Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I got a new tool: a Woodmizer LT15 bandsaw mill!!

I picked it up near Helena Montana with my trusty jeep and trailer. The trip itself was exciting, but that is another story.

It has a 15HP gas engine. It can cut logs up to 28" in diameter. I got an additional bed extension, so this thing can mill timbers up to about 17' long. I can add an arbitrary number of bed extensions in the future, and I'm already thinking of ordering one more bed extension to get me to about 24'

Peter and I wasted no time and took it out to Orchard Farms, north of town. We still had about 8 large elm logs to mill. Since we were both a little tired of chainsaw milling, we were happy to try out something a lot more efficient.

I think that either Peter or Nils once told me, "Life is too short for chainsaw milling". While chainsaw milling has its place, I tend to agree with them. Cuts that took 20 minutes, 1 tank of gas, and 3/8" of wasted kerf now take 20 seconds, almost no gas, and less than 1/8" of wasted kerf.

We mainly milled more 3.5" thick slabs. The idea is that these slabs can eventually be used for knee braces or furniture or something. My shop is now overflowing with stickered elm slabs. I hope we can find a good use for them.

We cut a couple thin flitches, maybe 1/8" thick or slightly thicker (just because we could). The one below turned out looking like a dolphin or whale. Peter took this one home.

In addition to cutting slabs and flitches, we also gave stab at milling a large beam. It was super simple and super fast. I think the final beam was like an 8x10, and was pretty darned square. It turned out enormously heavy and incredibly beautiful. Makes me wonder if we should not have cut more timbers and less slabs, but I don't really have a current design/project to use these timbers. I'm not sure how badly this elm will warp out of square before I would need to use it. In my experience, elm warps a lot. I can always resaw both the timber and slabs later if necessary.

But man, the grain and color on this beam! Not to mention its inherent strength! Out West, hardwood is hard to come by, so to see a nice hardwood beam like this is great.

There are a lot of forces at work inside the elm cant below. Look at the slab bending upward, all on its own. Every cut releases a lot of internal tension in the wood, and outer cuts tend to immediately bend when released from the cant. Alleviates the need for wedges while milling, I suppose.

Ultimately, I am very happy with the LT15. Its about all I could afford, and it exceeds my expectations. Woodmizer is very customer-oriented, and this thing is built like a tractor. This mill can be operated by one person. I like the idea that I can take a tree or log or piece of wood and mill it however and whenever I want to. It opens up a lot of possibilities. If used enough, this mill will quickly pay for itself and then some.

The biggest challenge with this mill is going to be moving it around. The mill is 1000 pounds, and 13 feet long. Most Woodmizer mills are integrated onto trailers that can be towed around from job site to job site. The LT10 and LT15 mills are manufactured to be essentially stationary, but moveable.

I bolted some large casters onto the mill bed sections, and that worked up until I tried to winch the mill back onto my trailer (and the wheels got mangled). I need to be thinking about heavier-duty solutions. I bought a load-assist kit for the LT15 which includes one pair of heavy-duty wheels, and is meant to load the LT15 onto a tilt-bed trailer. Peter's got me thinking of building a custom trailer frame and welding it to the bottom of the mill. I might end up doing something like that.