Peterson Portable Sawmill

By: Robert Crafar, Photography by: Robert Crafar

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Fallen trees can be a menace, but the easy-to-use Peterson portable sawmill, is a handy tool for cleaning up the farm, recycling wood and chopping firewood

Peterson Portable Sawmill
Peterson Portable Sawmill
  • Straight, precise cutting with the aid of sizing devices and heavy duty blade
  • Easy to set up with light weight tracks and wheelbarrow-like centre unit
  • Diesel motor and durable blade mean it is cheap to run
  • Blade can be sharpened on the job in about five minutes
  • Versatile cutting ability, to chop and change cuts to suit the log

Peterson Portable Sawmills has been manufacturing the swingblade portable sawmill in Rotorua for many years, selling mills all over the world. When it was first released in the 1980s there had never been another portable swingblade mill on the market. The swingblade sawmills utilise one circular blade that pivots horizontally and vertically to allow the operator to cut dimensional lumber to their own specifications.

The Winch Production Frame (WPF) is Peterson’s most popular model, with its one-point raise and lower system for efficient adjustments, and Hi/Lo track system enabling the operator to load their logs under the high track or over the low track.

I had some native matai logs lined up from the swamps around Pureora. After completing the necessary salvage permit documents for MAF and being granted acceptance for milling, I found a spot and set up the mill.


The WPF was easy to set up. On a fairly level piece of ground, I set the two stands parallel and slotted the 6m standard tracks into them. Optional track extensions are available, and the track length is unlimited.

The main carriage has detachable wheels at one end, making it easy to move around by one person. When sliding the motor over the wheels, the other end can be lifted and the entire carriage, motor included, can be moved around like a wheelbarrow. Getting the carriage in place was simple.


Vertical adjustment on the WPF is taken care of by the optional electric winch, which has a hand-held controller with up and down buttons. Using a circular spiral gauge on the upright of the main carriage nearest the operator, I was able to accurately adjust the level of the blade by measuring the thickness of the board I wanted to cut, which could be anywhere up to 250mm on this particular machine.

Horizontal adjustment is by way of a manual winder handle, which slides the centre unit across the carriage. A measuring scale with adjustable stopper allows the operator to create precise cuts up to 250mm.


The motor on the WPF was a Lombardini 23hp diesel with an electric start and was quite fuel efficient; with an average of about two litres per hour.

Drive line

The drive line on the WPF consists of a centrifugal clutch on the motor, which allows the motor to idle without the blade turning. The clutch drives triple A section V-belts that are connected to a right angle drive gear box, and the blade is mounted to the output shaft.


Swinging the blade from the horizontal position to the vertical position is done manually in one easy motion by unclipping it from one position, pushing it across and clipping it into the other position. I found the end of the lever had very little clearance between it and the forward/back carriage handle when swinging the blade.


The blade is able to do a 250mm (10") cut in one pass, although it was easier on the motor and blade to do it in two smaller passes when cutting a wide board. You can also cut a board up to 500mm (20") wide by doing a double cut; this is easily achieved on the Peterson, by winding the mill across to the right-hand side of the main carriage and cutting in from the other side of the log.

The blade has 10 tungsten tipped teeth that are quick and easy to sharpen without having to remove the blade. A tool supplied with the mill, called a Sharp Boy, gets connected to the mill’s battery and is manually operated to return the blade to like-new. If needed, the tungsten tips can be replaced.

One of the problems with a swingblade mill over a bandsaw mill is the thicker blade, which means bigger kerf and slightly more wood wasted in sawdust, but the straightness and accuracy of cut with a swingblade means you don’t have as many waste pieces.

Another thing I liked about this mill was that as you are milling through a log, you can pick and choose what size boards to cut, to best suit the grain of the wood and the quality of the log. It was handy to be able to cut out any cracks or defects then carry on without too much waste.


Maintenance is fairly simple with the tracks and main carriage frame being made from high quality aluminium and stainless steel. The winch chains would require a bit of care to stop them rusting, and the engine belt, gearbox and blade servicing is all straight forward with easy access to all service points.

The WPF has a 20-litre water pack on the main carriage, which uses a gravity system with a manual tap to control water flow of the squirter that is positioned just over the blade; this keeps the blade cool and free of sap build up during milling.

Read in-depth farm machinery reviews in the latest issue of Farm Trader magazine, on sale now.


Blade size 250mm
Powerhead Diesel 23hp
Max log dimensions 1.2m-1.5m dia / 6m length
Max cut sizes 250mm x 250mm
Max double cut 250mm x 500mm
Set up time (one person) 10-25 mins
Set up time (two persons) 5-10 mins
Pack down time 7 mins
Potential commercial production 3-8+ cubic meters per day
Frame warranty 2 years return to base
Motor warranty Manufacturer warranty

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