Portable Sawmill Reviews

Independent Sawmill & Woodlot Management, Aug.-Sept 2011 Issue.

The portable sawmill market can be a complex and overwhelming environment, making equipment selection a daunting task. In the case of two Ontario entrepreneurs, however, the choice didn’t seem to be all that difficult, as both knew early on that they wanted to invest in a Norwood Industries portable band sawmill.

Don Yearwood’s LumberMate Pro

I caught up with Don Yearwood, owner of Bishop Lake Outdoors Inc. in Cloyne, Ontario, on a rainy spring morning, to find out how the mill performs in the real world. Don has quite a history with Norwood portable sawmills, having owned several different models over the last decade. After retiring from a law enforcement career of more than 30 years, and finding himself and his wife the owners of an old family homestead, Don decided that they should develop the property, which has its own private lake. Fast-forward a couple of decades and a lot of hard work later, and the property now has 75 trailer sites, a Laundromat, and an outdoor store. In order to complete this transformation, Don had to clear a lot of trees from the 96-acre parcel, and being someone who doesn’t like to see things go to waste, he made the decision to turn the trees into lumber to be used in the construction of the property.

Easy Assembly, Excellent Performance

At the time of my visit, Don hadn’t had the LumberMate Pro for more than a few months and figured he had about 40 hours on the mill. He said that running the business takes up most of his time now, so he doesn’t do much custom work anymore and focuses more on producing lumber for himself. The mill comes packed in such a way that Don and his son were able to transport it home in their short-box pickup and assemble it themselves in the garage. Don says that assembly wasn’t difficult, but that you need to have a smooth, level surface on which to work.

The day I was there, Don was milling some good-sized jack pine that had recently blown over during a storm. Rather than being bucked up for firewood, Don was cutting 1 x 8 boards for a privacy fence and strapping to be used in the construction of a new building on the property.

Don’s mill is equipped with the 16-hp Briggs and Stratton engine, which he says has performed extremely well, with no starting issues and plenty of torque. The only other options he has installed are the trailer package and support jacks and a 4-foot bed extension, allowing him to cut logs up to 17 feet in length. He did mention that he plans to purchase the available toe board package, so that he can reposition logs on the carriage more easily.

Don keeps his mill set up outside, next to his garage, and covers the saw carriage when not in use.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the debossed bed rails. Rather than the traditional onepiece steel beam, these rails are sectional, with the debossed construction adding structural rigidity while saving weight. I asked Don if he had ever had any issues with this setup, and he replied that all his mills have taken everything he’s thrown at them over the years, without any issues.

With the mill fired up and Don at the controls, I noticed that it was very quiet and that it seemed to have no trouble moving through the wet, knotty pine. The Pro has a 4-function, single-action control that throttles up the engine, disengages the blade brake, engages the clutch, and turns on the bladelubrication system all in one motion. Don is a big fan of this feature, joking that at his age, he no longer has to remember to turn the water off after making a cut.

After making a few passes, Don insisted that I take a turn at the controls and I found the mill to be extremely easy to use and push through the log. In fact, the only thing that Don would change about the mill is to add a locking mechanism to the saw carriage, since it moves so easily that the wind sometimes pushes it between cuts. For the time being, Don has solved this with a simple piece of wood used as a brake. He did add that the safety features of the Pro are great, and with the standard blade brake, the safety of the operator is greatly increased.

Don loads logs onto the mill using a tractor with a loader, and typically works alone. He takes his time and works to get the absolute most out of the log, since he is normally sawing his own lumber. After all his years using Norwood products, Don is of the opinion that the LumberMate Pro is far and away the best model yet. “It’s amazing how many uses you find for it once you have one!” he says.

Gerald Robertson’s LumberLite ML26

On another occasion, I had the opportunity to meet up with Norwood owner Gerald Robertson at his home outside of Angus, Ontario. After spending some time watching Gerald at work, it soon became apparent that ingenuity and entrepreneurship seem to be common traits among owners of portable sawmills.

Gerald had been running his sawmill as a side business for about a year at the time of my visit. An experience getting some timber from his property milled by another Norwood owner prompted him to go out and get his own mill once he saw its capability. Gerald recalls thinking, “If he’s making money with it, why can’t I?”

The day I stopped by, Gerald was doing some custom milling for a customer, sawing large white pine logs. Although he has a tractor he uses for skidding logs to the mill, he put his skills as a welder and fabricator to work in order to make loading and turning large logs easier.

Using some scrap steel and parts and an inexpensive electric winch, Gerald has installed a log-loading and turning apparatus that not only allows him to mill larger logs without the assistance of a helper, but also saves a lot of wear and tear on his body. The winch is mounted on a carriage centered above the bed of the mill. Using some 4 x 4 pieces as a ramp, he attaches a chain to the winch and uses the remote control to roll the log up onto the mill. When it comes time to turn the log, Gerald uses a steel hook attached to the winch cable to rotate the log on the deck.

Gerald owns the smaller version of Norwood’s portable bandsaw mill, the LumberLite ML26. It shares many of the same features as the larger LumberMate Pro, but with a log capacity of 26 inches, versus the Pro’s 34 inches, and a maximum log length (with standard bed) of 12 feet 9 inches. Other differences include more traditional, solid-steel bed rails, and a manual shut-off valve on the water tank. Gerald says he has been very satisfied with his mill, although he has had to improvise a few times to mill some larger logs. Like Don, Gerald has added a 4-foot extension to his mill, increasing his ability to cater to his customers’ needs.

Before I left, Gerald and his longtime friend and part-time assistant, Ronald Birch, took me back to Gerald’s woodlot to show me their winter project, a log cabin built entirely from wood sourced from the property and milled on the Norwood sawmill. It was clear that Gerald, like Don, gets a lot of enjoyment from owning and operating his mill.

The Norwood portable sawmill lineup offers a lot of choice to would-be sawyers, with the LumberMate Pro leading the way. With their knowledge and skills coupled with the right equipment, Don and Gerald will be able to continue to enjoy their mills for years to come.

Jon Marriott is a Registered Professional Forester in the province of Ontario, and has been involved in forestry and sawmilling since the age of 14. He currently lives in southern Ontario, where he works in the vegetation management industry.


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