Joseph Naberhaus

Alaskan Sawmill

Created on September 2022

An Alaskan Sawmill is a popular method for DIY lumber milling. With a chainsaw and an Alaskan Sawmill, you can turn any log into a pile of sawdust and a stack of boards. Let those boards dry out for a year (or don't if you like to watch your projects morph into modern art), and they're ready to be turned into cutting boards. You could build a whole project without spending a dollar. Of course, both the time and cost of running the chainsaw aren't free, but I prefer not to let details get in the way of feeling self-sufficient.

You can find plenty of examples of people using Alaskan Sawmills. So many, in fact, that I wouldn't be writing this article if I didn't have my own twist on it. Most people will use an Alaskan Sawmill the way it was intended. Starting by using something long, straight, and flat to guide the first pass and then placing the sawmill directly onto the flat surface of the log for the rest of the cuts.

The sawmill midway through cutting a board.

There are a few things I wanted to improve on. First was my personal safety. Once you are mid-cut, the chainsaw is trapped within the log and can't jump out to bite you. However, both the beginning and end of the cut don't have the chainsaw constrained at all. I wanted my jig to constrain the chainsaw throughout the entire process.

The other was flatness. You can get good results with the method I outlined above as long as you are careful that your first cut is flat. If it isn't, then that distortion will be carried into every board you cut. I didn't want to worry about this. So I designed my jig in such a way that you can't help but get a flat cut every time.

The frame supports to 2x4s that I selected for their straightness. The 2x4s are held in place by bolts that go through a series of evenly spaced holes. Between cuts, I remove the bolts and move them down to the next hole. I also attached a couple of wheels to the Alaskan Sawmill frame. These apply a constant force downwards, which keeps the chainsaw from wandering upwards.

A stack of red oak boards that I cut using my sawmill

So far, I've only cut up one big red oak log. I didn't want to fuss with rotating the log, so I just plain/flat sawed it (as opposed to quarter or rip sawing). The log turned into a pretty sizable stack of boards that I'm excited to start using.

There are some dark walnut logs sitting at home that I plan to tackle next. When I do those, I want to experiment with using a hand-crank winch to pull the Alaskan Sawmill forward, so I don't have to stoop over the frame. If that works, I'll post another article on this website.