What to charge for on-site sawmilling?

      A discussion of approaches to charging for on-site sawmilling work. March 12, 2000

I will soon be doing a little sawing on the side. What is normally expected of the client in terms of the location of his logs?

I've talked to one fella about this and he normally has customers pile the logs in one area or, he charges a small relocation fee to move his mill from spot to spot. This sounds reasonable enough, but is this the norm, or is there a better way to go about it?

Also, is it standard practice to charge to bring the mill out to the site? And is 15 to 20 cents per BF about the standard pricing?

Forum Responses
I don't do on-site sawing anymore but when I did I charged by the hour. That way you're covered. The customer can use your suggestions to make the process more efficient, and has incentive to do so.

The system worked well and there were no complaints.

Ask some of the other sawyers in your area what they charge and what their conditions are. Pricing varies from area to area, i.e., how much labor you provide vs. how much they provide, etc.

I've found that if you keep your prices up but do a good job, you'll never be out of work.

I tell my customers that the logs must be in a position that I can pull up next to them, with the ends pretty much in line, short logs centered in the pile, so as to permit continuous loading of the logs.

I charge $65 per hour to skid and buck logs, so that gives them incentive to be ready in advance. I charge $25 to re-locate the mill after the initial set-up. Of course, if someone has several thousand BF of timber (my favorite customers), and there is no place to deck all the logs in a single deck then I don't charge to move the mill.

My main reason for the re-location fee is to ward off the people that don't want to deck the logs at all and expect you to move the mill to each log. For me that is not reasonable, so I charge for it.

As for travel expense, I charge $1 per mile, one way, one time, with a minimum of $25 for a set-up fee. This covers my gas, tires and oil. If the job requires multiple trips the price goes up, or overnight expenses are figured in. If it's a friend or neighbor that is close, there's no set-up fee; I use it to let the customer feel you're giving him a good deal by waiving the if you need to.

It costs $$$ to travel, and you should recoup the costs. In my area, the price per BF is pretty low. I charge more and so do my competitors, so we all keep busy -- and the customer still makes out.

Check out the competition and price accordingly, concentrate on doing an outstanding job, and you won't need to be the cheapest -- only the best.

My advice would be to check out the customer's site before you quote a price. That way there won't be any surprises for you when you pull your mill in there.

Are you getting into custom sawing as a hobby or as a profit-making venture? If you're looking to profit, push the pencil around a lot to make sure your time and costs are accounted for!

In my area there are a lot of retired guys buying these portable mills. They are sawing as a hobby and don't care about making a profit. It really hurts the guy/gal that's trying to make a living from running his/her mill.

Nothing is free except advice, so don't work for free.

I've found that customers like their pricing simple. I quote an hourly price (for any work) and a travel rate and that's it. They seem to feel nickeled and dimed if you quote a price for travel, a price for sawing, a price for setup, a price for handling logs, etc.

If you plan to travel any distance, I would charge an hourly rate. It costs time and money to visit a remote jobsite, and my customers almost always overestimate the size and quality of their logs. You never know what you'll find on a jobsite.

If you charge by the hour, you'll be covered. Fifteen cents a foot is pretty cheap, especially in hardwoods. If you're serious about staying busy, advertise -- especially at first. That made the diffrence for me.

A few thoughts I have on working by the hour:

One, I charge by the hour for low-production jobs like cutting burls, or very dry seasoned oak, or for quarter sawing, or working with small logs under a 10-inch diameter, etc.

But when I'm in good wood and cutting big boards, say 2 by 6 and up, I have had more than one-thousand-dollar, eight-hour days when all goes well. That's hard to beat on an hourly rate. Do the math and that would be well over a $100 an hour. That's a pretty steep rate, I'd say.

My point being, I can usually beat my hourly rate when cutting average and better wood, 2 by 4 and up. My wife and I are a very good team and when things go right, stand back -- or get buried in the sawdust!

This also averages out our less-than-good days, and you need to figure out what you need as profit on a daily basis, according to the average amount of work you put in. Don't cut yourself out of a great day because you are working by the hour.

I read the last post with interest. The well-over-$100-per-hour figure is pretty impressive indeed, but you are not factoring in the free labor you're getting from your wife.

Most of us, to get those production figures, have to hire someone to help. As soon as you put someone on the payroll with all the attendant costs (taxes, insurances, wages, and government officials sneaking around trying to fine you for supposed safety violations because you have an employee) that $100 per hour isn't so great.

I don't mean to be negative, but you're not accounting for your true costs.

I do have a little slave labor goin' here!

Each of us must take how other sawyers handle situations and apply it to our way of doing business. Just wanted to make a point about high- production days in good wood, even if you are paying for your help. (and believe me, my wife gets paid plenty, or at least she spends it like she does!)

If you have a good day production-wise and only get paid the same hourly rate as the low-production day, you have sold yourself short. One day it works out to be 13 cents per foot, the next it's 40 cents. Oh, and thanks for pointing that out Brian, my wife just read it and boy am I in trouble!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice, folks. I have only been able to run down one sawyer in my area (there are more, but none advertise, so how do you find them if no one turns you on to them?).

My 15 cents figure was partly my own and and partly bsed on the advice of others. It seems to make most lumber slightly over half price down here (of course, volume of the job and site location would impact that).

After a talk with the local guy, 20 cents seems to be closer to the norm around here.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I've been competing againsts the income subsidized retired portable sawmiller for 3 years now. I charged 150/mbf in good wood, i.e. large diameter and long. 200/mbf for okay wood and 300/mbf for small diameter short wood. It averaged $20-40/hour before costs.

I've done okay unless the logs were dirty or had lots of nails or wires. I now have a portable pressure and chainsaw debarker and that has really helped. I now only agree to provide 400 bf per blade and I charge 15 bucks for any blades used over that average. I'll add 50-100/mbf if no one is there to help with slabs. I use a small hydraulic clam to move logs to a short deck if they don't have a tractor.

I never go by the hour. Too many issues. Once I went by the cord and that went really well, even though it was all 5-7" red pine cut to mostly 2x4. In that case, I charged 125/cd. Ironic thing, most people will argue over a couple bucks per tousands and then not know to calculate it out. Currently I charge a lump sum, cause I can estimate pretty good. I don't negotiate. If they want a retired slowpoke to mess up their lumber, they can have it. This last year I bumped my rates up to 25-30 cents a foot and the work is piling up. I think it's economy driven.

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