As we prepare to make our move to the homestead permanent, Philip was thrilled to purchase a brand new Woodland Mills HM 130 MAX Portable Sawmill. After weeks of waiting and anticipation, Philip got the call in late December that the sawmill was en route to Kowalski Mountain. He packed up and headed to the homestead to receive the ultimate Christmas present. Read about it here. We planned our first workcation of 2022 with the primary task of assembling the Woodland Mills sawmill!
An Unexpected Work Crew
The week prior to our trip, Philip was chatting with his son Eric. He was telling him about the trip and our primary task. Eric, Jess, and Weston decided to be spontaneous and take an unexpected weekend trip to the homestead to give us a hand! As always we love to spend time with our children and grandchildren! We were especially thrilled to have help in assembling the ultimate erector set, the woodland mills sawmill.
We travel at night, which means we enjoy lighter traffic through the major cities. However, the downside is we never get enough rest. I get some sleep in the truck, but Philip works all day loading the truck and then drives all night. This trip he did stop and rest for about 1 1/2 hours at a rest stop when he felt he was too tired to drive. However, when we arrived we hit the ground running! Philip never even slows down, he just keeps going full blast until he heads to bed a little bit earlier than normal that evening.
Eric and Jess arrived the night before us and had the off-grid systems up and running. After a quick breakfast sandwich and minor repairs that needed immediate attention, Philip was ready to get to work! By 9:30 AM the morning we arrived Philip asked if I was ready to begin assembling the Woodland Mills sawmill?! He would have started earlier too, but I told him I needed some time to get set up to record this epic task!
Up First: The Woodland Mills Sawmill Trailer
After the guys started opening the boxes and crates, they quickly learned that assembling the sawmill starts with the trailer. Philip opted to purchase the trailer package as an additional accessory. He wanted to keep the sawmill portable which will allow us to mill lumber close to the work area. With 68 acres, this flexibility will really help us stage materials right where we need them. Rather than loading, hauling, and then unloading materials all over the homestead, we can mill the lumber on the building site.
When Philip and Eric got started that morning, it was barely over freezing (if it even was). After a short time of working in the cold, Philip decided it would be best to build the sawmill in the barn. He got the woodstove going, where everyone could work more comfortably. While it was a bit warmer, it was also a lot more cramped. The trailer we purchased is over 16 feet long and we started a little closer to the woodstove than we should have. We had to move the entire operation forward at one point because we needed more space to extend the full track of the trailer.
All Hand on Deck
When I finally got him set up, I took Jess and Weston to see the waterfall. Since they always visit us in hunting season, they had never seen it! I naively thought the sawmill would be a project that Philip and Eric would work on together. I told Philip I’d be back to check on his batteries on the camera and we set off.
When we returned, Philip exclaimed that this was the worst Christmas Eve nightmare he had ever experienced! Remember all those late Christmas Eves doing important work for Santa? This task rivaled all other assembly projects and had them completely overwhelmed. Keep in mind, Philip was running on very little sleep. He was doing his best, but this job required all of us to be at the top of our game to decipher the multiple instruction manuals, the complex instructions, and over a hundred pieces. Just sorting out the components was a huge job!
The First Operator’s Manual
The sawmill trailer operator’s manual is the first manual we tackled. It’s 56 pages of diagrams and detailed instructions. I struggle to visualize projects. When working through any type of challenging instructions, I have a hard time visualizing the results until I have done it wrong, at which time it makes perfect sense. Now that the sawmill is assembled, I can flip through the manual and understand some of the instructions more clearly.
In our family, Philip is the mechanically minded engineer but his exhausted state was really clouding his ability. Thankfully Eric took the lead and really helped get us started. Philip told Eric, just guide me, I’ll build it…. and we did!
Helpful Hints When Assembling the Woodland Mills Sawmill
The sawmill and trailer come in heavy steel crates to project them in shipment. I was impressed that the manual actually directed us to use the steel crate as a base to build the sawmill on. This really helped to set up the pieces and put them together.
Philip felt it was easiest to have someone who can read the manual and direct the construction. While it really helped that we had a work crew, it was still challenging to navigate the instruction.
The Right Tools
Growing up my Daddy always said that the right tools make the job easier! Assembling the sawmill was no exception. One of the most indispensable tools we used on this project was the Hercules 20 V Lithium Cordless Impact Drill. At the beginning of the video, you will see us tightening bolts the old-fashioned way with two ratchet wrenches. Philip quickly learned that that was not going to be the most efficient way to tackle this major project. The impact drill made it possible for even our 4-year-old grandson to get in on the action to help his Papa put the sawmill together. I’m sure this is a moment we will treasure as the years pass.
We could not have done this project without the bobcat! The operator’s manual actually says that some of the tasks need to be done with the help of another person. I completely disagree! There is absolutely no way that two people could safely do some of these tasks. It required lifting heavy components, lining them up precisely, and balancing them until the hardware could be secured. It’s not at all a two-person job!
Challenges While Assembling the Woodland Mills Sawmill
The trailer was extremely challenging. The sawmill itself comes with all the hardware needed to build the sawmill as a standalone mill. Since we ordered the trailer as an additional purchase, we also were sent all the additional hardware for the trailer. In hindsight, I can see the sense of that, we did pay for the hardware whether we opted to use it or not. Personally, I find it very unsettling to have extra hardware when finished assembling a project and with this project, we had a lot! I also think it would have been helpful to lay out the pieces in a very organized manner. Keeping the components separate from the sawmill and trailer package, especially knowing now that there would be extra hardware.
We were frustrated to have so many components unlabeled in the packages. I lost count of how many bags of bolts and nuts had no labels at all. This made it very challenging when sorting hardware and trying our best to put this project together seamlessly.
The trailer came with materials and parts for US construction and also European construction. Things like trailer lighting and the hitch are different in different countries and required different components to make them street legal. The manual included instructions and parts lists for both options on the same page and in the same diagrams which made it very confusing.
Making it Street Legal
Jess and I headed up most of the wiring for the lights. We were cruising along getting all the wiring secure, only to realize that once the clips were screwed in there was no room for adjustments. We had to back up, remove the screws, pull the wiring taught, and secure it again. I was slightly concerned that we could damage the wiring harness, as it was below freezing the day we were tackling that job. Often plastic becomes fragile in cold weather. However, we finished it without issue. The hitch itself was a part where we had trouble locating the correct hardware. Philip had to be a bit more creative to determine what unlabeled hardware we needed to attach the hitch of the trailer.
The Second Instruction Manual
By the second day, we had the trailer mostly assembled. It would still need quite a bit of adjustment along the way! The trailer must be exactly right to be completely balanced so that the saw travels smoothly along the tracks. The trailer assembly instructions end with attaching the safety chain and then go directly into how to lock down the sawhead to the trailer. The diagrams show a completely assembled sawhead but no instructions on how to get there.
After exhausting all other options, I start searching the internet for instructions. I was easily able to pull up the instruction manual on the Woodland Mills website. That helped immensely to know exactly what book I was looking for but I couldn’t find it anywhere in our supplies. Finally, we realized that the Operator’s Manual we needed was on the saw itself. The sawmill has a convenient tube used to store the manual right on the mill where you will need it most. This 116-page manual not only includes all the safety guidelines for using the sawmill, how to maintain it, but also 51 pages on assembling the sawmill.
When we got to the point of assembling the sawhead, we first had to assemble some of the support components. The black carriage legs came fully assembled, but the first thing we had to do was take them apart. I was completely baffled why we would receive assembled components that we would need to disassemble. The reason this happened is that we purchased the trailer package. There is a special headlock plate that is required to lock the saw in place so that the trailer can be moved. A standalone sawmill would not require the saw to be fixed and stabilized in the same way.
To remedy that, the instruction manual gives instructions and the extra components to add to the carriage legs for the trailer package. To add these components, the carriage legs have to be disassembled. Personally, I think it would be nice if you purchase the trailer package, that the carriage legs sent to you were appropriate for the trailer without disassembling the pieces. However, I imagine that allowing the buyer to make the changes does keep the costs down and allow Woodland Mills to keep their prices reasonable.
Lifting the Sawhead
When it came time to lift the sawhead out of the crate and insert the front posts, the instructions say to rest the sawmill approximately 6 inches off the ground. Eric and Philip did try to lift the sawmill but immediately realized that the task was going to be too much for two people.
Philip’s everyday job doing tree work requires him to daily lift and move heavy logs all by himself. He is very well versed in using straps, chains, and pulleys to make heavy lifting easier. When looking over the actual sawhead of the sawmill he realized there wasn’t any place to safely strap the sawhead without crushing it when the strap tightened. Philip found an anchor point that he suspects the manufacturer uses to move the saw in the warehouse. This allowed him to attach an eye bolt to the saw and use it as an anchor point to lift the saw without crushing it.
Assembling the Sawhead
Once we got the sawhead out of the metal crate, we needed to mount it on the legs and posts. The saw includes a pulley system that allows the sawyer to lower and raise the blade to make the cuts needed. The main posts are fitted through a teflon sleeve. To make this easier a cap is placed at the bottom of the post. I suspect it keeps the post from damaging the teflon sleeve. Once the post is through the sleeve, the cap is removed. We finally accomplished this using a mallet. Once through the sleeve, the posts were fitted into the carriage legs and the saw could stand securely. Philip and Eric added the rear post and cross beams to the top, along with the lubrication tank.
Once the sawhead was securely assembled, it was time to connect the pulleys. Since the saw was sitting at its lowest point, we had to lift the sawhead slightly to allow us to screw the pulleys into their anchor points. When lifting the sawhead, it has to lift perfectly even, or it would bind up and not slide. We ended up using the bobcat along with a bit of shaking to lift the sawhead enough to make the connections. In the video, you will see some of the trust exercises we engage in on the homestead!
The Coming Together: The Sawhead and the Trailer
Once assembled, it was time to put it all together! The manual describes two methods, using a tractor and winch straps with a rating to hold 1000 pounds or at least two people walking the sawhead to the track. I don’t see at all how two people could lift the sawhead. We were further challenged by the fact that we built the trailer in the barn, but the sawhead was assembled on the pallet outside of the barn quite a distance away.
Now assembled, the lifting eyes could be used to lift the sawhead. Philip got it lifted using the bobcat and Eric jumped right on the front to keep the saw from swinging. That was quite a feat to lean out to secure the sawhead without slipping off himself. I hugged him more than once thanking him for all of his help. He saved me from the role of lead assistant and a good bit of heavy lifting!
After the careful traverse across the barnyard, Philip lifted the sawhead high above the trailer and we carefully lowered it into place. The ground in front of the barn is covered with rock, but some areas were softer than others and the trailer sunk a bit as the sawhead was lowered. That made the trailer unlevel which caused the sawhead to roll unevenly.
Wrapping up Assembling the Woodland Mills Sawmill
After two full days of assembling the Woodland Mills sawmill, it was finally 95% finished. We took our celebratory picture as a family! Philip would still tinker and make adjustments for several days. Once assembled we realized that the tracks needed some tweaking and better alignment for the saw to roll smoothly. Philip would also still need to add all the log clamps and log supports that secure the logs while they are being cut.
After Eric, Jess and Weston headed home, Philip and I had the task of getting the sawmill out of the barn. Due to its length, it wasn’t in a good place that would allow us to easily hook it up. So while Philip pulled and steered, I pushed with all my might so we could get the sawmill out of the barn. Thankfully we didn’t need to go far and he could use the ranger to move the sawmill into place.
Preparing for the Inaugural Log
Once Philip was satisfied with the placement of the sawmill, he would begin all the prestart checks that would ensure the blade and belts were set correctly and the saw was ready for the inaugural log.
Assembling the Woodland Mills Sawmill was a challenge that tested our team skills. At times some of our homestead projects seem bigger than our abilities. I still remember the two of us lifting the 40-foot beam on the front of the barn and it fell (read about it here). I said to Philip, maybe this is out of our abilities? Of course, he’d hear nothing of that! He just hadn’t figured it out yet!
Every one of these team-building projects prepares us for the project of our lifetime, building our home. The sawmill is the gateway that will make that dream possible. We will harvest the trees and build our home, right here on Kowalski Mountain.
Join Us Assembling the Woodland Mills HM130 MAX Sawmill
This project took 2 days of assembly work and then lots of fine-tuning over the next few days. I have hours of video and have tried my best to condense this into a video that you might enjoy. I’ve included some of our frustration but also some of the fun we had along the way. Enjoy.
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.