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Chainsaw Choice

Choosing a chainsaw to use in an Alaskan sawmill. January 4, 2001

I am looking into getting a chainsaw to use in my Alaskan sawmill. I will get either a Husky 395XP or a Stihl 66. I will run a 24 inch bar. I am leaning to the Stihl, with a 1/4 inch chain. Not only for thinner kerf, but I imagine it would take some strain off the saw as well.

My questions are: How good is the Husky of this size? How hard is it to change the Sthil over to a 3/8 chain for firewood cutting, or is it feasible to cut firewood with the 1/4 inch chain?

Forum Responses
I have used a 394XP with my Alaskan for about 4 years. It is a good saw for milling when using ripping chain. I have used the Stihl 066 and I think it is a bit better. I bought my Husqy used at a good price, so that is what I use. They are comparable in size but the 066 has a tad more hp. The Husqy has great chain speed, while the Stihl is torqier. The 395 is this year抯 replacement for the 394.

Narrow kerf chain does cut faster, but has some limitations. They are designed for smaller saws and have less stressful cutting. Milling puts quite a strain on both saw and chain. Narrow kerf chain, such as Stihl Pico, will break while milling with a large saw.

Sharpening is also a consideration. Smaller cutters mean less tooth to be ground away. You can only sharpen so many times before the tooth is gone. Another limitation to narrow kerf chain is that as you remove the teeth when sharpening, the cutters become narrower than the saw bar. Even with a narrow bar. When this happens, the chain is useless because it can't cut into the wood.

If you are not sawing for production, kerf is really not a concern. If it is, maybe you should consider a portable bandmill. That 1/8" difference in chain size only adds up to lost production if you do it for money or need to get absolutely the most lumber from your log. The narrow chain also leaves a bit of a choppier finish than regular chain.

I have used my 394 on a chain saw mill that I built and it worked just fine. You need the HP. I use the same saw for felling and bucking. I like Husky better. I have tried using smaller saws--371 or 530 johnsrud, and forget it. You do not have to buy ripping chain, just refile it.

Huskies are good saws, but every one I've had has had stupid unnecessary little breakdowns. Saw class and performance-wise, there probably isn't a dime's worth of difference between them. They both have their strong points, but I've literally cut millions of feet of timber with the Stihl 066's without anything other than normal maintenance. My vote would go to the Stihl with a decent .063 x 3/8" skiptooth chisel chain reground to ripping chain.

I utilize a swing blade circular mill for most of my sawmilling work. When I need to cut very large slabs I flatten the log with the circular mill and then employ a double ended bar with two very old, very large Remington power heads mounted on an Alaskan Mill frame and chain filed for ripping. This system has tons of power and cuts like gang busters as long as I incorporate a fairly good water drip on the chain.

It is very important to run the power heads as rich as possible. Under heavy load the fuel mixture seems to play a larger than normal part in both lubrication and cooling. It is a good idea to avoid extended periods of operation without giving the power head a break, since most chainsaws were not designed for long duration, continuous operation.

Several years ago I did burn the cylinder of a large Johnsred saw. I replaced the cylinder, readjusted the carb. as rich as possible and that saw still runs today.

I spent yesterday sawing up a windfall white oak using my Husqvarna 2100 (roughly 6ci displacement, whatever that is in cc's) attached to 48" Alaskan mill, bar and rip chain. The Alaskan folks recommend a saw of approximately 100cc's for a bar that long. It saws through the green oak at an incredible rate.

I agree that a wider chain is the way to go - I have never had a chain break on any saw, but anecdotal evidence would indicate that such an occurrence could be very dangerous. I use an auxiliary oiler at the far end of the bar, and keep the manual oiler moving the whole time the chain is running. Yes, you do produce a lot of sawdust, and the kerf is pretty darn wide, but given the nature and location of the trees I work, this is the ideal set up for me.

I use a Stihl 066 for cutting the log to length, and am impressed with its power and torque. I figure it will be able to drive the mill when the Husky ceases to be.

I have had my 394 for going on 4 years. I have run through at least 10 20" bars on it. 2 spark plugs, a chain brake assy (it got in the way of a tree), a motor mount spring, some drive sprockets and a gas cap. My brother used to run Shihl and could never keep the buggers running in deep snow.

We have had a Stihl 028 Wood Boss for more than 15 years. It gets a lot of use as a farm saw and cuts our firewood in the winter. It got run over by a Bobcat 853 while we were loading out cherry logs last weekend. Completely restored with $88.80 worth of parts: handle, filter shroud, spark plug boot, and new 18" bar. Amazingly, parts are available 3 days after ordering!

Three weeks ago, I bought a new Stihl 046M. It seems to want to die after a cut. The 28" bar makes felling larger diameter trees an easy, precise operation, but is bulky/unbalanced for limbing and clearing slash.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I am running 4 Stihl saws right now - a 026 Farm Boss, a 038 AVS Farm Boss, a 041 Farm Boss, and a 044 Magnum. I like the bigger saws, but the 026 is a piece of junk in my book. The 041 was bought new in 1978 by my grandfather and will still go through a log with a 36" bar like there is nothing there. My saw guy has run Stihl, Husky and Jonsored and only runs the Stihls now.

Comment from contributor B:
I've been milling logs for about three years now. After considerable research and lots of trial and error, I've come up with a combination that works very well.

I run a Stihl 090 powerhead on up to a 4' bar for milling logs up to 42" in diameter. I had a custom-built bar made (cheaper than purchased through a dealer) that takes a powerhead on either end and can do logs to 54" with this.

The second saw I run is a Stihl 075. I grind standard Stihl skip chain to 0 degrees. This produces a cut that is remarkably smooth. You do sacrifice a bit of speed, but the smoother cut gains you more at resawing with much less planing.

The 090's are hard to find. They quit selling them in the U.S. years ago. It is the saw with the amount of power required to pull long chains through big hardwood logs. Absolutely run the saw on the rich side. You will strain the motor much more in a day of milling than falling or bucking. Make sure you have the oiler turned all the way up and let the saw cool some between passes. I use an aluminum extension ladder to make the first cut. Just use four pieces of plumber's strapping and a screw gun to fasten the ladder securely to the log.

I find myself sharpening a Stihl chain about once a dozen passes on a 36" diameter, 9' long maple log. Oregon chain must be sharpened about every 6 to 8 passes. It sharpens easier than the Stihl, but the edge goes away faster.

Definitely paint the log ends with wax based emulsion before milling and sticker your wood carefully, making sure there is equal airspace between slabs. Stickers are spaced evenly and on top of one another in the pile. Weight the top of the pile with the first or last log side and put several bags of concrete on top of that. I find 8/4 takes about two years to dry here in western Oregon. 4/4 takes about one year. I move pieces into the shop for a few months before using them just for good measure. Good luck and be safe.

Comment from contributor C:
I use a 090 with a 4 foot bar on a homemade slab mill cutting with 3/8" stihl skip at 0 degrees. My saw has a larger piston than it should, but I mix fuel on the rich side and knock on hardwood, I haven't had a bit of trouble with the thing for four cold seasons.

Comment from contributor D:
With Stihl saws, it is not so much the size as it is which engine design, old or new. The old style has a long stroke and small bore compared with the same size displacement in the new engine design. This translates to the old engines having tremendous torqe even at low RPMs. In a large enough saw for a task, it is literaly impossible to stall one of the old style saws. The new style engines produce much faster chain speeds and will mill a log faster, but only if the saw does not bog down and can run at top RPM. There is one more big difference in the two types of engine design, and that is the exhaust. On the old style, the exhaust exits on the bar side of the saw and on the new style, it exits out the front. This may not sound like a big deal, but when milling, the exhaust bounces back off the log and causes the saw to run significantly hotter. To compensate for this, I adjust my mill so there is a bit of bar space between the powerhead and the log, which reduces the capacity of the bar. I have a newer 038 magnum with a 32' bar and an old 051 with a 42" bar. Both of the bars are larger than recommended for my powerheads, but remember, the recommended bar sizes are for bucking, not milling, and the mill uses up at least 6" of bar. I run an Alaskan MK II with an extra cross bar and an oiler and can mill 37" with the 051 in oak and walnut. It is a bit slow but it will pull the 3/8 chain and produces beautifully smooth lumber. In small diameter logs, the 038 will cut faster. I like the speed of the new saws, but all things being equal, I would rather have a larger old style saw. For a 42" bar I would recommend an 088 or 090 because they would both have an excess of power and I always end up finding a use for more than what I have. I think an 075 would probably be just about perfect and I think an 066 would still be slightly under-powered. Keep in mind - my 051 gets the job done and the mill and saw cost me $200 US.

I have used both regular and milling chain and would recommend a compromise of regular chain modified to about 10 degrees and increassing the hook to about 45 or 50 degrees. Someone wrote that 0 degrees producess a smooth cut, but sacrifices some speed. Increassing to 10 degrees produces a cut almost identical without the loss of speed. I do caution increassing the hook. It can severely increase the risk of a kickback if used for bucking. Because of the increased time required to sharpen a milling chain, I have a smaller saw with regular chain I use for bucking. The reason for increasing the hook is because of the diference in grain orientation in milling versus bucking. This results in larger size particles of swarf in milling and increassing the hook allows for more clearance for the swarf. I feel this also allows the chain to have less movement in the kerf and results in a smoother cut.

There are very few things in this world that have not been seen by a pair of human eyes. The inside of a log is one of them. Have fun and enjoy.

Comment from contributor E:

I抳e been milling in Alaska for 15 years and I have an old 070 Stihl that has worked great. I bought a Husky 3120xp 7-8 years ago and blew it on the first cut of a 30" white oak log. I called Husky in Sweden and the chainsaw VP told me of his experience in Australia and had the local distributor bore out the high speed jet in the carburetor resulting in more fuel and told me to double the mix to a 20-25:1 ratio and that worked.

I burned it out again on tree removal (cross-cutting). I don抰 know if it was unmixed gas or the bored out fuel jet with 40-1 gas mix but I will run it at 25-1 from now on. I used to run two saws, and I added a husky 272xp. I like the auxiliary oiler, exhaust diversion and water cooling ideas. The best rip chain was old style, and a guy used to make it on request - it was 5 and 10 degree angles on a skip chain with two full teeth, one on each side, and the two teeth ground from the side so they made a 2mm groove on each side.

Comment from contributor F:
I have a long double ended bar that runs a 404 ripping chain so far I have put a 394 on one end and a Stihl 66 on the other end driving the same chain. I can mill up to a 48" fir, spruce, or hemlock at about four square feet of board surface per minute, 30" rip 20 feet long in about 12 minutes. The Husky and Stihl mix seem to complement each other, where as the Husky keeps the speed way high. The Stihl keeps you from completely bogging out to a stop if you get to aggressive with the mill.