On Farm Sawmill

Today, I would like to introduce you to one of Joel’s all time favorite pieces of equipment.

The Turner Band Sawmill

Turner Band Sawmill

When Daniel and I first got engaged, over 12 years ago now, we decided to build a house on the farm. What you probably know about Polyface Farm is that it sits in the Shenandoah Valley up against the Allegheny Mountains. What you might not know about Polyface is that out of 550 acres, only about 100 of these acres are open pasture land. The rest is forest.

Lots of trees.

Admittedly, I do not know very much about silviculture or forestry. I don’t live it and breathe it like Daniel and Joel do. However, I do know that I love wood. Everything about it.

It breathes, it’s natural, it’s beautiful.

We were a young couple just starting out in 2002. Neither one of us have ever been big money spenders. Daniel had been working a man’s job on the farm since he was about 14 years old, earning nearly a man’s salary. I’m telling you all this to say this.

Because of the on farm band sawmill, our commitment to save money while we were young, and building small, we were able to build our house debt free.

We cut and milled all of our own wood from right here on the farm. All of the support structure of the house is oak, the wall paneling is poplar, our stairs are walnut, and the hard wood floors are a mixture of various oak woods – red, white, etc.

Logs to be milled

We paid an Amish mill nearby to plane the boards for the flooring and the walls. And a nearby kiln dried the wood for us. We have since learned to dry our own wood. A kiln is unnecessary when you have hoophouses.

This is the way that I understand the process of drying or curing wood. Basically, you want to take the wood through every stage of its life as quickly as possible. High temperature changes, moisture content. When we have building projects now, this is what we do.


In the winter time, when things are slower on the farm, we harvest the trees and mill them.


Then in the summer when the days are hot, we sticker the wood (this means that we put 1″ x 1″ pieces of sticks between each layer of wood to allow for air circulation), and stack it in the greenhouses. The hoophouses get closed up tight. During the days it gets really hot in there, but at night the temperatures plummet and condensation even drips from the plastic on the roof. Then next day, it does it again.

Any board that is going to warp, will.

wood from sawmill

Ideally they would stay in the hoophouse for several months. Sometimes we push this time a little. The following fall, the wood is ready to be used.

wood from sawmill

Daniel and I learned this the hard way. We had the wall paneling in our house professionally kiln dried. Which was great, but our house isn’t air tight, meaning we don’t have air conditioning and we don’t live in a climate controlled environment.

When we put up the paneling in our house, the wood was very dry. So we butted each piece of shiplapped board against the other. Overnight, the wood soaked up moisture from the air and because the boards were so tightly lapped, the center boards in our entire kitchen area split down the center. There was no room to expand.


We took the wall down and started over, this time leaving a bigger gap between the boards to allow for change in weather. Today, we say that our walls are our barometer. During the winter, when our woodstove is fired up, all of the paneling in our house shrink and the cracks between the boards are larger. During hot, summer days, the wood expands with and you couldn’t stick a paper in the crack if you wanted to!

The shiplapping is very forgiving in this way. You can’t see the insulation behind the walls even with the change in the wood. See what I mean by breathing?

Now, we’ve been married 11 years and 3 kids later, we’ve found our small house a bit too small. The kids are all piled into one room and the boys are nearing 11 and 9 and starting to need their own space, away from little sister.

houseWe’re adding on a room to the house. This room is to connect our basement with the rest of the house. We built the house into a hill and rather than waste all the hill space, we added an unfinished basement with one side out of the ground entirely. In the last 5-6 years, the basement has been an ongoing project of finishing. It now has a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and a small space for my canned goods.

Most years, our apprentice manager has lived down there. Last year, Leanna lived in our basement. She has since married Eric and is no longer in need of her own space. 😉

Now, with the room connecting the house with the basement, we’ll be able to use the basement as extra bedroom space. Pretty exciting.

New Room

So, yes, when you use your own sawmill, and dry all the wood yourself, you have to plan well in advance for building projects. But the money it saves is well worth the time, don’t you think?

If you’re interested in learning more about Turner Band Sawmills, you can find out more information here.

The Salatin rule of thumb. If you have trees and plan on building anything, even a small barn, the band sawmill is worth the money. We have the trailer model with a 16 foot deck and the 24 HP Motor. I can’t even begin to list all of the projects we have built using this mill. Easy to run, easy to maintain. By far, it is Joel and Daniel’s most favorite mill out there.

Here’s video of their sawmill working.

Happy Friday!

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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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11 Responses to On Farm Sawmill

  1. Eugene says:

    Great article about the mill. Wise advice too.

  2. Sherry Hicklin (Lela''s mom:) says:

    Hi Sheri,
    I want one!

  3. Mike Hutson says:

    Quite amazing, wish I was young again.

  4. Erin Herner says:

    I love wood everything too. You have such a beautiful house. It”s so awesome that you and Daniel built it yourself.

  5. Ms. Daisy says:

    Your house is so beautiful. That new room is breathtaking. And how cool will it be for your kids to look at it as they are grandparents and have that heritage to say that their parents built that house with their own two hands (or four…or a much higher multiple of two from the help you likely got). I love it!

  6. Sarah says:

    We had a guy with a mill come in January to mill up a huge maple tree that was hanging over our barn. We have stacks and stacks of boards everywhere we could store them. We look forward to using them in a year or two. What a fantastic machine, if we had one onsite all the time we would have milled so much more over the past 4 years.

  7. Kristin says:

    Very cool! My brother has a sawmill, too. I love wood as well. You just cant beat the real thing!

  8. Katie Benz says:

    Fascinating information! Everything I read here makes me long to live on a farm:)

  9. C Jay Page says:

    Sherrie, perhaps you know of a family like this. Below is the email sent to me. The guy is looking because National Geographic wants to do this show about a family who wants to get off grid. Hopefully there would be money in it that might help that family actually get off grid.

    ” My name is Robert DeRoeck. I am a Casting Associate working with a well-known and reputable major cable network to cast a new tv show about moving people off the grid. I am a regular member of a CSA in Denver, CO, and I wanted to reach out to you to see if you or anyone you know would be interested in this opportunity.

    The show is called Swiss Family Robinson, and We are looking for a family with a strong-minded father and two teenaged boys who want to live on a sustainable homestead in a warm climate.

    I would love to send you our Press Release and Flyer for you to take a look at. Please feel free to forward this information to any of your farm contributors or subscribers. We want to give the right family the opportunity of a lifetime.

    Most Sincerely,

    Robert L DeRoeck
    Casting Associate
    Metal Flowers Media, LLC
    (323) 552-9817″

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