With the right equipment, you can turn your chainsaw into a portable lumber mill. This is especially useful if you need to build a structure far away from a stationary lumber mill. Chainsaws also cost considerably less than a traditional sawmill, so they can provide savings and convenience in one blow.
We looked into this a little more and wrote reviews of some of the best chainsaws you can use to mill lumber. The best ones tend to be pretty powerful and have long blades that deliver professional cutting results. We also included a buyers’ guide to help you figure out how to shop for a chainsaw for this purpose, and to help you understand if the chainsaw you already have is well-suited for milling lumber.
|Husqvarna 460 Rancher 20 in. Gas Chainsaw|
|Echo CS-590-20 Chainsaw||17 lbs||4.65/5|
|Husqvarna 455, 20 in. 55.5cc 2-Cycle Gas Chainsaw||13 lbs||4.40/5|
|Poulan Pro (PR5020) Chain Saw|
(Best for the Money)
If you’re looking for the best chainsaw for ripping logs, it’s Husky’s 460 Rancher. It’s got a good bar length and a powerful engine. It also comes with great features that make it a top choice for normal chainsaw use, and help identify the difference between a serviceable chainsaw and a great one for milling lumber.
One thing that sets this model apart is that it’s easy to start and keep running. For a chainsaw attached to a mill rig, this is especially important because it’ll need to stay running through stressful cutting. The drawback, of course, is the price. You won’t get this kind of performance cheap.
If you’re milling the biggest, hardest woods, you’re looking at work for an Alaskan mill. Our pick as the best chainsaw for Alaskan mills is the Echo CS-590-20. It’s powerful, safe, and easy to use. If you’re using an Alaskan mill, you especially want all three of those because of the nature of the work. It’s also pretty affordable, considering the class of saws it’s part of.
However, it can be tough to start. When milling lumber in general, you want an easy start. When doing the hardest milling work, you want to concentrate on getting it right and being safe rather than on getting the saw to work.
Husqvarna’s 455 does a good job milling lumber. Do not let its ranking fool you. It’s just that it doesn’t mill lumber as well as the Husky 460 or the Echo 590. Its engine is less powerful, and it’s not quite as big. While it can handle the work, the more difficult the work is, the more it will stress this chainsaw.
It includes the great features that also come with the Husky 460. It’s efficient and safe to operate. It’s also a little more affordable than the first two on this list.
Its primary drawback is that it’s a bit smaller and less powerful. When milling lumber, that matters.
If you’re looking for a decent everyday chainsaw, Poulan’s PR5020 would be a great candidate. It’s got a lot of power and a good long bar that means you can do just about anything around the home with it.
But you’re not looking for a good everyday chainsaw. You’re looking for a chainsaw that can withstand the special pounding that comes with being used to mill lumber. The Poulan has power, just not the kind that the other ones have. It’s also not as ruggedly built or as reliable in operating.
One thing it has going for it is that among this group of tools, it’s the most affordable. In a pinch it can work, but if you have a choice, look for something better built to withstand the rigors of this job.
When milling lumber with a chainsaw, you’re really talking about a complete rig. The saw is one component and the mill is the other. Buying a chainsaw to mill lumber isn’t just about making sure you get the most powerful tool to do the job. You need the one that fits best in what you should think of as a team effort between two tools.
The first necessary thing is making sure your chainsaw is compatible with your mill attachment. If you have the mill attachment but not the chainsaw, be sure the chainsaw you buy is compatible with the mill. You can buy a mill for less than $200, which is inexpensive compared to a dedicated milling saw, but not so low-priced that you want more than one.
Milling requires that you cut lengths of wood, not cross-sections of it. That’s going to require sustained power, and potentially a lot of it. If you have your milling rig and need to pair it with a chainsaw, there might be power parameters it’s designed to work within. If that’s the case, follow those. If there aren’t, looking for a chainsaw that delivers a lot of power is smart. 50cc is a common choice.
Most mills come with parameters for the bar, which is the tongue-looking thing that sticks out from the engine and around which the saw blade moves. Twenty inches is a pretty standard minimum length. Keep in mind that the length of the bar will also establish the maximum width for the lumber you cut. If you have really big trees and want to mill wide boards, you might need to look at combinations capable of wider cuts.
The choice in power source involves a tradeoff: heft or quiet consistency. Electric chainsaws are generally not as powerful as gas-powered ones. You can use them, but you’ll want to be careful to not overtax them. However, they are quieter, and if you have a lot of cutting to do they have another advantage. You can run them off wall power and have power all the time. You don’t have to worry about shutting one down to fill a gas tank, and because there’s no engine, they’re also lighter. You can read more about this here.
Weight is a consideration for milling for the same reason as for normal use, but with a twist. For normal use, chainsaws can wear down and fatigue a human user. When connected to a milling rig, the fatigue they can cause involves the frame. Most of them are made out of pretty tough materials, but going light isn’t a terrible idea if you can do it. You can see our top 5 lightweight chainsaw picks here.
A final consideration is always price. If you’ve got two nearly identical chainsaws that are compatible with your milling rig, go with the one that will save you a few dollars. Just remember that price is more than what you pay for the saw. Consider how much it’ll cost to run in terms of fuel, maintenance, and repairs, too.
Husqvarna’s 460 is our Top Pick because it combines performance, power, and a nice long bar, so you can mill just about any board. However, be prepared to pay through the nose for it. The Echo CS-590-20 was our pick for the top chainsaw to use in an Alaskan mill. It’s a beast, but also reliable and safe. We just wished it started a little easier. The Husky 455 is a good chainsaw that any homeowner should feel pride in owning, but compared to the other two, it just doesn’t measure up. We also like the Poulan PR5020 as a good everyday chainsaw, but it’s just not built to meet the demands of milling lumber the way the Huskys and Echo are.
We hope you come away from our reviews and buyers’ guide feeling better informed about what kinds of things make a chainsaw good for milling and how to shop for one. We wish you luck in finding the right one and, most importantly, using it safely.