How a madman assembles a sawmill.

I thought you good guys and gals got giddy when I babbled about a bunch of baskets, but the love lavished upon the lightest of looks at the sawmill prompted this person to postpone that particular pursuit. As a measure to mollify the masses, here continues the saga of The ArborVilla Bandsaw Mill.


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To recap, for those who aren't regular readers, I've been trying to get my greedy paws on a small bandsaw mill for years, and in a roller coaster ride of backorders and cancellations, I finally succeeded. It was definitely not a smooth transaction, but I've tried to acquire one of these for so long now that I haven't even complained (yet). There were certainly many things to complain about, like them suddenly charging me for and shipping this order almost two weeks after it was cancelled for the second time. On top of that, it arrived a full week before the earliest estimate, with no warning, so I was not here to instruct or assist with the delivery. The driver did try calling, while I was on a business call, from an unknown number. By the time I got his message, he'd already dropped this at the bottom of the driveway, with about 4 inches of it hanging out in the road.

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The gross weight of the package was around 800 lbs., so I had to unpack it where it was to get it out of the road. There was pretty significant damage to a lot of the package, including the pallets and metal frame, but the sawmill itself was unscathed, so at least the trial of getting a sawmill to the house was finally over. Now, I just needed to move it all to where I could actually use it.

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This is the spot where it will get set up first, because I already have a pile of logs here hidden under all that snow. Regular readers will also recall that we've had LOTS of snow this year. This is what it looked like after melting from a total of around 20" down to about 7". It weighed about 40 lbs. per shovel full, and this area took about an hour for me to clear. Most of the smaller parts of the package I carried up ahead of time, and they're under the blue tarp.

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Hedge Witch helped me push the sawmill head up the driveway after I got it on the AeroCart. This is the actual engine and saw part of the mill, and came as a complete assembly weighing around 400 lbs. At this point, it still needed to get up that hill to the left of the stairs, but it was too muddy that day. You can see the wheels of the AeroCart were already sinking into the much stiffer ground of the driveway.

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That's the driveway we pushed it up. It looks farther in pictures than it does in person, but it still took us about 15 minutes to get it up here, with one break about 3/4 of the way up, and about a half hour for us to catch our breath afterward.

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That's the last big incline that I still had to crest. It's about 60 feet long, with about 10 feet of rise. Hedge Witch and I just can't generate enough traction to push the head assembly up this hill, so it was time to get out the tools.

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You can never have too many chains, and I had more than enough for this project, I just had to dig them out of the snow and drag them here, through the snow. I have some rope that was probably sturdy enough for this job, but at this point I'm not taking a risk on probably. If I were to lose control of this thing while it was on this hill, it would definitely end up in the road, in a mangled state, hopefully not on top of someone's car.

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The ground was nice and frozen again by the time I attempted this, so I was hoping a 12" spike in the ground would be enough of an anchor. It felt pretty solid going in, so I was confident moving forward. The weight of the chain creates enough drag by itself that I barely even need an anchor to start pulling it up the hill, it's the last few feet at the top where I'll really need it to hold.

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To be on the safer side, and to keep the chain low to the ground, I hammer the pin in until there is just enough sticking up to hook the chain on. This particular spike is one I've held on to because it is hardened steel and perfectly fits my 3/8" chains.

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When I was getting my lucky spike, I also stumbled upon this old tow rope I salvaged from work a while ago that had one hook broken off from it. The knots you see are a rapid-deploy sinnet chain... basically when I pull the end without the hook the whole thing unwinds like a crocheted scarf. This was more than sturdy enough to hold the weight I needed it to, and a lot lighter to deal with than my chains, so I grabbed this to use for the final stretch down the hill.

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Here you see the start of my long, slow trek. My ratchet pulley only has about 7 feet of cable, which means I'm moving this about 6 feet at a time. Ratchet it up the hill, block the wheel on the cart, reset the ratchet pulley, and repeat. Once I got it up the hill a ways, I used extra chain looped around the handle to hold the cart in place (instead of blocking the wheels), which helped things move a little faster. All told, this was about a 7 hour process.

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Getting it up the hill was the hard work, but there was still plenty of travelling to do to get this thing located at it's new home. I was able to pull it the rest of the way myself without any special equipment, but the ice, and snow, and narrow paths still made for quite a workout. By the time I was done moving the sawmill head where it belonged, I was too tired to pick up my chains.

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There's the first leg of the 'flat' path that I had to pull it across...

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And there's the second leg of the path. People (who wouldn't have helped) often ask 'Why didn't you call someone to come help you?' The answer is that people who know me well enough to be willing to help out, know the kind of crazy shit I do and don't come to help out anymore, unless I bribe them with weed and liquor. Unfortunately, none of them are very useful after weed and liquor, so I end up just doing these things myself anyway.

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At last, I had all the right pieces in the right spot, and it was time to start assembling things! The instructions very specifically state that this should be done by two people, but they've never met me, so I'm not willing to rely on their assessment of my lack of ability.

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Getting the track assembled and leveled had to come first for me, because I was hoping to attach the sawmill head to its carriage in a 'face down' position, then just rock it up into place on the track. This took more than a little bit of fine adjusting of the AeroCart, but worked out just fine without me even pulling any new muscles.

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Because I did a few assembly parts out of order, I had to readjust the saw and carriage a few times to get everything squared up, but at least I was able to get it all put together without building anything extra. From the moment I saw that the sawmill head was pre-assembled, I had been worried that I would need to build some sort of frame and hoist to actually get it onto the carriage, and then onto the track. Due to the design of the carriage, I actually had quite a lot of leverage tipping the saw into place, and it was a lot easier than I had anticipated. Hedge Witch got to sleep through this whole process.

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Almost two full days of work into moving and assembly, it was at this moment that it finally started to look like something. At this point, all of my heavy lifting was done, all that remained were the finishing touches and adjustments.

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Some of those finishing touches lacked clear instruction, like where and how to mount the push handle, seen laying on top of the engine in the picture above. I've done plenty of assemblies with poor or missing instructions, so it didn't take me too long to figure out the proper place for this.

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The mill says the maximum log size is 20", which does seem doable, even though the maximum clearance of the blade is just over 17". With all my chainsaw milling, the first cut has almost always been at least 3" below the top of the log. If I ever do run into any logs too large for the mill, I can always cut them down with the chainsaw mill first. With that, my maximum cut width is close to 23", but I can cut from either side of the log, so technically I can cut through logs up to around 45" in diameter, but so far the biggest tree I've cut into boards was only about 32" in diameter.

I had hoped to get more pictures of the final assembly, but my cheap phone does not like being out in the cold, and it shut off on me. There's not really much more to see anyway, and there will be plenty more pictures of this thing in action, I can assure you of that. I do still have some fine adjustment to do on the blade before actually running, but I'm hoping to get that done and put it through its first paces tomorrow morning.

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Nearly every tree in the pic above is a dead ash tree that NEEDS to come down this year. I've talked recently with some of the contractors that are cleaning trees in the right of way for NYSEG's power lines, and it looks like they may be dropping several of these for me. I'm hoping that I'll be able to talk them in piling all the trees that they have to cut in this area right where those trees now stand. If all goes as I'm hoping, I'll have enough boards when I'm done with this to build my deck, workshop, garage, and a few pieces of furniture. Down the road, I'm hoping this mill, combined with my woodworking skills, will provide me with extra income well into retirement.

I could go on talking about the new sawmill, and my plans for it, all night long. That won't help me get things done tomorrow, though, so I think I'll leave this here for now, and work on one or two of the other 100 posts I have simmering right now. I'm almost too excited to sleep, and I hope I don't tire myself out too much to start cutting boards tomorrow.

Wish me luck, I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes.

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