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Ripsaw Makes Lumber for Washington Man

Low-cost portable sawmill from Better Built Corp. relies on chain saw power head

By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 1/7/2003

PORT ANGELES, Washington — Wayne Mabrey first got an inkling that he needed an affordable portable sawmill like the Ripsaw over eight years ago when he faced a pile of cedar logs on his property.

"I’d had some alder logged out of a boggy area," Wayne explained. In the process, the contractor pulled out a bunch of long-abandoned cedar logs that had been felled about 40 years earlier and left in the forest. The cedar logs were short, so they were not valuable at the time and were left behind.

Even though the logs were pulled out of a wet, boggy area of Wayne’s 35-acre property, they had not deteriorated significantly. Since they were in good condition, he thought about using them for siding.

"I found a mill up the road," he said "I asked them if they would slice up this cedar. It took a good six months to get it back. I thought to myself, ‘This would have been so much simpler if I had a mill on site.’ "

That was the spark that got Wayne interested in investing in a portable sawmill. His land contains 20 acres of timber. The species include Western red cedar, Douglas fir, curly maple, red alder, spruce and yew.There are many portable sawmills on the market, he noted, but not in his price range. "You’re talking $15,000 to $50,000," he said. "That’s not something an old farmer living in the boonies can afford," he joked.

"Then my son introduced me to the Ripsaw, and I said, ‘This is just what I’m looking for.’ I bought it immediately."

Now there are three Ripsaws in the Mabrey family. Wayne owns one, and two sons own one each. The Ripsaw, which utilizes a chain saw power head but runs thin-kerf band blades, can be operated by one person. It weighs only 45 pounds and can be easily carried. It can mill lumber 14 inches wide and from 1/8-inch to 9 inches thick.

Wayne has maintained and repaired the Ripsaw himself. The manufacturer, Better Built Corp., "doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for replacement parts," he said. "And they come as quickly as I want to pay to get them shipped. They’ve been very good with technical help."

"A little skill is involved," Wayne added. "You have to develop a feel for it." Wayne has used his Ripsaw portable sawmill to make lumber for outbuildings, a deck and other home projects.

When it comes to handling some of the big logs of the Pacific Northwest, Wayne and one of his sons have come up with a special technique combining two sawmills. They use the Ripsaw for horizontal cuts and a chain saw mill for vertical cuts to make a cant, which they resaw on the Ripsaw. Another option they sometimes use: splitting the log length-wise with the chain saw mill.

"I swear by the Ripsaw for making 1-inch and 2-inch lumber," Wayne said. At first he used it with a Stihl 034 chain saw. Later he replaced that model with a more powerful one, the Stihl 046. "The more power, the better," he said. "With the 046 I’ve got power to spare."

As for blade sharpening, Wayne does not bother. He simply replaces a blade when it turns dull. "I buy a new blade for $14, and I get well more than $14 worth of lumber," he explained. "The economy of that doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve had two boxes of a dozen blades over the years."

He gave some rough figures to emphasize his point. He invested about $300 in blades, $1,400 for the Ripsaw, and $500 for the chain saw power head — a total of about $2,200-$2,300. "I’ve had a lot more than $2,300 worth of lumber," he said.

With 20 acres of standing timber, he has lots more opportunity in front of him. "I wished I’d had the Ripsaw for the last 20 years instead of eight years," he concluded.

(Editor’s Note: the Ripsaw now is priced at $1,489, and blades are $16-$18 each.)


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