Essential sawmill equipment

Determining the equipment necessary to operate a part-time, stationary sawmilling business. January 4, 2001

I intend to set up a stationary sawmill business and saw my own logs. This will be on a part time basis and Iíll produce somewhere around 150,000 bf/year.

Can I get by using a 60hp tractor with pallet forks to move the logs and stacks of lumber in my yard, and also skid and load logs onto a truck? Or will I need multiple pieces of equipment for these jobs, and what might they be?

Also, how much money will I need to put out? Someone once told me to do it right I should expect to invest $1/bf of yearly production.

Forum Responses
I built a log loader for a David White tractor with a Kelly front end loader. I used two plow beams from a two bottom pull-behind field plow. When inverted, this provided a cradle for the logs. I used this to load and unload logs as well as placing the logs on the rollway. I made the pockets to fit the front end loader out of channel iron, braced, welded, and assembled the attachment in about a day. I have used it for twelve years for a small custom sawing operation.

Loading logs is a dangerous undertaking. Be self aware, aware of those around you and never become distracted during any part of the process.

Farm tractors were never meant to be log skidders or log loaders. Everyone sells the attachments and they do handle small jobs, but there is no substitute for iron and engineering. You would be better off getting equipment that is built for what you want to use it for. Start off with a good articulated front end loader. You can get forks for the loading and they are pretty stable. Articulated is far better than a strait tractor for tight spaces and general maneuvering. You could skid with it if you stayed on pretty level ground. Then think about a rubber-tired skidder for the log skidding.

We have an AGCO-ALLIS 4660 with MFWD (around 54 hp) and front loader that we use for everything - including mowing and such around the farm. It will handle 400 BF of fresh sawn red oak or 300 BF log on a good level surface.

We built a frame that mounts on the three-point hitch on the AGCO to skid logs. It's like a big hay bale stinger without the stinger and has the hitching point at the very top. This allows distance for the skidding tongs and to still be able to lift the end of the log off the ground.

A neighbor did the plow beam thing and I was not too impressed. It worked well enough for logs but he plowed a lot of ground with them to get under logs due to thickness of the beams. He'd bring in a couple bushels of sod with every load of logs. I found a pair of used forklift forks for $100 and adapted them to fit the quick attach system on the loader. It only takes about a minute to switch to the bucket or back. The thinner forks with the square back face works like they were made to pick up pallets of lumber.

Another thing I've seen is to find a junk forklift and remove the mast and adapt it to the three-point hitch on your tractor. This combination on a 60-hp tractor should be able to handle a lot of material. The disadvantage is that it won't reach and tilt like a front loader. Also, you would be doing a lot of driving looking back. With a loader on the front and a forklift on the back, you should be pretty well weighted.

I started with nothing and am currently operating 2 loader trucks and one forklift and a 50 hp tractor with forks.

The tractor won't handle the load for beans. I had an International 3414 loader and hoe which had the power, but for the money a forklift is a better bet. If you comb the forklift dealers you will find a yard capable forklift for 8-20 thousand dollars. That will lift 6 to 8 thousand lbs. My forklift is rated for 4 but we often load as much as we can.

Don't skimp on the loader or you will regret it later. A good option would be an articulated front loader with forks. You don't need a hold down but definitely need the capacity and ability to roll the forks.

I stage most of the logs with a truck then handle them to the saw with the forklift.

Comb the rental shops in your or other areas and find a 50 - 60 hp skid steer, a set of forks, the bucket that comes with it with a chain and a set of logging tongs.

I see everyone got caught up on horsepower but no one mentioned anything about milling 150,000 BF a year part time.

Letís say this guy cuts 50 weeks a year. An average log has 150 BF milled lumber. Thatís 150,000/50 weeks would be 3000 BF a week. So at 150 BF per log, that would be 20 logs a week. Now I take about 1-Ĺ hours per log with milling, moving the wood, stickering, etc. So he would spend at least 6 hours a day working 5 days a week. That doesnít sound like a part time deal to me.

I easily average 250 bd ft per hour on random size logs 8-24" 8-16' but have put out performance numbers of over 500 bd ft per hour on good stock, averaged over 4 - 8 hour work shifts with one or two helpers. I expect to cut and sticker over 2000 feet in any 8 hour shift with one helper or don't expect to cut at all! Under my numbers 150m per year is 600 hours of work at 250/hr or 11 hours per week.

Equipment is the do all and end all to the amount of time you are expecting to spend on the mill. Good handling equipment that will handle a thousand feet stack or 5-6 hundred foot oak log is mandatory. You can expect to take an hour saw job and multiply it by a factor of 4 or 5 if you have a big log and no handling equipment.

I have to disagree on the skid steer option. I have spent many hours operating them and they are godís gift to small construction. But they can kill you in a heartbeat.

I had a Case 1845 skid steer, and it just didn't have enough capacity to be a good log loader. I bought an Agco Allis 5660 AWD, (60 PTO HP) and ALO loader for this job with pallet forks and graple. ALO loaders are rated to pick up more weight than most loaders the same size. I have 750 pounds of fluid in each rear tire. (16.9x30's) I'm very happy with my choice. So far the heaviest log I've picked up is a 29"x10' Red Oak. I've been using this combo for 3 years now.

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

Comment from contributor A:
Don't try to get by with a farm tractor; sooner or later you or somebody will get hurt. You would be much better off with an old loader of some kind, even if it is a straight job. You will find that your time and safety is worth the investment.

Comment from contributor R:
In my opinion, there is no piece of equipment that is pound for pound, dollar for dollar as good of an investment as a 50HP or more 4wd farm tractor. I have a portable sawmill. My dad, brother, and I do some logging as well. I bought a brand new 50HP Kubota 4X4 Farm Tractor with a six foot loader bucket and industrial grade pallet forks. We also purchased the Mammoth log drawbar to help skid logs for $400 plus shipping.

Some options to keep in mind when purchasing a tractor to support a sawmill and logging operation is six ply industrial tires (not ag tires). Industrial tires are a much better weight carrying tire. This will be needed when loading and unlaoding logs and lumber. Also, fill the rear tires with methanol. This will help as a counterbalance when loading logs, lumber and weight for skidding logs. My tractor will lift about 2,500 lbs. This will load a 250 bft cherry log. It will pick up and load 300 bft of red oak lumber.

Some people will argue with me about a farm tractor over a 15 ton log skidder, or industrial backhoe tires over ag tires, and even a Farm tractor over a articulated loader. But with the farm tractor, loader and pallet forks, you can use the bucket for the sawdust, you can use the pallet forks to load and unload logs at your sawmill as well as load your lumber on trucks at your mill. Also, at the timber site, with the options I mentioned earlier, you can skid and load logs. When your sawmill support and logging support is done with that tractor, say on Sunday morning, after church you can put a brush hog on that tractor and make money brush hoggin' or brush hog your own property. You can also bale hay through the summer months with that tractor. You can also do small landscaping jobs with that tractor bucket. Finally, rear tire chains can be added to this tractor in winter months for maximum traction.