Sentimental value – it’s a common issue when removing a tree on a client’s property or your own. They hate to see it go, but it keeps dropping limbs, or it’s got oak bracket, or etc., etc. You may get asked by the homeowner to cut a few cookies or buck some firewood, but that might be about it. What if you could generate some additional cash from a job while providing a client with materials for home projects?
This was my thinking when I decided to try out Granberg’s G777 Alaskan Small Log Mill. I do a bit of work with live-edge slabs – portions of tree wood with the bark or natural edge still intact – and the sticker shock for buying them made me consider doing the process myself. Here is my experience running this piece of equipment.
The Alaskan Small Log Mill is a portable chain-saw attachment that allows you to slab out logs for either live-edge projects or to begin the process for dimensional lumber. This attachment is intended for guide bars of 20 inches or less and an engine displacement above 50cc. I ran it on my Stihl 271.
Out of the box, it can take a few minutes to assemble the mill. The directions are relatively easy to follow, and my only mistake was putting the handle grip on backward at first. I’d recommend gluing the grip in place, otherwise it can twist around some during operation. You don’t need to drill anything to attach the mill to your saw, and it can be attached using a standard scrench (a tool used for the maintenance of chain saws that combines two wrench sockets and a screwdriver).
Granberg strongly warns against using a laminate guide bar, and says this product will only work with solid steel. I ignored this, of course. The mill will run on a laminate bar, but be prepared for it to leave divots from where the pressure bolts attach. I ruin enough guide bars that this isn’t an issue for me, but you should probably get a solid steel bar for it to perform the way it is supposed to. You want to be able to tighten it down enough that the mill will not shift at all while you’re working, and if you are using a larger guide bar, you will want solid steel to cut down on it bending.
Next, you will want a ripping chain. I ignored this the first time around and used a full-chisel chain, because I hate having to go back to the store once I’m set up. Again, it will work, but you are going to be hurting afterward from all the extra strain. I found that a ripping chain cuts the time-per-slab roughly in half. You can order the chain online through Granberg, using the number of links that is written on the guide bar.
Along with a hard hat, hearing protection, eye protection and chaps, I recommend a dust mask. Milling produces a large amount of very fine sawdust that goes everywhere. Use sawhorses to help your back. Or secure the log in place with something heavy if you are going to do your cutting on the ground. Otherwise, it will roll around.
The first cut requires a flat surface for the mill to ride on, so you will need either a rail system sold by Granberg or a (significantly cheaper) 2×4 from your local big-box store. Also, bring a level, drill/impact driver, some screws and a bunch of felling wedges to prevent pinching as you work your way down the log.
Operation is very easy, and each additional cut is made from riding along the previous one. You also can adjust the depth of cut to vary the size slab you get. You don’t need to worry too much about the cuts being perfect, as the slabs will need to be flattened either way after they dry. I’d recommend milling the slabs at roughly 3 inches in thickness to allow for later planing and smoothing.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the operation of this product. It’s sturdy and easy to use. I think with some suggestive selling, clients could have all the slabs they want for cutting boards, mantles and more.
Richard Jones, an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, is the campus arborist for the University of Maryland, College Park, and one of the founders of Maryland Sustainable Ecologies, a company that provides tree care training to municipalities and nonprofits.
Click below to view a video of Richard Jones demonstrating Granberg’s G777 Alaskan Small Log Mill.