Log Busting Without A Chainsaw Guide

Working with wood is most enjoyable to me when I can just grab a tool and get to work – forget the tape measure, the jigs, and the worry. It is one of the reasons that I really like to work at the sawmill. One of my favorite things to do is bust up big logs with my chainsaw so they will fit on the sawmill or to prepare them for quartersawing, or better yet, just to move them.

I have an old 742 Bobcat that is rated to work with 1,500 pounds, which isn’t much when the logs get big. But, that doesn’t stop me. I just cut the logs lengthwise to lighten the load. People always ask me how big of a log I can cut (in reference to my sawmill). And, I always tell them, “As big as I want if I have my chainsaw.” By the way, my TimberKing 1220 sawmill will process a 30″ diameter log without any chainsaw work and cut boards up to 24″ wide. To a lot of people it seems crazy, like I am cutting the tree the wrong direction, but it works. It takes a little while, but it works.

Scott lining up cut

When I get ready to break down a log, I only use the chainsaw (nothing on the bar to guide the cut). This gives me maximum flexibility, even if it is daunting at first. Daunting or not, you would be amazed how good the freehand cut can be with just a little practice (that doesn’t mean that I haven’t made some terrible freehand cuts).

My Stihl MS 440 is not a giant saw, but has a 30" bar which will get through the middle of most logs I meet.

My Stihl MS 440 is not a giant saw, but has a 30″ bar which will get through the middle of most logs I meet.

When it comes to chainsawing a potentially valuable tree, I wasn’t always so cavalier. I would mark, remark, cut, check, recheck and cut again to make sure I wasn’t screwing it up. Now, after some practice, I realize it isn’t so hard, and rarely do I mess it up too bad. To help you not mess it up at all, I have some advice. It starts with only a minuscule amount of planning and a micron of forethought. After that it’s just you and your chainsaw.

Here is the plan of attack (This works for all lengthwise cuts on a log, but is shown on the flat face of a half log below):

First, decide where you want the cut to start and make a mark on the top of one end that you can see from the other end (I just make a small chainsaw cut). Then, swing around to the opposite end and make a mark where you want the cut to finish. Next, make a shallow marking cut using your entire bar. Start with the back end of the bar on your original mark and drop the front end of the saw on to the log in line with your mark at the other end. The idea here is to start your straight line by aiming at the finish point. After you mark the log, swing back to the side you started on and do the same thing.

Make a shallow cut on each end to make sure they line up.

Make a shallow cut on each end and make sure they line up.

At this point the log will be marked on both ends the length of your bar. Sight down these two lines to make sure they are in line with each other and then connect them. If they aren’t lined up, adjust now, before you get to deep. Trust your eye, it will tell you all you need to know. Imagine you are eyeing up lumber at Home Depot, but now you can fix the crooked wood. If you don’t trust your eye you can use other guides, like a straight board or a chalkline if you want, but I say trust your eye.

After the two end cuts line up connect them in the middle.

After the two end cuts line up, connect them in the middle.

After you have scored the log, it is time to start cutting. I like to work the entire line, going back and forth and dropping a little deeper each time. I keep doing this until my chainsaw is at a pretty steep angle, and I feel like I have a nice cut to guide the saw. After that, I aim the bar down as deep as necessary to finish the cut. I work myself along the log and make sure to leave the end cut for last. If you cut the end first then you have to finish in the middle of the log. This is dangerous because your body will be next to the log when it breaks apart and squishy things could happen. Finish with your body off to the end of the log.

The cut is finished!

The cut is finished!

That’s all there is to it. With a little practice your cuts will be straighter than you imagined. Trust your eye and let the sawdust fly.

Note: There are chainsaw guides available like the Beam Machine and the Alaskan Mini Mill which guide the chainsaw along a piece of lumber or track. These work fine and give a straighter cut than freehand cutting. I find that they work well for shallow cuts but are harder to use with a big saw making deep cuts. They are much easier to set up on the flat cut face of a log half compared to the round outside of a log for the first cut. I am not against using these guides and I know that I lose a little bit of lumber because of imperfect freehand cuts, but I like the freedom of being able to do whatever I need when I need it with just my chainsaw.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

9 responses to “Log Busting Without A Chainsaw Guide”

  1. Jay C. White Cloud says :

    Great job Scott. How will you finish milling it?

    • wunderwoods says :

      The sycamore in the photo was quartersawn on the sawmill next. If I am flatsawing the log and it won’t fit on the mill, I just cut off one side and then mill that piece separately. Each log is treated differently depending on the final product I hope to make from it.

  2. matt says :

    So you have the Timberking up and running?

  3. wunderwoods says :

    Not quite yet. It is cleaned up and I have it set up in the new shop. I have a 15 hp electric motor that we have started wiring up. I still need to get the motor mounted too. It has a bigger footprint than the gas engine and needs a new baseplate.

  4. David Longo says :

    How do you secure the log?

    • wunderwoods says :

      Sometimes I throw a wedge under it if it is uncooperative, but I try not to. It is better if both ends are free to fall apart when the cut is finished. Just make sure to finish the cut at the ends, so your legs aren’t under the pieces when they come apart.

      • David Peters says :

        What’s your process for making the initial rip cut down the log? I can’t picture how you’d hold it to allow the bar to pass through.

      • wunderwoods says :

        I get the log off of the ground and on 4x4s to cut all the way through. If it is wider than my bar, I cut half way through, flip it over and then cut the other half.

  5. JP says :

    GREAT tips! Thanks Dude!

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