Sawmilling as a Side Business

Advice on making money for a new member of the Sawing and Drying forum. August 12, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I am in Northwest Florida and am starting with a portable mill. I have been cutting lumber for myself most of my life, but now would like to start making an income. I could use some advice on how much to charge, and how to charge. I am now overwhelmed with free lumber and building barns and a kiln.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Contributor B:
It depends on how much money you intend to make. Take the cost of getting a piece of wood/log, the cost of which it takes to slice it, the cost of drying it, and the cost of storing it; figure in gas, electricity, truck/trailer expense, etc. and you have the bare bones cost of your product. Multiply your time involved by the dollar per hour you want to make, and mark up your wood accordingly (a little for unpopular wood, a lot for really nice stuff) and you will have your needed price. Unless you have a great market you will end up keeping lots of it, so you need to get your money from what sells.

From Contributor Y:
If you can get customers to bring you wood, or do custom milling that the customer picks up right away, you won't have issues with unsold wood. That's 85% of my business. The other 15% is exceptional wood, like walnut crotches that I know I can sell. For custom milling, I charge by the hour, and have a portable mill that I can take to the customer. Barn and kiln are ambitious projects, but being able to dry and store lumber will increase its value. What sort of mill?

From contributor T:
I have a very small operation and I am retired. Iím not able to slug like I used to. I charge $45.00 to cut, plus blades if I hit hardware. I do all my cutting at home, no travelling. I am not fast but I do a good job. If the customer wants to tailsaw that is ok. If the customer brings good logs they get quality. If they bring small or junk that is what they will receive.

By all means set yourself up a kiln. I have a Nyle 50 and have had good service from it. I dry all my lumber for sale, not large quantities, but try to have good quality - hobby and cabinetmakers mostly. Try and get a market for your lesser quality lumber. My son does cabinets so he uses most of it.

If you saw for a customer you will most times get the drying as well. I charge $450 for a full load. Or I will do part of a load if I have my own lumber to fill the kiln. You will have no trouble keeping your kiln busy. I turn loads over in about two-three weeks. Once people get to know you have it they will come. I like to get them to help load their lumber in the kiln as well. They are happy to cut boards shorter at defects and save space. I also have help.

From the original questioner:
I have a Timber king and am currently cutting 22 pecan trees that are 98 years old. My barn is underway when I have time. I am thinking about a kiln that works with the environment in this area. Buying will come when the money starts to flow. So far I am overwhelmed with folks giving me trees. I do most everything myself. Itís hard though as 53 years is making me slow.

From Contributor T:
How to charge is a much debated question among sawyers. The simple way is to find out what similar mills are charging in your area and be competitive. Of course established operations may be more efficient and you'll lose money at that rate. Itís better yet to arrive at an appropriate rate based on your circumstances and charge that rate regardless of the competition. Keep detailed records - you really need to know what it costs you to operate your mill if you are going to make an informed decision. Hopefully, they'll be relatively close.

Another consideration would be whether you charge by the hour, by the board foot, or some combination of the two. I normally charge by the board foot unless the logs are small or short, then hourly. Visit various sawyers' websites to see what they charge, search forums for this topic - you'll find many discussions and a wide range of opinions. Whichever way you go, good luck with your new business!

From contributor Y:
It sounds like you're going to mill the pecan now and try to sell it later. Proper stacking for air drying is critical, even if you plan to put it in a kiln later. Pecan is one of the more difficult species to cut, and I imagine you've got some good sized logs. I'd urge you to find someone who can slab cut the crotches (chain saw mill or swing blade mill with slabber). They can be worth quite a bit.