a decent starter machine

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Review by Von posted 09-01-2016 12:25 AM 9646 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
a decent starter machine a decent starter machine a decent starter machine Click the pictures to enlarge them

This year there have been a small rash of random YouTube videos and articles regarding the Harbor Freight Saw Mill with 301cc Gas Engine that they offer -sometimes at a ridiculously low price if you catch the sales and coupons.

Yes there ARE bigger, better mills out there. Maybe for a lot less than the $1680 I spent on mine, if you managed to build it yourself. I didn’t have the time to do so, nor all of the parts on hand just yet to build my own with all sorts of fancy-shmancyness. That’s fine, because this lil rig is making lumber just as well as a larger “name brand” mill does. -aaaand I’m not out the 5 or 12 grand that those bigger mills are going for these days.

I rotated the pull starter by about 90 degrees. It just feels easier to pull the rope form the right side of the engine, since you know -yer standing on the right side of the mill anyway. That was easy, just 3 bolts and it was back in place in a minute.

The cutting guide is a joke. I don’t use it. I keep a tape measure on hand and index from a flat surface once I have the slabs pared off the cant. Each full crank of the arm to lift/lower the saw head is .25 inches. 4 cranks to an inch -it’s easy enough to keep in your head. Once I have a squared cant, I make a note of the position of the crank handle.

Max cut height from the top of the deck is a flat & true 24 inches. Max cut width is 21.5 inches but I stick to an even 20 inches when I can. That’s actually a lot more room to work with than you might think. I’ve been surprised by the size of some logs I have managed to put through this thing so far. Once you pear off a limb, or trim off some bark slabs -you can get this lil saw to eat right through some decent sized bolts.

The blade that the mill ships with is good for training yourself in. It dulls fast. Real fast. In my case, the 2nd bolt I set on the deck (without any bark and clean of dirt/metal/etc) showed just how fast that blade lost it’s edge. That was fine, I knew it would be sub par long before I made the purchase. After I got familiar with the mill I bought a box of 10 Cook’s Xcel Black 144” 1-1/4 x .042×7/8” Blades (CODE: XCEL1212427B). These are far stronger and slightly larger than the factory blade. As such, the saw head did slow down in speed just a fraction, but not enough to matter. With the new blades I’ve been quite busy taking logs that nobody wants, and milling out some stunning boards.

To date, I’m coming up to the 2 thousand board feet mark. I know that is pittens, for commercial rigs, but for one guy on a small mill, that is a mile marker. And I can say that I have milled up far more lumber than my initial investment would buy me at the local lumber yard. The American Elm, and spalted Aspen alone are worth more than the mill. (not all of what I have cut is shown in the photos -there has been much much much more cut than just what these show)

All in all, I’m happy with the rig. And so are my neighbors. And so are a few local hobbyists who stop out now and then for a special board or two. With the spare blades and a method to sharpen them, I’ve taken to cutting some things that make other mills cringe. The oak in the photos would fall into that category. Wood doesn’t bleed black -that’s old fence wire and rifle bullets. It’s more than 50 years old, so the saw has been taking it quite well. I keep a metal scanner close by though -I’m not that crazy to just cut willy nilly into anything. There is not too much more in that old oak that I can cut safely. I will probably manage to pear it down to an 8”x8” beam, leaving as much metal in the center as I can. In some of the other pics are slab-veneers of Norway Pine that the neighbor asked for, some Aspen -some of it spalted, a bit of flames Aspen (orange and pinks oh my!) and a fair bit of American Elm. You can see some shredding on the boards, that was before I cleaned and sharpened the blade.

It’s rough sawn lumber, and that’s half the fun of what we do with a mill! -right? If you are thinking of a mill, this one is not the worst idea you could have. It might prove kinda fun, actually.

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3060 days

12 comments so far

View MrFid's profile


906 posts in 2751 days

#1 posted 09-01-2016 06:09 PM

Thanks for this review. Very good information. I didn’t even know HF made a mill. Would be a fun toy for me someday. I’m glad you’re enjoying yours.

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View Pointer's profile


453 posts in 1958 days

#2 posted 09-01-2016 10:29 PM

Thanks a lot for the info. I have indeed been thinking about and researching mills. I huge mill with hydrolics on it would be great, but as you pointed out, the price is hard to justify. I too just want to saw a few logs to build my projects. I am not interested in going into business. I will take another look at this mill after reading your review.

-- Joe - I am not entirely worthless, I can always serve as a bad example.

View Albert's profile


543 posts in 4436 days

#3 posted 09-02-2016 01:51 PM

Thanks for the review, I bought a different brand and am also having fun with it. Curious about where you get your blades as I don’t find them on the HF website. Also the sharpener you refer to, any more info on it?
Thanks again

View Richard's profile


1940 posts in 3537 days

#4 posted 09-02-2016 04:47 PM

Thanks for the review, I bought a different brand and am also having fun with it. Curious about where you get your blades as I don t find them on the HF website. Also the sharpener you refer to, any more info on it?
Thanks again

- Paul

I don’t know about the sharpener but you can find the blades at this site.

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3060 days

#5 posted 09-03-2016 01:54 AM

Richard has the link for the blades. Sorry I didn’t quite explain where I got them from . But ya, was the site. As for the sharpener, I use my 4” angle grinder with a standard grinder wheel. It’s best if the wheel is slightly used and has a rounded outer edge instead of a square/flat edge. The blades are probably the easiest thing to sharpen. YouTube has a boodle of videos that cover different scenarios as far as sharpening -but they all follow the same basic idea—trace, or just barely graze the shape of the teeth LIGHTLY with a grinder or dremel.

I’ve been using a small angle grinder with a standard grind wheel on it (rounded and well used is better for following the J hook than a new wheel with it’s flat outer edge) I don’t have a saw-set for the teeth, so for a bent tooth I use a large crescent wrench with it’s jaws set close together with the blade between them -semi snug fit. I then take a tiny brass hammer to gently tap the bent tooth to it’s correct pitch while holding the wrench with the other hand to steady the blade. Redneck? Sure. Effective? Yup. But what about the DucTape? Keep it handy for those cut fingers… haha

Cooks does offer a saw set and a blade sharpener, but I’m not quite ready to shell out that much $ for either of those options. There are other sites and places that offer sharpeners too. However, I can maintenance a blade in under 20 minutes with the tools above and be back to cutting lumber in about the time it would take to just set those fancy tools up.

View NormG's profile


6506 posts in 3850 days

#6 posted 09-03-2016 02:57 PM

I also was not aware that HF had a mill, thank you for the review and it is definitely more affordable to me and something that as mush as I would use it cold be a great option

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View DDWW's profile


127 posts in 1473 days

#7 posted 09-08-2016 12:59 AM

It’s one of those dream tools that’s hard to justify for my situation. Every time I’m cutting up a deadfall, maple or black cherry for firewood i stop and think its not that crazy.

Thanks for the review.

View sawmillwidow's profile


1 post in 1322 days

#8 posted 02-05-2017 02:20 PM

My husband wants to buy this mill, I was happy to see the link to where to purchase blades, as I had no luck. If you have had to repair the machine, where did you go to buy parts? Thank you!

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3060 days

#9 posted 02-05-2017 06:34 PM

Repairs? To date, only a minor one -and it did not require a part replacement. I managed to snag the throttle cable and pulled it out of the throttle lever. It was my own dumb fault -something I managed to do when lifting the saw head onto the deck and forgot to make sure my lift straps were in the right spot—I won’t be making that mistake a second time. As for the fix? I just had to reinstall the cable and it’s retainer on the throttle lever. A couple pairs of pliers and a wrench from my toolbox. (and some colorful metaphors for managing to do something dumb…)

Parts? That is probably one of the nicest things about this mill. The engine is straight out of Harbor Freight’s engine catalog -the Predator line. Parts can be sourced for those engines from any competent small engine shop and from HF’s customer service. The internet is also chock full of parts distributors. And if it ever came to it, one could buy a complete new engine right from HF (on sale) and be back in action. Just about any part on the saw can be sourced from your local hardware shop. The bolts, bearings, lift cables, pulley wheels, drive belt, etc could be swapped out or upgraded with locally obtained bits and bobs. If he knows how to swing a wrench, this mill should be easy enough for him to keep it going. *and a purchasing hint: sign up for HF’s email notices and discounts, then go ahead a “view” the HF page for the saw-maybe add it to your cart, then let it sit there for a few days. Maybe a friend of yours could view it too, but not make a purchase effort. In about a week or so you might find that HF sends you or your friend a super coupon for an additional % off -then the drop the sale price on the mill too ;-) ( I confess, this is how I played the game last spring, hehe)

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3060 days

#10 posted 02-05-2017 06:58 PM

Just a few shots of the stuff I milled out last summer… boards range from just under 9’ to just over 5’. My finally tally on total board feet cut last year was just over 4,100.

View Albert's profile


543 posts in 4436 days

#11 posted 02-06-2017 03:30 PM

Do you ever have trouble with ‘wavy’ cuts? I find that a new blade cuts well but only for a very short time. We cut a lot of Douglas Fir and I think it may be junk in the bark that is dulling the blades. Kind of a hassle to change the blades and it gets expensive to have them sharpened or replaced.

View Von's profile


238 posts in 3060 days

#12 posted 02-06-2017 05:25 PM

Ya, junk in the blade can really mess things up. I try to peel the bark whenever possible. And I’ve got into a habit of sharpening the blade when I see any marks or changes in the cut patterns, especially with oak and sappy pines. I try to keep the blade tensioned & sharp as best I can. It’s a small mill so that doesn’t take much. I imagine a larger rig would involve more work in that regard. I know with old pine logs, if I’m moving too fast the blade gums up and makes a funky cut at each branch node. Sometimes I just have to move a little slower through certain species. Green Pople, Aspen, and green Ash now… those are like butter and this thing slides right through those.

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