Start-Up Manufacturing Millwork

It's harder than a beginner might think to make money producing mouldings on a shoestring. Old hands discuss the hard truths in this thread. April 4, 2011

I recently purchased a new Wood-Mizer LT10 for use in preparing lumber to build our own timber frame home. I have my eye on the Woodmaster 718 with the Pro Pack. I would like to go into business making solid wood mouldings. I am curious as to how I might get started after I purchase the 718. How do I go about getting clients? How do I go about getting the logs to mill into lumber?

I plan on making my own dehumidifier kilns to dry my wood once cut. I will then use the Woodmaster gang rip feature to make the blanks, then mill them into mouldings and hardwood flooring. I live in an area with a lot of mesquite available. I would like to specialize in mesquite hardwood floors. But I would also be interested in manufacturing other types of moulding.

I have not had much time to play with my mill since I purchased it in February. I would like to get everything ready for production this summer so that I can start working on my off days in the fall.

I have always wanted to go into business for myself. There are a lot of unknowns, though. My dad was an entrepreneur. We knew a lot of difficult times. Money was always scarce except once in a while he would have a very good year. Because of this, I have a healthy fear. How can I make this a success? I love wood and I believe I have an aesthetic eye. I want to make an outstanding product that will sell itself.

I have thought about approaching land clearing companies and offering to be a dump site for them for logs they clear away. Would this work? I own 26 acres that they could dump on. I have tried this with a tree service, but the logs are all too short to do much with. Thanks for any input you might give. I want to do this for my family, especially for my son.

Forum Responoses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor L:
Nice to have enthusiasm, but I think you are going to have a very hard time of it. I grew up in a construction company that took out lots of trees. They are pushed over with a Cat, which causes most of them to develop internal shear defects. They also will be covered in dirt that will trash your band mill blades. If you have a debarker, that will help the dirt, but not the damage to the log.

The WoodMaster is a hobby machine, very slow and lacks the capability to produce molding in a commercial manner. A basic rip saw has 15hp, more on the serious commercial ones. A basic molder has 5 heads. The 1st head cuts a reference surface on the bottom, the right head helps straighten the board and molds that side, the left head brings the molding to width and shapes that side, the top head does the thicknessing and molding, the last bottom shaves off the bed lubricant and cuts the backout.

Iíve got a 5 head Weinig; if I had it to do again I would get the 6 head, two tops. The first to rough cut the molding and the second to do a fine finish. Our top head only has 20hp, not enough for some of the moldings even at the slowest feed speed. To do custom moldings you will also need a profile grinder. I know you can buy ready to use knives but what happens when you are in the middle of a run and pick up a nasty nick from something in the wood?

Your adventure could be an interesting hobby but approach it as such and save yourself from that canít-win feeling.

From contributor G:
It is always amazing to me that no one mentions all of the other equipment - air compressors, rip saws, dust collection, forklift, grinders, cut off saws, waste disposal, plus a real moulder, when jumping into the moulding business. Not trying to rain on your parade, and not that you can't do a moulding business, but trying to use that machine to do quality, production moulding is like trying to build a mansion with a hammer and chisel. And yes, I did own one of those machines many years ago for a short time. I was never so disappointed in a piece of equipment, and have never bought anything so lightweight since. Quality of product and accuracy is at best hobby rate. Not trying to be negative - just know the moulding industry is extremely competitive, especially right now.

From contributor M:
I think you are better off with a couple good shapers with heavy power feeders. Then you can do the stuff that the guys with the big moulders do not want, like radius, convex, concave, short runs. But I agree that you will have a hard time making money. You could make enough to pay for your machines and earn minimum wage. But if you are looking to leave a legacy to your children... You need real machines and real market presence. If you love wood, and have an "aesthetic eye," then look at making furniture. I have seen lots for small furniture makers do well in the art festival scene.

From contributor I:
I would reconsider entering into the moulding business using a Woodmaster. As stated earlier, it would be a slow process and may very well not deliver the results that would be expected by your customers. I appreciate your enthusiasm and desire to work with wood, but maybe a better approach would be to create a paying hobby. Or consider getting a heavier piece (or several) of equipment.

We started running our own shutter parts on a small Powermatic moulder years ago. Worst decision I ever made. Within days of setting it up, I realized it could not meet our needs. For the money I paid employees to stand there and wait for the moulding to crawl out of the machine at 16' p.m., I could have paid for a much nicer piece of equipment. Then to get the material in the shape we needed, we had to sand 75% of what we made. Another huge chunk of payroll and time lost. It got to the point I started to count my losses by the number of feet run through the moulder.

We later got a Weinig and profile grinder - what a breath of fresh air. There is absolutely no comparison between the two machines if you are going to run a production operation. To be fair, the Powermatic was a good little machine and fun to use. It lasted for years and made us a lot of mouldings, it just was not a good fit for a business that needed 10,000 feet of moulding run every few days.

From contributor B:
Besides what everyone else said, have you ever worked mesquite? Are you aware of what a pain in the butt it is with tearout? Movement? What it does to your blades, bits, and cutters? It's also only available in short lengths (4-6'). You'll pay a premium price for anything 7'+. I've worked this stuff a few times - you will need something a lot beefier than any Wood-Mizer machine. Even if you get the material S4S, it'll still beat up your tools. If you really want to get into the moulding business, be prepared to drop at the least $200,000 for setup. I know a lot of shortcuts and tricks, and already had a hell of a lot of equipment, but still dropped $180,000 on my new shop setup. As to getting work... Ya gotta pound the pavement. Can't be shy. Or cheap.

From contributor P:
You might consider doing this on more of a retail level and have someone else do the rip and stick. When and if you get to the level of needing a molder, it would make more sense.

From the original questioner:
Wow. Looks like I should consider this a hobby and if I make a few bucks, great. I thought if I owned the mill, the kiln and the moulder, my costs would be minimal and I could make a profit without too much trouble.

From contributor L:
The part you have missed is your time. You only have so much - use it wisely!

From contributor I:
I was not trying to rain on anybody's parade. I believe that certain levels of business require certain levels of equipment to meet demands and expectations. One of the problems in setting up customers is they will have expectations, and you will have to meet them. A small moulder like we are discussing here will meet the demands of a few 1000 feet per week. Also the wood will have to be sawn and dried and ripped and planed, etc. A good business plan should answer a lot of the questions that are floating around here. As I said earlier, we bought a too small moulder and created more problems than we solved. Oh we made it work, but it was hard, real hard. I just really hate to see someone else repeat my mistakes and waste money when every new business will need every advantage it can get to make it fly. So I guess what I am saying is, buy the equipment that will meet the demands of your business.

From contributor M:
Yes, you will be able to make money. Likely a lot more per foot of moulding. But it will take you so long to process one foot that you will make less than minimum wage. Cutting trees, sawing lumber, sticking, drying, storing, blanking, knife making, running moulding, and prepping for delivery is a lot of work for one foot of moulding when you are using small/improvised machinery and methods. You have to look at the whole process. Do not think of the wood you get as free. I bet you will spend a lot more on that wood than if you just buy it from a lumberyard S4S.

From contributor B:
If mills really could make money, then why don't they just do it? Cause that ain't the way it works.

From the original questioner:

I really am at the hobby stage. I know very little about woodworking and lumber, but I have the sawmill already and I really want the Woodmaster for my own needs. What if I offered to become a supplier to remodelers and guys that don't need thousands of board feet a week of trim?

If I became more of a retail operation in that way, but still beat the big box prices, kept it as a paying hobby initially, have fun with it, get to learn the business a little more, and perhaps branch out to installations, would that be more of a viable alternative to manufacturing in a production setup?

I think this is more the kind of work I was after anyway. A cottage business that would fill in the gaps of the large moulding companies. Short runs to trim a house out or a few houses at a time. I can always offer lumber as well.

I was hoping to create more of a finished product to sell with the lumber I will be creating. I will have machined it more, so the wood should be worth more. If it is good quality, shouldn't there be a market for it?

From contributor J:
There is a Wood-Mizer mill here locally and a couple contractors have them for sawing recycled timbers. The mill started out doing custom sawing of private timber lots. He has evolved into sawing up recycled wood from old beams and timber brought into the area. He just sawed out some beautiful 2 ĹĒ thick heart pine for us from beams furnished by a contractor we are working for. He does a lot of work for log home and timber frame builders. I think he now has a small 4 head moulder and possibly a dry kiln. He worked for many years with just the saw.

We have purchased mesquite for entry doors from a Wood-Mizer mill in Texas. This man kiln dries the mesquite and will cut to rough sizes needed for doors. He gets top dollar for premium wood. I think it is a great door wood and easy to work except dealing with the short lengths and high cost.

From contributor G:
I'm going to chime in one more time, and I am not trying to be negative. Sometimes you can offer someone all of the been there done that advice and they still want to prove you wrong. Go for it. Surprise me. But just a few things...

You admit you don't know anything about wood or the industry. You think you can beat box store prices. And you think you can have good quality mouldings from a hobby machine. I don't know everything, but I am quite sure that is all a pretty tall order.

Moulding is about so much more than putting a profile on a stick of wood. I have the fortune of being in the finishing business also, so I am familiar with what it takes to make a sanded, stain ready moulding, and it aint happening on a Woodmaster. Everyone thinks their mouldings are great, but I have seen a lot of junk out of $500,000 Weinigs and some super products out of way less expensive machines. So much depends on tooling, hook angles, feed rates, moisture content, many setup variables, and sometimes even what kind of mood the wood is in that day.

Again, don't want to be a party pooper - I once had the same ideas - but they were proven wrong very fast, and I am near a million in equipment later, still trying to improve.

From contributor I:
I believe you are starting to go in the right direction. While I could never depend on the small moulder I mentioned earlier, it was a great learning tool and a dependable machine for small runs. I am actually considering buying another Woodmaster type machine for a designated setup to run a couple of parts that I only need small quantities of. With the equipment you are discussing, I also think you are looking at a better customer base - people that will need smaller batches of goods, and maybe with time requirements that you could meet. I would not worry about beating anybody's price - that will be hard to do.

We have a local guy that does small runs of curved mouldings and he is the go-to guy for a lot of local builders. Also the bigger companies start out with knife fees, and setup charges of several hundred dollars that make ordering 60' of moulding impractical in a lot of cases. Also you can do woods that are not commonly available. One of the reasons I am thinking of buying a small moulder is some of my orders require 100-200 of a certain profile. If I call and get prices for my main supplier to run it, he either wants to run several thousand feet or apply special charges. I understand why he does this, but the project can not pay for those fees. If you are making special runs, you may be able to offset some of those fees and land some orders, if you are not so focused on profit as you are on learning. After you accumulate some different knife profiles, you will be able to reuse them for many different customers. You can always split the knife fee with the customer, and keep the knife for later use. Building a library of knives won't be cheap. You may want to price out a few custom knives just for practice to see what you will be getting into, if you go in that direction.

Plus as someone mentioned earlier, consider buying ready to use lumber when you start moulding. Trying to learn to dry wood and prepare it while also learning the moulder can be a killer. Plus the time frame for the drying may not work with the moulding part. Think of running a restaurant and growing your own food that will be cooked for your customers, and you can better picture what I am saying.

From contributor L:
How about taking a job at a place that makes moldings? Learn about the things contributor G said, get some experience. Look at the moldings at Home Depot. Knife marks 1/4" apart, heads have been jointed so many times they are heeling horribly. Casing is made from 4/4 that has been diagonally split to get two parts from each board. The big Weinigs can run 16 knife heads at over 600'/ minute.

About pricing, you can't beat the big box prices! You can offer alternatives at higher prices. Try the green thing, local tree lumber, recycled, etc. People will pay a premium to have their egos stroked!

I've got two good molder men; they didn't get to that level in a short time! Your tooling will end up costing you as much as your molder. Given that, I'd buy a used "real" molder to start so you can keep your tooling if you move up to a better machine. We've got over 700 sets of knives for our Weinig. We still custom grind new knives every week. Long ago I started making moldings with a heavy shaper, power feed and hand ground knives. I actually made money at it! Remodelers were my customers; still are.

From contributor H:
I run a Woodmaster and here is what I can tell you: Change the drive belts (probably available at a local belt/ bearing supplier) for a better grade, read the manual before set up and running, and make sure the machine is balanced before starting your machine up. I wouldn't buy the sanding mop and router attachment to start with. A lot to absorb when you are new to this and your moneymaker will be the regular molding feature.

I have no experience with mesquite wood, and I buy my lumber already sawn.

Several other people told me at first that I need a large Weinig or Leadermac expensive multihead machine. I worked on a Weinig before and it is a great machine, but dollar-for-dollar I feel that the Woodmaster is a better investment unless you are making thousands of feet per run of the same profile.

I've heard of folks who get their machine from the factory and don't have to tweak it, and then there are others who seem to get a brand new machine that needs some TLC because it is out of balance, motor is on crooked, etc.

I wouldn't even consider a profile grinder at this point (maybe later on). A good one is a big expense and there is a big learning curve to do it properly. The supplier I use can get me custom knives overnight most times and two days in the worst case scenario.

Never assume that an outstanding product will sell itself. No matter how good it is, either you or your son will have to play the role of salesman. At least at first until you build a word-of-mouth reputation. This takes time, so maybe you should ease into it part time as opposed to starting from scratch and depending on it for your next meal.

Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, but don't depend just on it. It takes time. Figure out your target market (ex: your county and the next county). Then advertise in the local paper, bulletin boards, bargain papers, etc.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for all your help. I am interested in mesquite because it is plentiful where I live and it has a Janka score of 2345 - one of the harder local woods. It makes one of the most durable hardwood floors. I would like to specialize in making hardwood flooring. Since there is also a lot of pecan where I live, pecan may be a great wood for making trim. You can get longer logs in pecan fairly easily. I want to try to stick with locally available woods.

From contributor H:
If you are looking at doing a lot of flooring, you may want to consider the Woodmaster with the double router attachment. This will make a poor man's three head machine. Also, both the Baker and Logosol are good entry level (reasonably priced) true four head machines.

From the original questioner:
I have actually seen the Logosol for making log homes online on YouTube. It gave me the idea to do mouldings. I'll check them both out. Thank you.

I really like the Baker product, but it is three-phase. The Logosol might work as an upgrade from the Woodmaster. Interesting options.

From the original questioner:
I have been thinking about all the posts on this thread for several months now. I have re-read this thread a few times and have given serious thought to all your advice and comments.

I think I agree with your assessment more and more as I investigate real moulders and the other equipment that will be needed to make a business out of this interest of mine. And the thought has stuck with me over all these months. I feel that moulding and flooring is really what I would like to manufacture.

My main concern is price. Even for the small used real moulders, I'm looking at over $10,000 and closer to $15k. What is the feasibility of using a heavy duty shaper to start with at about 5k?

Another problem I see is power. The options I see are 3 phase, which I could get, but is very expensive to install and the electric company said they want to see me use 6kw a month for them to sell me 3 phase. What about 3 phase inverters? Do they work? And the other option is to buy a single phase machine. Are they too underpowered to do the job?

I am currently using my sawmill and a table saw and hand power tools to create a deck replacing my front porch. It is quite a task, as I am custom cutting each board. The deck is starting to come alive though, and it is magnificent. I am using 1 inch thick mesquite. I see your point about tearout. I have experienced that now. Another problem I am seeing is dealing with rot. It is hard to get boards long enough and straight enough and rot free to do much with. Although the end result will be the most beautiful thing I have ever created. It truly is an amazing wood. But honestly, I do not see myself doing this for someone else. I think I'll let others do installation. So this has been a valuable experience for me.

Again, thanks for your earlier comments. They are making more and more sense to me every day. I just worry about where to get startup capital. In addition, I am still building my shop, so until that is done, I have no place to put equipment. This is a time of research and trying to find a practical solution using the fewest machines and smallest floor space possible to create a viable company.

From contributor L:
You can convert single phase to 3 phase, but your machines will not produce their full power on it. That may not matter if they have enough to do the job. All production level machines run on 3 phase for good reason. The motors are much more reliable, cheaper to run and cost less. Use your time wisely. I can guarantee you get old much faster than you realize. Waiting on a Wood-Mizer to do something is a waste of your time. Put a price on your time - it's all you have to sell ultimately.