• LaVance Kennar - BWW

Slabbin' Ain't Easy!

As if my plate wasn't full enough with being active duty military, a husband, father and wood worker; I have decided to add chainsaw milling as a side dish.

First off, I have never operated a chainsaw, not to mention a chainsaw attached to a milling rack! My one saving grace is that before I ever operate a tool that can saw my legs off, I give said tool my due diligence with regards to learning the basics of [safe] operation and maintenance.

A quickly learned that a chainsaw is definitely unlike any other dangerous tool I have in my shop. Biggest factor in this, is that most of my high RPM cutting tools are stationary or very small and light. This isn't the case with a chainsaw.

A chainsaw although not terribly heavy isn't exactly like handling a Dremel. A saw weighing approximately 20 lbs. or so may feel light in the beginning, but a few hours later of handling the weight and the vibrations will sooner or later fatigue your arms. You must also take care of your hands as well. I chose a pair of anti-vibration gloves to absorb some of the vibration before it reached my old aching bones.

In doing my homework regarding chainsaw operation, I noticed a few Youtube videos with individuals operating a saw while flip-flops and shorts. I'm no expert, but something tells me that this is a very bad plan. A chainsaw when operated safely still poses a very real danger when in use, so please don't cut corners on personal safety by trying to save time or putting excessive hubris on display. Chainsaw kick-back (for example) is sudden, lighting fast and very violent and destructive to the operator. Long story short, wear chainsaw chaps, gloves, eye protection, steel toe shoes and hearing protection at a minimum. First rule in my shop is to leave with the same amount of body parts you walked in with.

Chainsaw and milling rack selection. So to start off, I decided to go cheap on my saw. I purchased a 50cc, Craftsman with a 20" bar and sim-pull starter. I used the pre-mixed 50:1 Husqvarna brand fuel and installed a ripping chain. I went with the Granberg, Alaskan G777 mini-mill as a starter. It is a good solid milling rack and takes a 20" bar. Back to the chain; I highly advise against using a ripping chain to buck or cross-cut a log. Use the right tools for the right job.

The Craftsman chainsaw I purchased was disappointing. To be fair, it is a Craftsman tool and we all know that Craftsman is simply not a top of the line tool maker. With that said, I expected some drawbacks with this saw. After just two passes cutting through Keawe hardwood, the spark plug failed, after one additional passed the starter mechanism failed. This machine was a complete pain to operate.

Needless to say, I opted to sell the Craftsman saw under warranty and go a different route. After doing some more homework, I decided on the Echo CS-800p and a larger mill capable of accepting a 36" bar. The mill is a more generic brand than Granberg but as long as it is set properly would perform just as well.

Slabbing, which is a lot of fun is also a lot of work. It is a good way to break a sweat, and is akin to opening a box of chocolates when slicing a slab from a log...Forrest Gump can tell you what to expect. Once a clean pass is complete, and that slab is pushed aside; the natural artistry of the tree is revealed and no two cuts are ever the same. There is always a surprise on the inside of a log.

Last things to consider; will you be drying this lumber? If so, how? Do you have adequate space for doing so? In addition, will you be flattening your slabs? I have a very small shop which is tightly packed with stationary tools and such, leaving a very limited amount of area for stacking and sticking slabs. I am considering ditching one of my workbenches since I only use it for my drill press and tool sharpening. This would free up some space to some extent, but I'm not completely sold on the gain vs. loss of doing this. If you intend on flattening your slabs, you can raise the asking price for them and it makes them easier to cut into boards or use for table tops, benches, etc. Just keep in mind that slab flattening usually involves another jig of some functional design, a heavy duty router and a bit designed for the task at hand. You will also need a place large enough to sit the slab while flattening, unless of course you don't have a bad back and creaky knees like your truly and opt to do this on the ground.

Have fun, make dust and keep your blades spinning ya'll!