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Lumber and Sawmill Equipment Information

Lumber and sawmill equipment is used in sawmill, timber, and forestry applications. Sawmill equipment includes tools and machines to transport, position, cut, and otherwise aid in converting logs into lumber or other processed wood.

Sawmill Process

Sawmills are facilities that process logs into lumber. While modern mills are mostly automated, the fundamental sawmill process has changed little over the past several hundred years. Lumber mill operations are typically grouped into the steps listed below, although they may not occur in the identical order.

 Sawmill Process diagram

  1. Trees are felled and trunks are bucked into manageable lengths at the harvest site.
  2. A logging truck, train, or log drive transports logs to the sawmill facility.
  3. Logs are scaled before entering the mill, either in transport or just outside the facility. This involves measuring, inspecting for defects, and identifying the tree species for the purpose of tracking the volume of salable wood.
  4. A system of conveyors, cranes, and other material handling equipment moves the log into the mill. A debarker then strips the bark.
  5. The logs may then be decked, or sorted by parameters such as species, size, or intended end use.
  6. A band saw cuts small sections from the edges of the log's profile, as shown in the video below.
  7. A head saw (also known as a gang saw) breaks the log into cants and flitches. Cants are unfinished logs that require further processing, while flitches are unfinished planks.
  8. Cants are then broken down into multiple flitches using a resaw, a type of large band saw.
  9. An edger trims irregular edges to produce squared lumber. The flitch ends are trimmed to standard lumber lengths.
  10. A kiln or air-drying process removes naturally occurring moisture from the planks. A planer smooths the lumber surface to a uniform width and thickness. The lumber is then inspected, tagged, and shipped to market.

Sawmill Types

Sawmills may be classified by the type of wood they convert or the end product they produce.

Softwood mills convert softwood into lumber and other finished products. Softwood refers to timber from gymnosperm trees and does not necessarily denote a "softer" material. Cedar, pine, redwood, and fir are common softwood trees. Softwoods are commonly used in furniture and outdoor building materials.

Hardwood mills process ash, oak, maple, birch, and other angiosperm trees. Hardwood is preferred for woodworking, is often used in furniture-making, and is more expensive than softwood. Some hardwoods, such as mahogany and cherry, are prized for their attractive aesthetic qualities.

Stud mills are specialized mills that produce studs, which are vertical support members found in most building walls.

Pulp mills produce fiberboard by using specialized processes and equipment. Fiberboard is used in furniture-making or shipped to paper mills for further processing. Pulp mills debark pulpwood logs and grind them into small chips. The chips are rendered into a porridge-like pulp through steam treatment or digestion using chemical processes. Dried pulp is then cut, stacked, and shipped as fiberboard.

Equipment Types

Sawmills combine disparate equipment types to move logs to and from the mill, prepare them for processing, make cuts, and dispose of waste. The table below lists some common equipment categories and types.

Equipment Type



Log Handling and Preparation

Stackers, log turners, sorters, and conveyors

Used to transport and position logs before they are cut and processed.

 Log Turner image



Remove bark from a log before processing; drum, Rosser head, and ring types are common.

 Debarker image


Board feeders

Pass boards to other equipment types and reduce operator interaction.

 Board Feeder image




Blades consist of a continuous metal band attached to two or more wheels rotating on the same plane. Used to accommodate large logs and make cuts more precise than those done by circular saws.

 Bandsaw image


Gang saw

Have multiple blades of a straight-band or circular type to cut logs into cants or make initial "starter" cuts.

 Diamond Gang Saw image


Chain saw

Handheld saws typically used outside a mill to fell trees.



Straighten and smooth rough lumber and/or bowed stock by making cuts along the sides of the boards.

 Edger image

Other Equipment


Processes large chunks or pieces of wood into smaller bits for disposal or further processing.

 Sawmill Chipper image



Dresses and sizes rough-sawed lumber on one or more sides, planing boards to an even thickness.

 Planer image


Portable Sawmills

Portable or mobile sawmills are self-contained mills used by landowners or small sawing businesses. The prototypical mobile sawmill consists of a bandsaw, conveyor, hydraulic motion components, and a human-operated controller. The apparatus is typically designed to rest on a trailer for towing to a timber site.

Portable sawmills were developed during the 1973 energy crisis and have gained in popularity since the 1980s. They have a number of niche applications:

  • Production of rare or hard to find lumber, including trued logs for log building and hardwood for use in furniture
  • Production of lumber on small woodlots or timber farms
  • Self-sufficient simple living adherents may use portable sawmills to produce their own building materials

Portable Sawmill image

A typical portable sawmill. Image credit: Wm1300/CC BY-SA 3.0


Standards related to sawmills address the individual equipment types used in lumber production, including:

  • BS 4411 -- Specification for woodcutting bandsaw blades
  • ISO 6531 -- Vocabulary for portable forestry chainsaws
  • OO-S-811 -- Woodworking planers


US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) — Sawmill Safety

Image credits:

European Wood in China | HELLEbugwood.org by CC 3.0 | Wood Products Online Expo | Thomas Bandsaw Mills | UKAM | Public domain/CC0 1.0 | Wood-Mizer | Lippel | Wood-Mizer

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