Sawchains for Milling Lumber

Unless you are a professional you can easily get confused trying to understand the different styles of chainsaw chain available out there. If you read this through I hope you will have a better understanding of sawchain, which will help you in deciding what sawchain you want to use in milling lumber.

There are 2 basic styles of chainsaw chain and both concern the teeth and how they are shaped. No matter what a sawchain manufacturer calls their chain, it will always come back to these 2 styles.

Round Toothed Sawchain
1 style is the round tooth or chipper tooth and this can be easily seen by the way the tooth is rounded on the backside and then curves over the top.

The other style is the square tooth, chisel tooth, or flat top tooth and this style is very square with a flat back and flat top. So only 2 styles, Round or Square.

I have milled over 2 Million ( yes that's million ) board feet of lumber using both styles, different angles etc., and basically have eliminated the round or chipper tooth for sawmilling, so I will concentrate on the square or chisel tooth, which I have found is best for sawmilling.

There are 3 different kinds of Chainsaw Chain

Standard Chain: Sometimes called full house, full complement, and has the most teeth

Standard chisel tooth

Semi Skip: On this chain 1/2 of the teeth are close together like standard chain above and the rest are full skip

Semi Skip Chain

Full Skip: This chain has the least amount of teeth as every other tooth is removed.

Full Skip Chain

I have found semi skip to be useless in milling lumber and I will concentrate here on standard chain and full skip chain for sawmilling. Because of the different angles of filing for milling, you must ask yourself what kind of lumber do you want coming out of your sawmill.

Smooth Lumber at slightly lower speed:
To produce smooth lumber with sawdust extremely fine ( it will blow away in the wind ) you must use a full house standard chain ( the most teeth ). You can purchase standard crosscut chain with the teeth at 35 degree angle or oregon rip chain with the teeth at a 10 degree angle and modify it to produce the smoothest lumber. To modify the above chain you choose a tooth and file it to 0 degrees ( straight across ) and only take off enough to get the tooth angle changed to 0 degrees. Measure the length of this modified tooth with calipers or adjustable wrench, then file all the teeth to the 0 dgree angle and the same length. you measure the tooth and file the rest to the same length so that all the teeth are the at the same height. If you look at a tooth from the side you will see that it is angled up towards the cutting edge, so as you file the tooth and it gets shorter, it also gets lower. If any of the teeth are longer than the others, therefore higher, only these teeth would be doing most of the cutting. This would create a judder and vibration in the saw and a much slower cutting speed. This is not as hard as it sounds, just get all the teeth the same length and all at 0 degrees or straight across.

Rough lumber but faster milling speed:
Full skip chain has the lowest amount of teeth and there is a lot of companies out there producing or modifying chain for milling lumber. It obviously takes a shorter amount of time to sharpen this chain as there is a lot less teeth, but it will need the larger size chainsaws to drive this chain, as it takes more power to mill lumber. Some companies use full complement standard chain and remove every other tooth, but leave the angle of the remaining teeth up to 15 degrees, this is to agressive for milling lumber, and under no circumstances should teeth be more than 10 degrees angle. It is very important that all the teeth are all the same height, length, and angle. There are far less teeth in the full skip chain so just 1 tooth slightly higher than the other is hard on the chain, bar and saw, as this 1 tooth would be taking out a bigger bite, and with no supporting teeth ahead or behind creates a very bad vibration in the saw and grooves in your lumber. The above is more critical in milling lumber than full house or standard chain. Full skip chain sharpened correctly will mill lumber at a faster speed, but it will be rougher, and the long fibre sawdust will pack around the saw and cleanup around the sawmill will be more of a chore. It is far more prone to vibration and is harder on the saw and I will repeat myself and say, only the larger chainsaws should use this full skip chain.

Rakers between the teeth:
The rakers in between the teeth are very important and should be filed down to 35 thousands so the sawchain can get a decent bite, and is a little more than standard. It is imperitive that the rakers are also all the same height and under no circumstances should you file the rakers freehand say by just counting the strokes on each raker, as this does not take off an even amount each time. It may seem to work at first, but over a period of time the differences will add up and all the rakers will not be the same height and this allows each tooth to take out a different size bite out of the log. You must use a depth gauge which you can buy at your local saw shop, these are really cheap, absolutely fool proof and very easy to use, just make sure it goes down to 35 thousands. If you cannot get a raker depth gauge, you can do the following. Lay a flat surface like a ruler across the top of 2 teeth and use a feeler gauge between the top of the raker and the bottom of the ruler or flat surface you are using, it is far easier to get a raker gauge. After you have filed each raker in height you must also round off the forward edge of the raker to it's original shape, this helps feed the sawchain teeth smoothly.


After milling over so many years with chainsaw mills
of all descriptions, here is what I suggest...

Full house Chainsaw chain ( most teeth ):
For smooth lumber at a decent rate of speed, you must use full house chain and modify the chain as I mentioned previously, you will be pleasantly surprised at how smooth the lumber comes of the mill. I have used this type of chain the most for milling lumber for building as it comes out so smooth, once dry it takes far less paint to cover, and without sinking in.

Full skip Chainsaw chain ( least teeth ):
For a little faster milling speed but rougher lumber, this type of sawchain will be best for you. I have generally used full skip chain for cutting beams, posts, heavy planking for truck trailers, or cants, where a smooth surface was not a concern, especially if it is not going to be painted. It produces lumber that has a furred surface, and soaks up the paint at a greater amount.

Mini Sawchain vs. Regular Sawchain

A small comment on mini sawchain and other sawchains. Quite a few companies out there are using P.M.X. chain or small mini chain for milling lumber. This of course produces faster cuts as there is less wood removed in each cut. I would like to caution you on this as these mini chains were only designed for the smaller saws as they have thinner side rails and links. The above were never designed to take the higher power of chainsaws that are over 60cc and are subject to breakage with all the attendant consequences of this. Not only an inconvenience but the inherent danger of a sawchain going 80 feet per second or more and breaking. I am not saying this will happen with certainty, but the danger is there as a few have broken, but thank god with no major casualties and only minor injury. Stihl and Husqvarna only offer 404 or 3/8th's size sawchain on their saws and the warranty is null and void if any other sawchain is used. Companies offering these saws with mini chain must be supplying their own warranty, but they must know that they are subject to liability for anything that may happen. Personally I do not think it is worth the risk just to try and speed up production as you can only utilize so much lumber in a day. SO STAY SAFE. Utilize the correct chain

PROCUT Portable Sawmills email
2468 McBride Crescent Prince George, B.C. Canada V2M 2A1
Phone: 1-250-562-6422

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