What Size Chainsaw for Milling: A Comprehensive Guide

What Size Chainsaw for Milling?

Choosing the right size chainsaw is crucial for successful and efficient milling. The chainsaw you use can make or break your milling project. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when selecting a chainsaw for milling lumber, recommend ideal chainsaw sizes and models, overview essential milling accessories, and share pro tips for maintenance and techniques. Whether you’re milling small logs or large diameters, softwood or hardwood, this article will help you determine the best chainsaw for your needs. Let’s get started!

What Size Chainsaw for Milling?

When picking a chainsaw for milling, you need one with enough power and bar length to handle the wood you’ll be cutting. The main factors to consider are:

Engine Displacement

The engine displacement, measured in cubic centimeters (cc), indicates how powerful a chainsaw is. For milling purposes, you’ll want at least 60cc for small, softwood logs. But for milling hardwoods or logs over 20 inches, look for 90cc or larger chainsaws to have sufficient power.


Bar Length

Longer bars allow you to make wider cuts in a single pass. A good rule of thumb is to choose a bar that’s 2-4 inches longer than the diameter of logs you expect to mill. Most chainsaw bars for milling range from 18-36 inches.

Power-to-Weight Ratio

Look for a chainsaw with a high power-to-weight ratio to ensure it has enough cutting force without being overly heavy and hard to maneuver. Lightweight chainsaws around 10-12 lbs are ideal for prolonged milling work.

Intended Use

Consider the type of milling you plan to do. Smaller logs and softwoods like pine require less power than hardwoods like oak. And milling large, wide diameter logs needs a larger, more robust chainsaw than milling narrow boards.

What Size Chainsaw for Milling? - Full Guide [2024]

Recommended Chainsaw Sizes For Milling

Based on the factors above, here are the recommended chainsaw sizes for different milling scenarios:

  • For small logs under 16 inches diameter and milling softwoods, a 60cc chainsaw with an 18-24 inch bar is sufficient. This covers lightweight milling tasks.
  • When milling larger logs up to 36 inches or hardwoods like maple, hickory, oak, opt for a 90cc or larger chainsaw with a 25-36 inch bar. This provides enough power and reach for tougher milling jobs.

I’ll next overview specific chainsaw models and brands that work well for milling various project types and log sizes.

Chainsaw Brands and Models for Milling

Popular chainsaw manufacturers like Stihl and Husqvarna make specific models suitable for chainsaw milling operations. Here are top options to consider:

Stihl Chainsaws

When it comes to chainsaws, Stihl is a leading brand with an excellent reputation. Great Stihl models for milling include:

  • Stihl MS 660 – 121cc workhorse for larger logs with available 36 inch bar
  • Stihl MS 362 – 59cc all-rounder good for softwood and smaller logs
  • Stihl MS 880 – 196cc brute for heavy-duty milling of massive logs

Husqvarna Chainsaws

Known for rugged reliability, Husqvarna also produces recommended milling chainsaw options like:

  • Husqvarna 395XP – 94cc pro-grade saw ideal for hardwood milling
  • Husqvarna 460 Rancher – 60cc entry-level saw sufficient for hobby milling
  • Husqvarna 3120XP – 121cc milling and ripping powerhouse

No matter the log size or wood type you need to mill, Stihl and Husqvarna offer quality chainsaws up for the task. I’ll next overview the must-have accessories that make chainsaw milling possible.

Chainsaw Milling Attachments and Accessories

To transform your chainsaw into an efficient milling machine, a couple key attachments are needed:

Alaskan Mill

An Alaskan mill is a guide rail that securely clamps onto your chainsaw bar to enable straight, even cuts. It provides a stable, parallel track for milling flat boards and wide slabs from logs. Most Alaskan mills are made from aircraft-grade aluminum for durability when dealing with intense chainsaw vibrations.

Ripping Chains

For clean and fast cross-grain cuts, use a ripping chain designed specifically for milling rather than a regular cross-cut chain. Ripping chains have a squarer cutter profile that slices through wood fibers with less resistance than standard chains. This prevents overheating and kickback when milling.

Proper maintenance and handling is also critical for safe, trouble-free chainsaw milling. Let’s look at some key areas to keep your equipment in top shape.

Tips for Efficient Chainsaw Milling

With the right saw setup and techniques, you can mill lumber safely, accurately, and productively:

Proper Chainsaw Setup

  • Maintain proper chain tension – tight but not too tight. This allows smooth cutting without looseness.
  • Check guide bar nuts/screws are tight before each use to reduce movement.
  • Set rakers height perfectly to the depth gauge for fastest chip ejection.

Safe and Efficient Milling Techniques

  • Cut cookie/starter boards first to prevent pinching along the length of the log.
  • Use wedge cuts at the end of boards to release tension and prevent binding.
  • Pay attention to grain direction and cut downhill when possible.
  • Take breaks regularly to let your saw cool and refuel. Friction heats up metal quickly.

With the right chainsaw selection, accessories, and techniques, you’ll be milling lumber successfully in no time!


Determining the ideal chainsaw size and model for your milling purposes is key to achieving the best results. Consider factors like intended use, log diameters, wood type, power-to-weight ratio, and bar length when selecting a milling-ready chainsaw. Models from trusted brands like Stihl and Husqvarna in the 60cc to 120cc range typically work well outfitted with Alaskan mills and ripping chains. 

Proper maintenance and setup ensures your equipment runs safely and efficiently. Mastering secure handling techniques like wedge cuts, grain awareness, and preventing kickback will have you milling boards and slabs to your exact specs. With this comprehensive guide, you now have the knowledge to choose and operate the perfect chainsaw to transform logs into usable lumber for your next woodworking project. Happy milling!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the smallest chainsaw I can use for milling?

The minimum chainsaw size recommended for milling is 60cc. This is sufficient for handling small diameter logs under 16 inches and milling softwoods. Any smaller and you risk lack of power, overheating, and safety issues.

How do I know if my chainsaw is suitable for milling?

Check the engine displacement, bar length, and power-to-weight ratio. Look for at least 60cc displacement, 18 inch and longer bar, and a robust power-to-weight ratio. Also ensure it can handle vibrations and has available milling accessories.

How often should I maintain my chainsaw for milling?

Frequent maintenance is key when milling. Inspect, clean, and replace parts as needed before each use. Pay special attention to the bar, chain, air filter, and oiling system. Proper care prevents breakdowns and safety hazards.

Can I use a battery-powered chainsaw for milling?

Battery chainsaws are not recommended for milling. They lack the sustained power and tendency to overheat needed to make long rip cuts through dense wood. Stick to gas-powered chainsaws for chainsaw milling.

How do I choose the right chainsaw bar length for milling?

Select a bar 2-4 inches longer than the diameter of logs you expect to mill. For example, a 24 inch bar for milling 20 inch logs. Longer bars allow wider cuts, but too long can increase risk of bending and kickback.

What is the difference between a ripping chain and a standard chain?

A ripping chain has chisel-shaped cutters designed to sever wood fibers faster on the horizontal. This results in smoother, faster milling than standard cross-cutting chains which operate best on vertical cuts.

How can I prevent my chainsaw from overheating during milling?

Using a chainsaw with adequate power for the task, maintaining proper chain tension, letting the saw cool between cuts, and using appropriate lubrication will help prevent overheating during prolonged milling.

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