Slabbing With My Bandsaw Mill

I keep hearing Hank Williams Jr yelling “Are you ready for some slabbin?” Hank was too busy to make a special rendition for me to play before slabbing logs but we’re still gonna slab of course! Lots of small things have happened since the last you saw it, so lets go back to when the team left to go home and walk through what’s been happening since. 

The last you saw the mill, we did the bare minimum to at least get one slab made before Matt and Johnny had to head to the airport. The blade guards weren’t on, the gear box motor wasn’t mounted, and we were pulling the carriage with a rigging set up so we could be a safe distance from it.

It worked, and was exciting but the next step was adding a way to mechanically lift and lower that saw head beam to adjust the height of the blade. All of the parts for this were actually made when the whole team was here, so it was just a matter of attaching it in the correct spot on the mill then lifting the motor into place. Now, with a stench of chain that connects this motor to both acme rods, we can rotate them up or down to raise and lower the beam. We also put on the blade guards. 

Well actually I ended up leaving town the same day Matt and Johnny left and I was gone for a week for an event. During that time though, Scott and Cody worked to get the wheels trued up, the blade tracking well, and also the blade guards on. There was still plenty to add on but we couldn’t wait to slab up something so we went and grabbed onto another log.

This one is a cedar elm that a local viewer actually gave me when he heard I was going to build a mill. I used the tractor to get the slab over to the bed, then these really cool tongs to get one end up first, then the other. Aren’t these log lifting tongs awesome? I saw them on a clearance rack and picked them up hoping they were as useful as they looked, and I’m happy to say they are.

Once the log is up on the bed, we would first move it forward enough, then throw in the bed supports and push the log against them.

Since none of us have experience in this, we used logic that made sense to us on where to make the first cut. We lowered the blade down, and pulled the carriage along using a strap again. Of course a winch was part of the plan, but it was going to be a few days before it arrived so this tided us over in the mean time. : )

After getting the first cut done, then we started cutting 2 1/4” slabs. Again, we don’t know what we’re doing yet so I don’t know if this is the norm but since it would be nice to end up with 8/4 wood to sell, we cut them at 9/4. And man, look inside this one. It has a lot of spalting and bark inclusions in it. Moving over each slab to get a look inside the next cut is the addicting part of this hobby! The anticipation and suspense is exciting. 

At this point, we don’t have the winch installed so I’m pulling it. We don’t have the lubrication system installed, so Scott is dripping water on the blade as it’s running. And we don’t have a remote so Cody is having to turn it off and on at the VFD which is inside the control panel. Which might put off some from using it, but not us!

In fact, Erin heard we were slabbing and decided to join us! Then the neighbors heard we were slabbing and also decided to join us! By this time we completed the Cedar Elm so we went after a nice hickory log I got from a local arborist. This time I filmed while Cody used the tractor to set the log. 

Ok now we really need a slabbin party song because that’s what this quickly turned into. This was a Friday evening and we had kids in the bleachers (scaffolding) and adults with cold beverages (beer) and we all took turns pulling the mill. Even the 13 year old wanted to jump in and make a cut!

We were all having such a great time that when it got dark, we all pointed our vehicles towards the mill so the headlights could keep us going! I also enlisted the help of this cool little light from Husky. This light is one bright sucker at 700 lumens at a 20m throw. Since using it this evening, I’ve kept it close by the mill for night time slabbing : ) This light came to me through The Home Depot ProSpective tool review program and it is serving me very well up to this point. Feel free to check em out at the link above….for 15 bucks, you can’t beat it!

If you’ve been thinking of building a mill, think of it as a twofer….you don’t only get wood out of it but also a family friendly Friday night activity that’s good for all ages.

Before cutting more slabs, we took the time to install the winch and the lubrication system and a pendent remote. See, before Cody quickly installed a toggle switch to control the up and down of the saw head beam but was still having to turn on and off the mill inside the control box. He had a fourway pendent in his hoardings so he quickly wired that in so on/off, up/down can be controlled from the remote. This will soon be upgraded to an 6 way remote as Cody (being an engineer) wants even the forward/back motion to be electronically controlled. Which is of course, fine by me. Erin and I have a running joke that Cody needs a show called “pimp my bandsaw”. He offered to add a few subwoofers but I told him it wouldn’t be necessary. 

This pendant install is only temporary since Cody just happen to have one in his box of old control hardware. Those wires he is installing correspond to the pendant input buttons and terminate into spring loaded blade connectors. Ideally you want to depress these kinds of connectors with small “tweaker” screwdriver…however, Cody just relied on a handy new pocket knife I also got through the Home Depot. Although they sent it to me, he swiped it as quick as he could. lol. For less than 10 bucks it’s been super handy little tool and comes from the factory with a super sharp edge!

I also got through the Home Depot. Although they sent it to me, he swiped it as quick as he could. lol. For less than 10 bucks it’s been super handy little tool and comes from the factory with a super sharp edge!

I didn’t get footage of the lubrication system or winch installation apparently, but I’ll cut to some I got after we painted the mill so I can show you.

First off on the winch….we started with a single speed winch with an 8 to 1 gear ratio… which turned out to be to slow so we quickly changed that out to a two speed winch which offers a 4 to 1 ratio. And that was much better. Scott and Cody tried out a few hooking on and routing paths for this winch, pulling from just one side of the carriage first. But they ultimately settled on fabricating two arms with pulleys on the ends which got welded to the end of the bed. The winch was mounted on the backside of the mill on the idle wheel side, then routed under the wheels and blade guards…..in the first arm pulley, over to the second arm pulley, then latched onto an eye attached to this side of the carriage. This means the carriage is being pulled from one side and actually pushed from the other. And this works well. 

Lets move on to the lubrication system. Before this was installed we were using water to keep things lubricated but the permanent plan is diesel. Isn’t that surprising? I didn’t know it, but diesel and kerosene are common for mills. You can see this big container we set right on the saw head beam, kinda in the center. Then Cody rigged up some plumbing that will go from it’s downspout and T out to either wheel. All of the 1/4″ rubber tubing was cut using this new pair of 1-1/4″ ratcheting PVC cutters. If you’re used to using the old school type, you’re going to love these things! Rather than having to actuate the handles over and over again to get the blade to close down on the workpiece, these things will fast travel the blade to the workpiece in one push of the handle, then immediately begin cutting. This ratcheting handle features a one hand blade change mechanism saving you loads of time when it comes to blade changes as well. You can pick these guys up for less than $15 through The Home Depot – total steal!

With those two upgrades, we got serious! People have been asking if we have logs big enough where I live to really use the mill’s capacity….and while we certainly don’t have the variety or the massive girth like the North, we have plenty of species that will use either the entire length, or width….and sometimes both. This is an 11 1/2’ ash that has two crotches. It’s 53” at it’s widest and again going back to a point I made in the first video: since I’m building it myself I would much rather this mill be more than I need most of the time than not enough some of the time. 

I’ll tell you that having that winch system installed was awesome. Since the winch allows for a consistent movement through the log, it made a much more flat cut than the pull, reset, then pull again motion of tugging the carriage along from the front. A funny thing was happening with our logs….they were pink!

This happened first with the hickory (back when we were using water as a lubricator) and we just thought it was that one log but with this Ash also having a pink tint and us switching to diesel, we were believing it was us creating it somehow. We did take a planer and see if it were surface only and it was…it’s was as blonde as can be underneath. I posed the question to Instagram to see if anybody had good insight and the leading assumption is the wood is reacting to the air and it will fade after a few days. I’d loved to hear if you have a different answer though. 

Something else we started doing was leaving the slabs on even after they were cut. The idea behind this is to not only keep weight on the log (which keeps it’s still and in place while cutting) but also prevents us from having to move the slabs twice. However, for recording purposes I told Cody we needed to see inside and I couldn’t wait! Hehe. So we muscled the slabs off the bed to have a peak inside. And let me tell ya….while these slabs are beautiful (I mean look at that heart wood showing through) they are extremely heavy.

Oh and I thought this was a good shot to show off utilizing the blade guides. You can see as I’m turning the winch with one hand, I’m using my other to feed the guide in and out so that it’s always hugging the log. Cody is also doing the same with his guide and this also really helps with making a flat cut. 

Even though we still had more logs to slab up I wanted to get the mill cleaned and painted for this video so I put a halt to the fun activities and brought in the teenagers for the task of removing all the rust  before painting. Thank goodness this fell on Spring Break and some local teens were wanting to make some money. Both were geared up then trained on how to operate a grinder with a wire cup wheel in it then spent a morning and afternoon getting after it.

To keep them off ladders, they only messed with the bed and as far up the carriage as they could reach from the ground. They did such a great job, after wiping it down with rags it looked like brand new steel sitting there.

Next was priming. I’m not great on picking out which paint to go with, so I called PPG Paint and told them what I was doing and they told me what I needed. When applying the first coat, it went on good but not very solid. The oldest and I had two rollers and would get all the flat surfaces first, while the youngest was given a paint brush to get into all the nook and crannies we could reach.

We made a first pass then came back and applied a second and this second coating went on much more solid and easy. It was really easy to level out on the second coat and also had good coverage…It only took a gallon and a half of primer to cover the entire thing. The girls and I started on a Sunday, so come Monday when Scott was back in my shop, he dissembled the guards and saw head beam then finished priming the top of the carriage. 

Apparently with this paint, you can’t prime and paint on the same day. So we let that sit over night and started painting the next day. Just like Cremona I went with black for my mill and man was I impressed with this paint. Because we had such a solid layer of primer down, this paint just glided on. It was thick but so smooth and I was also crazy impressed with how much it covered and also how it drastically different it looked afterwards. 

While we’re painting let me answer a few common questions: Yes I will be building some sort of shelter for the mill. I want to protect it as best I can but I don’t yet know what I’ll be doing. Maybe a roof built directly on top of the mill, but probably something larger to also provide shade to whoever is operating it. Then yes, I also plan on a slab. I didn’t pour the slab first because I still have grading for this entire area to do, and I also want to make sure I’ll be keeping the mill here. You can believe I’ll pour a bigger than needed slab so I can’t push the mill off with my driving skills. 

Ok back to painting: while the body is black, I went with my custom plum color for the wheels and blade guards. This is a color I’ve adopted for some of my shop equipment that I absolutely love and I thought would not only be unique to my mill but look cool in contrast with the black. 

Something else that was going on during this week was trenching for power to the mill! We had been running a cord out through a shop window to plug it in but If you watched the shop building series then you’ll know I had a new power pole and 200 amp service brought in for my shop. So to get power to the mill, all we needed was a new trench from the pole to the mill. Sounds easy right? Well I’m on solid rock so it takes a lot more equipment than a strong back to get through this ground.

Call in the rock saw guy! I love watching this piece of equipment work. The operator started by making a trench from the power pole to the mill, then stopped when he and backed up his saw to the bluff and made another trench in front of the mill towards his first trench.

When it came to connecting the two trenches, the guy let me operate and make the cut! He went over all the controls with me, then stood by and monitored. This thing just chews away at that hard ground. The saw he is using is 60” in diameter and 4” wide. These teeth are titainum carbide that hit the rock as the wheel is spinning to break it up. It’s crazy quick though, the entire line didn’t take more than 40 or 45 mins. 

Next was running conduit and wire. While Scott and I were painting Cody was running to town to gather all the supplies needed, then started connecting joints. They first spread out the wire on the ground so they could thread on each joint of conduit instead of fishing it through later. Cody chose to go with a 4 conductor 240 volt circuit so that later on we can add a few 120 outlets to this area as well. 

The cable he went with is a 4 AWG URD wire that’s intended for primary feed lines. for long runs like this one (about 120′), running aluminum conductors rather than copper is a more cost effective option. Cutting this large gauge wire with wire cutters requires more grip strength than any one person oughtta have. So instead, Cody used a cordless sawzall with a Milwaukee 6in Carbide 7TPI blade. This is one of those all around blades that can thrash through damn near anything you throw at it….metal, plastic, wood, etc. However, it really does best through metals and made short work of these aluminum conductors.

This blade was also used to cut the 2″ PVC to length down on each end where the corner fittings were installed. This URD can be a bit of a bear to feed through conduit fittings like LB’s and sweep 90’s. When making the conduit connections at the pole, Cody accidentally cut the upright piece a bit too ling and needed to trim about 3″ of conduit off the length. Rather than unthread the entire straight piece to cross cut with a sawzall, he was able to sneak up on a clean cut using these new 2-1/8″ tubing cutters from Husky. These cutters are different from the old style in that they have a quick release and quick catch feature. Rather than thread the cutting shaft all the way to the pipe, simply push it past the spring loaded paw and boom!, your ready to start cutting. The same applies for backing out of the cut. Release the paw and simply pull the threaded shaft back and away from the workpiece. Finally, You can use the blade on the back side of the tool to clear out any burs from cutting your pipe. Very handy tool with thats a real time saver compared to old school models.

They went to each joint and used PVC Cement to glue it tougher and put it in the trench. Now the mill has a 100 amp breaker that will make it independent of the shop. On the mill side, this line feeds into a junction box. In the future, Cody is going to rework the control panel to include a main line disconnect and other protective circuitry so the main power can be turned on at the panel, whereas right now it will be turned on at the breaker box, then the motion controls are handled by the pendent. 

You can see here that the conduit actually takes a turn directly toward the mill which was not the original route we planned on. However, it was a necessary move that required a bit of rock digging. That last part should make you laugh a bit…..there is no “digging” in these parts. There is such a thing however a busting the rock up then shoveling out bits of smaller rock. If you find yourself in the same situation, you can easily perforate the rock using an SDS Bulldog Carbide Rotary Hammer bit like this one from Bosch. This bit works well at punching holes in rock but really shines in concrete. Specifically because it’s designed to prevent jamming when it hits rebar embedded with in the concrete. On this day however, it worked perfectly to ease up the effort required to remove this rock and make way for some conduit.

After the guys were done wiring, Cody used the tractor to fill the trench back in and moved on. 

At this point the mill had dried for a day so next we put everything back together. And that’s the only problem with waiting until it’s all done to paint things….you get it all working and tuned in then you have to take it all apart to paint then retune everything once again. The chain up top was rerouted and tensioned, the motor was dropped back in place, the blade was tracked again, and the guards were attached.

Now that’s it’s back together of course we had to throw another log on her! This time we picked a short but wide oak log. I was told from the local arborist who cut this down that it was ash but as soon as we cut into it we saw it was oak. When we set this one on the bed, it was clear that the log would sit much more flat if we flipped it over. To do this, Cody moved it forward on the bed, as far as it could go, we wrapped a chain around it, and he pulled it back. There we go, that sat much more evenly.

There is a science behind cutting logs and after I have some time under my belt and pick up some tips from either viewers or experience, I’ll make another video dedicated to what I’ve learned incase you’re interested. 

We’ve come a long ways but there are still some add ons on the mill coming….one is a guard around the motor belts. You can see there on the left that is a danger zone when the mill is on so that is priority.

Another handy add on coming will be a digital read out. Something that will digitally call out the height of the blade. Right now we have to turn the mill off in between cuts so somebody can manually pull a tape to come down 2 1/4”…which is what I’m slabbing at.

Oh, because I’m anticipating lots of questions on how I’ll be drying these….I am exploring a kiln option but for the mean time I’ve picked a spot in the trees to make a few flat pallets and let them air dry.

In this location they will get a good amount of shade but plenty of air flow. The important thing about making a bed is to make sure it’s flat. If there is a twist in the set up then the wood will follow that profile.

Then since we are slabbing and leaving them in place on the mill, at the end we wrap a few straps around the log to keep things together, then use a chain to pick the entire thing up and move it over to the bed location.

Once here, we can off load it one by one but this method means we only have to move each heavy slab once. It’s important to brush off the sawdust on both sides of the slab before leaving them to dry because the saw dust will absorb moisture and create mold, which is not something you want. You’ll also see that we are using spacers in-between each slab….these are called stickers and they are just little standoffs to allow air to moved in between each slab and dry it out. Same principal as the bed, it’s important that these stickers are the same height so that everything is resting nice and flat and the boards will dry flat.

And I think that is going to wrap up the bandsaw mill series guys. Don’t worry, you’ll see it again as I improve it. If you’re interested in watching me slab up logs as I get them then be sure to follow me on Instagram as I use that platform for posting everything I’m up to.

To date this is the biggest group project I’ve worked on and what a grand, fun project it’s been.

I hope you have enjoyed watching this come together as much as I have. I’ll see you on my next build. 

Part 1, 2 or 3 of this series: https://youtu.be/0uZXtzx8I9M

JD: http://bit.ly/2T9i7qY
Johnny Brooke: http://bit.ly/2wf92ho
Matt Cremona: http://bit.ly/2sKSjUc
Matt’s bandsaw mill plans: http://bit.ly/2BMQUjS
Watch Matt Build his mill: http://bit.ly/2GYINUR

Things I Used in This Project:
Lifting Log Tongs: https://amzn.to/2WrlpnB
ISOtunes Bluetooth Hearing Protection: http://amzn.to/2pEjNtv
Cordless Grinder: https://amzn.to/2KzmiEg
Paint: http://bit.ly/2HRd08A

Clamps!!
Armor Tool Self Adjusting Clamps: https://amzn.to/2TJsq56
Bessey Quick Clamp: https://amzn.to/2T0Fvqo
Bessey Duo Clamp: https://amzn.to/2OS3er1
Bessey Rapid Ratchet Clamp (my favorite) https://amzn.to/2U5qwsN
Bessey Small General Purpose: https://amzn.to/2GGHFFV
Bessey Inline Handle: https://amzn.to/2GLDlFw
Bessey Classic Heavy Duty : https://amzn.to/2EaKICD

(Most of the links listed above are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you!)