brick wall. At first, I thought something was binding, but such was not the case. The last 7 ft of log was a knock out fight to the death. I found the saw would cut only if I either a.) pulled and pushed on the saw itself, so as to make the chain cut at alternating angles, or b.) rammed the hell out of the bar up against where the cut stopped (every time I rammed it into the tree, it would cut a fraction of an inch. Needless to say, it took well over an hour just to make the first cut, which was waste material; I never did get a useable board out of it. Burned up an entire tank of fuel and bar oil in the process.

    What the heck is going on here? It almost HAS to be operator error. True, I'm not using a "ripping" chain, but I'd think you could still get some useful work out of that set-up. Pretty p.o.'ed at the moment. Wonder if I can rent a monster saw for a day, just to see how THAT set-up works. I may sell this thing if I can't get it to produce useable materials. (Which, if that happens, I am going to be super p.o.'ed.)

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    The "shoe" on the mill can catch on rough bark and such. That's the curved steel part that will be near the base of your chainsaw bar. As the saw cuts it pulls the chainsaw into the tree and there is pressure on that shoe as it slides down the tree. I found that I usually have to run the mill at an angle to keep it from catching.

    What are you using on top of the log for the mill to ride on? There can be some friction there too. In general, a 290 is too small, but a 5" diameter spruce shouldn't be that hard to cut, even with a smaller saw.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NRick View Post
    The "shoe" on the mill can catch on rough bark and such. That's the curved steel part that will be near the base of your chainsaw bar. As the saw cuts it pulls the chainsaw into the tree and there is pressure on that shoe as it slides down the tree. I found that I usually have to run the mill at an angle to keep it from catching.

    What are you using on top of the log for the mill to ride on? There can be some friction there too. In general, a 290 is too small, but a 5" diameter spruce shouldn't be that hard to cut, even with a smaller saw.
    I'm using a home made rail made from square aluminum tubing. The original owner made it when he was in Canada, and used it for years-or so I'm told. The top side has been ground smooth the entire length. If it was catching occasionally, such as where I limbed off a tree branch or something, that would be one thing. This was like hitting a wall, and it was the entire length of the log.

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    Default a ripper

    Quote Originally Posted by FL2AK-Old Town View Post
    True, I'm not using a "ripping" chain
    Until I got down to your last paragraph that's exactly what I was going to ask you , is what kind of blade.

    I'm suspecting you're answering your own question right there.

    If it isn't that, could it be the humidity within the wood? i.e., that the wood hasn't dried properly? How green was it?

    Good luck. Interested to hear what it was, once you get it solved.

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    Premium Member kasilofchrisn's Avatar
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    When is the last time you took your rakers down a swipe or two?
    Or have they been taken down too much?
    Just curious but did the guy who sharpened it know what he was doing?
    No offense intended but many saw owners don't know how to do it right.
    If he hand filed it did he use a file gauge or just freehanded it?
    Did he use a raker gauge or has he ever checked them?
    This isn't a safety chain is it?
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    +1 to all of Chris's questions. And you really should get a ripping chain.

    Cutting wood down the grain is nothing like a cross cut.




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    Also, many spuce trees up here have very twisted grain, think corkscrew, so as soon as you start to unzip a board from the main trunk, like a foot or two in.. That board is probably twisting and pinching your bar and your severely underpowered saw probably can't fight through it so your chain speed is too slow to cut without all the brute force you described above.


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    I learned (the hard way) For best results with a chain saw "mill" you should use a "skip" chain and it should be sharpened at 10 degrees not the standard 30-35 degrees you'd use for cross cutting. I burned up a sthil 260 trying to "mill" some lumber. Ended up buying a big Husqvarna that was a brute (for me) to handle, and another 260 for all the "cross cutting", limbing, etc.

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    I found that regular chain cut about as fast as ripping chain, it just left a less smooth surface. In spruce (birch may be different), both properly sharpened. On my MS361, skip chain, normally filed, cut the fastest for me. Rougher surface than ripping chain, but that didn't matter for my use.

    Are you sticking shims into the cut as you go to keep it open? Andweav may be right. The cut is closing on your bar, bogging down the saw and then it is game over.

    I still think correctly done, a 290 could cut a 5" spruce with regular chain. It would be slow, but you should be able to do it.

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    One more thought, maybe you hit an embedded nail or rock. That would explain the sudden change and the epic battle to finish the cut. If you did, it's pretty easy to tell by looking at the chain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kasilofchrisn View Post
    When is the last time you took your rakers down a swipe or two?
    Or have they been taken down too much?
    Just curious but did the guy who sharpened it know what he was doing?
    No offense intended but many saw owners don't know how to do it right.
    If he hand filed it did he use a file gauge or just freehanded it?
    Did he use a raker gauge or has he ever checked them?
    This isn't a safety chain is it?
    I don't even know what a "raker" is LOL. We sharpen using a hand file attached to one of those brackets that keeps it at a set angle. I doubt it's a safety chain, whatever that is.

    Quote Originally Posted by FamilyMan View Post
    Until I got down to your last paragraph that's exactly what I was going to ask you , is what kind of blade.

    I'm suspecting you're answering your own question right there.
    Yeah I think I'm going to buy a shorter bar (16" as opposed to 20") with a milling chain and try it again.

    Quote Originally Posted by FamilyMan View Post
    If it isn't that, could it be the humidity within the wood? i.e., that the wood hasn't dried properly? How green was it?
    It was green. Very green. I had just felled the tree about an hour before I started to rip boards.

  12. #12
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    Default Alaska Mill Blues

    A shorter bar will buy you slightly more power but not unless you address ALL the other issues with what you are doing and they are complex and myriad. Just being blunt, trying to set you up for success. I don't have time to explain it all and wouldn't do as good of a job as the web.

    FYI Your chain is most likely a safety chain.


    http://www.woodweb.com/knowledge_bas...r_Ripping.html

    You'd do well to read this here. it is a lengthier echo of johns simple advice which are steps in the right direction. But you have to gain more general experience with cutting wood and how saws operate it sounds like to key in more on troubleshooting and gain ground on your project. Knowing what rakers are is important. Also every tooth needs to be the SAME angle, and sharp! Rakers need to be filed short because the teeth are no longer as tall as they once were after being sharpened a couple times. If they are clicking it is robbing you of power and you want to maximize what power you do have to do what you're doing quickly. So a short bar may help, but buy several skip ripping chains to go with. Like 3. I'm telling ya there's a learning curve. Wood dulls chain. Especially in a rip cut. And on a short bar small saw you only are cutting with a couple dozen teeth. They need to be impeccably sharp and consistently so to have any chance of a straight cut. Just one tooth being dulled or off angle will cause the saw to pull L or R and then you are binding up and it's all over because you don't have the power to fight through it.

    That link is a page on one of my favorite web resources. Anyone who works with wood should have it bookmarked IMO. A wealth of reading there.

    A good couple of hours of reading on milling (thinking a couple nights this week) will set you up much better for the task at hand. And then just learn by experience be determined and don't give up if it's a skill you want to acquire. Retreading everybody's posts on this thread a couple of times would be a good place to start.

    Wood is a tempestuous material like a woman smooth and supple yet then fights like hell, all kinds of curves and tangles it's all part of the beauty.

    Don't quote me on that like a woman thing but it's true.



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    Was the log dragged to cutting location? I've heard where sand and dirt embeds into the bark, and will dull a chain very fast. Once its dull, game over. Wire brush your bark prior to cutting if it was.

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    Premium Member kasilofchrisn's Avatar
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    Now that we know you are a noob in the chainsaw world that will help.
    I have not personally used a mill like this but having run chainsaws since the age of 15 and having professional training in their use I hope I can help you.
    The raker is the part in the front of the tooth that is rounded on the top and front. Its job is to determine how much the tooth cuts. How big of a bite it takes.
    If there is not enough raker filed down the teeth will take tiny bites and hence will cut slowly and give you problems.
    If the rakers are filed down too far the teeth will take too large of a bite bog down the saw motor and hence not cut properly.
    They make a raker guage to help with this job and you need a flat file to file the rakers down.
    Also as was stated earlier if the saw was not sharpened evenly then it will want to cut in a curve as one side cuts more and the other less. This will cause peoblems as well.
    There are peobably some pretty good you tube videos that explain how to properly sharpen your saw and adjust the chain tension properly.
    Safety chain or anti-kickback chain has an extra piece on the chain itself that helps prevent kickbacks. It does prevent kickbacks but it also makes your chain cut a little bit slower and certainly isn't what you need for milling applications.
    I highly suggest you study more on chainsaws and their uses before tackling this again.


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    I don't have the professional experience some of the above have brought you. I have been a serious amatuer woodcutter for going on ten years though.

    #1, been said, just echoing, equal angle on both sides when chain sharpening. On crosscuts, standard firewood cuts, you can get away with sharpening a chain by hand all from one side - but you will probably notice your saw wants to cut a large diameter circle when you get into big enough wood. What you -should- do with standard firewood crosscuts - and just about have to do with ripping cuts - is do all the teeth on one side of the chain, and then turn the blade 180 degrees in your vise and do all the teeth that face the other way.

    I dunno why it makes such a huge difference in ripping cuts, but it does make a huge difference and it is worth the trouble.

    I learned this because I have a small electric splitter that doesnt handle forked branches real well. So wherever I come to a fork in a tree I am cutting up for firewood I do what some folks call noodle cuts right there in the woods cutting the piece in half rather than bogging the splitter with it.

    Definitely check your raker height. I usually take all my chains (I run four or five chains on one saw) down to the "softwood" raker height setting in spring time once the sap is up - generally by autumn I have sharpened the teeth enough that the rakers are back near the "hardwood" raker height which is what Husqvarna reccomends for cutting soft frozen wood. If your raker height is too tall you'll get really small pieces of sawdust even with sharp teeth. If your raker height is too low you'll get huge chunks of wood out and the saw will vibrate reall real bad. A littel bit more to low and the saw will bind.

    I agree the twist I see in much of the interior spruce I cut could have been part of your problem.

    Also, take a good hard look at the teeth on that chain. If you do all the math starting with engine rpm and figure out your tooth velocity and how long it takes for the chain to make one complete revolution around the bar you should find that if you whack ONE piece of gravel embedded in a tree at wide open throttle every tooth on that chain will beat its self on the one piece of gravel 30+ times in under a quarter of a second. Give or take not very much. This is why I carry so many chains in my day box. Could very well be your chain got dulled on somethign other than wood 12 inches into your cut.

    Watch for noodles too. If your ripping cut is such that you are making sawdust that literally looks like pieces of spaghetti you are "making noodles" and can easily bind up the saw. This is where a skip chain will really shine, the fewer teeth per foot give gravity a little time to pull the last noodle out of the way before the next one comes out of the cut.

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    My guess based on the description is that the bar got pinched by the wood closing up the gap vs. the chain suddenly dulling. Dull chains cut much slower than a sharp chain, but I tend to notice a dull chain producing a different size of sawdust, much finer, and a lot of smoke. If you didn't drive a wedge into the gap from your cut, you're going to pinch the bar and bring the saw to a stop.

    While the MS290 is a smaller saw than I'd choose for dedicated use on a mill, it should have plenty of power to rip a 5-6" dia log, provided the chain is sharp and the bar isn't being pinched.

    You should never have to fight or force a chainsaw if the chain is sharp. And no matter how hard you fight or force a saw with a dull chain, it's not going to cut worth a darn.

    I would not expect a chainsaw mill to produce noodles. The direction the chain teeth are cutting when ripping with a mill is actually an end grain cut. When noodiing you are making a rip cut. Bucking logs takes a cross cut.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul H View Post
    Dull chains cut much slower than a sharp chain, but I tend to notice a dull chain producing a different size of sawdust, much finer, and a lot of smoke.
    I think you just nailed it, because both of those conditions existed when I was trying to cut.

    After reading everyone's posts and the referenced weblinks and videos, and after looking at the chain on the saw I was using, here is MY theory of what happened:

    The rail I use attaches to the log using wood screws. I use 1-1/4" long screws-shortest I could find. I set the mill attachment to cut 1-3/4" down into the log, which should have given me 1/2" clearance to the tip of the screw. I must have somehow nicked the tip of the screws and wrecked the chain. Looking at the chain, still on the saw, all of the teeth are pretty much flat.

    So, as I expected all along...operator error and ignorance. I won't get out there again until next week sometime. In the meantime, I'm going to go buy new cutting and ripping chains, and then try it again.

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    Default Alaska Mill Blues

    No it sounds more like the wood was pinching your bar. Use wedges to keep the saw kerf open. Sometimes you have to put them in the top and the bottom, as often as every foot or two.

    Have you done much milling on a table saw? Wood grain in a small 2x board changes in a matter of inches, and there's a lot of pent up tension in wood while its still in the round.

    While hitting a screw wouldn't be good, there's so little shear strength in the tip of a screw that I don't think you'd hardly notice if your chain was up to speed. More likely your chain wasn't sharpened well or cutting straight, and your saw kerf was closing on the bar.


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    Default Got it Working!

    So...I've got it working, have kind of figured it out, and just had a LOT of operator error compounding to make things really bad.

    To start with, I bought a new chain for the saw. I had someone look at the old chain, and they agreed it was super duper dull. I must have knicked the wood screws in the rail. Next, I started using wood wedges about every 8-14 inches. (I think that made more difference than anything.)

    I cut an 8 ft board in 4 minutes using a brand new cross cut chain and a MS290 (54cc) saw. However, the chain dulled very quickly. The second board took more work and took twice as long to cut. I made (4) 8' by about 10" wide by 2" thick (dimensional, not the 1-3/4 = 2" of store bought lumber) boards, plus one about 4' long in about...less than hour anyway. I had to build some cribbing to keep my mill off the ground when cutting smaller diameter logs.

    Couple things I need to figure out is either how to keep the chain from dulling so quickly (would a ripping chain last longer between sharpenings?) or a better/faster way to sharpen the chain.

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    What brand is your chain?
    I don't mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that's how it comes out.
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