Value of Logs from Tree Services

Logs from tree-removal services can be interesting, but they're not worth paying a lot for. Here's a long discussion on the ins and outs of dealing with tree services. April 27, 2007

I've recently purchased a portable band mill and I'm not sure what to offer tree service businesses for logs they cut down. The only prices I've come across was Amish in my area buying poplar logs from a construction site for .20 a board foot. I figure the tree monkeys just turn nice cherry and oak into firewood.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor W:
The problem is that the tree service folks do not cut down forest trees; rather, they cut down mostly yard trees, and almost all yard trees (it seems) have metal in them. Can you scan for metal before you determine the final price?

From contributor B:
I have developed a relationship with a select couple of tree trimmers and they just bring everything that constitutes a saw log (that will take some training). I usually pay pulp prices for the SYP and probably overpay for the really nice oak. If there is a question of metal in the logs, they just leave them, and after checking I pay them for the useable logs. The going price seems to be somewhere around 1/3 of the wholesale price of the lumber. But I also pick up a little on the thin blade gain. Good for them (okay, pay $15 bucks to take it to the dump) and I get some nice logs.

From the original questioner:
At one third wholesale, do they deliver or do you pick up? What is the mill paying for pulp? I would love to make a timber frame garage from white pine.

From contributor T:
Call them tree monkeys and you won't get on the good side of their logger egos! Finding a logger who has a passion for what he does is invaluable.

I definitely agree with contributor B, but a lot of the time you can get logs directly from the dump for free after the tree service paid to get it there, but you need the heavy equipment to remove them - not just a pickup or a sophisticated trailer. You can't waste their time and get in their way. Be quick and they're happy. Hiring a log truck is a possibility. The dumps otherwise have to pay for a tubgrinder to come in and chip them into mulch.

From contributor S:
Search around and check with a bunch of the tree services around you. I would bet that you can get free logs from quite a few of them if you do the loading and hauling. Talk to the guys and get to know them; ask their cost to get rid of the logs. Yes, it often is a cost to the tree service to get rid of the logs! You loading and hauling can be an opportunity to get paid! (Don't get greedy and if you promise to remove logs out of one of their customer's yards, don't fail to do so, and on time.)

Objects in the log are a very real possibility. A good metal detector can help, but rocks and glass and all sorts of other stuff can be just as rough on a blade. Let the guys know just what you are after. Species, diameters, lengths, or take everything they have to give and cull out what you don't want at your place.

Tree monkey is funny, but I would get to know the guys before you start calling them that. I know quite a few that are idiots, but most are pretty smart businessmen doing a hard job, staying competitive, staying safe, and paying the bills.

Always try to get your wood for free or barter if you can (cash out of pocket is one of the hardest things to get back, it seems). Almost every tree service that I know of needs new decking on their equipment trailer.

If you have to purchase, check the tree yards and see what the local rate is. Again, if you are doing the loading and hauling, you should offer maybe 25% of the rate. You will only get comfortable after some experience of your own. What is your overhead and your final profit or their value to you?

From the original questioner:
I'm just poking fun at the tree fellers. I'm not man enough to do what they do. I do cry though every time I see a guy I know take down a huge oak or cherry tree. No limbs for 40 or more feet and cuts all of it into firewood to sell. $150 a cord, and this is after he charges to remove them. He's offered the oak to me at 1.00 foot. Should I deal or no deal?

From contributor S:
A dollar a foot? It depends. How are they being moved to your mill? By you? Will he load your truck/trailer? To me it is worth that alone if they are monster logs. (Monsters being 20" or more.)

From the original questioner:
That's if I pick up. He has to cut them small enough to toss into his pickup. He's just a one man operation with a 1/2 ton truck.

From contributor D:
Sounds like you are doing him a favor... saving him labor by removing what he cuts down, since he is a small, not equipped operation. Even if he is a firewood seller, at $1 a bdft, he is more than 10X his profit on the logs (and again saving a ton of labor). No deal.

I can buy all the kiln dried oak I want right now for $1.50 bft... I have my own sawmill, and don't buy oak logs. If they aren't free I don't take them.

You said you just got your mill. Hang in there - before long you will be swamped with free or nearly free logs; it just happens that way. If you come out of the chute bending over backwards with your labor and paying too much for logs, it gets expensive. Worse yet, you set the tone for the way you are going to do business. If you just want a few logs for hobby use, you may have to pay for one now and again... But I wouldn't worry about the deal you mentioned; it's not worth it in my opinion.

Just get out there and meet a few people (other tree services, excavation contractors, home builders). If you are in hardwood country, like it sounds you are, you will be swamped with better, cheaper logs soon.

From contributor S:
I think I misunderstood. When you say $1 per foot, what kind of foot are we talking about? Board foot, log length, log diameter? I assumed that you were talking $1 per foot of log length. At that price I would let him load them on to your transport. Keep in mind that I am guessing that $17 for a 17' log could be more than half of what the wood yard might pay depending on diameter, quality and species. And I was keeping in mind that these logs were for your use, not resale.

We really need to know a little more to give you more than a best guess. What size, species logs are you talking about? How are they going to be loaded? Who is going to move them? How are you going to haul them? How far and what other costs are involved in the handling before and after they get to your mill?

An example: I can not move a 17' log 50' out of someone's front yard to the curb and put it on my trailer for $17, by hand or by taking the bobcat to the site. I could, however, afford to pull a trailer up to the curb at the end of the job and pay for 4 to 6 logs to be loaded at $1 a foot by length. That's up to $100 for a trailer load of logs loaded by him. (I don't know if my brakes would work on a downhill run, but that's a different story.) I don't think there is a profit margin in it, but if I really wanted it or that was the best I could do at the time, then that is the way it is.

From the original questioner:
Can you really buy a log by the linear foot at a buck or two? (I was talking board foot, by the way.) That's why I was looking for some info before I negotiate with anybody. I don't want to rip anybody off but I am looking for some good deals. All the logs I've gotten so far have been from power lines or friends who wanted a tree removed.

I have a 24' trailer with a 9500# winch up by the tongue that I've used to drag on some large logs. I also have a 14' stake body truck (26000#) that I can throw logs onto with my farm tractor and grapple forks. (I guess it's good for about 4000# logs.)

I'm looking for all species of logs. Approximately 6 years ago I had a wood kiln before I purchased this farm. Would buy my lumber from a sawmill friend 3 hours from home, transport it, kiln dry and sell a few and use the rest for home projects. I want to build another kiln but cut out the middleman this time.

From contributor Y:
Are you saying $1 bdf log form you load, you haul? I' d love to sell you logs.

From the original questioner:
I guess I'm really bad at communicating. (24'' diameter log, 8' long = 200' which = $200.00 at 1 buck a foot)

From contributor W:
If you were in the South, where I am from, and a forester in the business, if you had a log truck of grade hardwood saw logs, the price you would receive from the sawmill would be more like 30 cents to 40 cents per board foot. I know that in the more Northern parts of the country where the hardwood quality is best, you could sell that truckload for more than 30 cents per foot, however, $1.00 per board foot from a tree removal guy sounds like way too much. I would think that 25 cents per board foot Doyle would be more than a gracious plenty for very best grade, and much less for run-of-the-mill yard trees.

From contributor S:
Now we're talking! It would seem to me that you would be providing a service by removing the logs for a tree service. Cha-ching!

My partner in crime runs a small tree service. Yes, he sells logs to the tree yard and the firewood guys and folks that want to cut their own firewood from the logs and he even moves a little firewood on his own. But the cold hard facts are that he makes his money off of cutting and removing the trees. Logs are a byproduct to him. The loading and hauling and related cost because of the distance to the wood yard and their hours make it a pain to do so. We can not find a trustworthy, reliable guy to pick up logs even for money.

Unless your tree man already has a good market for the wood and a system in place to utilize it, you would be doing him a favor or service and as such the wood should be free or you should be getting paid to haul it.

Sorry about the linear foot thing; it is my twisted way of guessing at the tonnage and using the figure of $35 a ton. It's not a good system. But it was pretty good at one time when looking at loaded trucks. I never understood bdft logic (yes, I know volume), but when looking at a raw log intended for beams I see X-sized beam and a couple of planks.

Me? I would opt for at least free logs, even if I had to wait. Check out a couple of more tree services. The key being the ones that provide "service". The guys that want nothing but the best image with their name. These are the guys that will give you the best deal. Like free logs if you cover their cost to deliver them to your place or load them for you, so that you don't trash their customer's yard or leak oil all over someone's driveway or crack it.

From contributor Y:
With my cost figures you will have $1.60 per bdf before the kiln and that's allowing no fall down. I won't pay anything for a yard tree, going rate for a forest tree delivered.

From contributor S:
The traditional vision of "yard tree" is another problem that tree services have to deal with when trying to sell to the wood yard. The thing is that a very high percentage of the yard trees that are coming down in my area are from stands that have only been yards a few years! It is almost all new homes and new owners in fear of the trees blowing over that were left standing to make the development a wooded development.

From contributor Y:
True, but any tree within two miles of a kid is a nail magnet. It only takes one nail to blow the profit on a log.

From contributor F:
I dealt once with a tree feller (who was a good feller, but not much of a fella), and never again. I go to the farmers (N-VA area) and have always been treated well. Almost all of them have some felling job that they don't have time for and it isn't worth the cost of getting labor in to do it. I've often used their machinery to remove stumps, haul lops and tops or cut firewood from the leftovers.

I usually go with a chainsaw mill and cut out what I want (saves transport) and for valuable timber like oak, they're happy to do it "on the half," as they can always use boards for fences, corrals, or makeshift scaffolding.

The first two farmers were close to me and I approached them. After that it was word of mouth and now I wish I had the time to get to everyone who is begging me to get their work done.

One downside is that you can't always pick and choose your species, but I've always managed something like, "I'll take all this pine if you throw in those two oaks and that big cherry."

From contributor W:
As to yard trees… I cleared my building site myself in 1981 from a wooded tract that had not previously seen the hand of man except to be logged. A few years ago in a porch extension, I had to remove a hickory tree that had graced that part of the yard for over 20 years. My thoughts were to saw it up on my Wood-Mizer and reincarnate that old friend as wainscot panels in the new mudroom. I would have sworn and bet $100 that this tree did not have metal in it since I was its sole proprietor. Guess what? Hit a nail and ruined a blade. Like a previous post so elegantly said, trees in yards are metal magnets. Apparently, even in my own yard.

From contributor U:
The best advice above and beyond what's been given already: the price paid for a log is all dependant upon what your pocket and your market's pocket can bear. A thousand dollar log isn't really a thousand dollar log until someone actually ponies up a thousand bucks for it. And lastly, when taking advice from other sawyers about "yard trees," be sure to ask them if they've ever sawn any. It's like taking skydiving lessons from someone who has never done it.

From contributor Y:
I have cut my share of yard trees, but only if someone wants to pay the bill. Nails aren't that bad – it's the glass and ceramics that get you. Saw them, yes; buy them, no. I can get clean logs for the same money.

From contributor N:
I have paid for yard trees in the past. However, I just picked up three nice pin oak logs from two different tree services in the past two weeks. I did not pay anything for the three logs (total about 700 bf). However, I do have about $60 fuel in picking them up. I looked at a very large oak tree a third service was taking down last week, but passed after (1) it was very obvious they wanted me to buy the log and (2) I got a bad feeling about the integrity and scruples of the crew after talking to them for about 10 minutes. As others have said, being on time and meeting commitments is important when working with the tree services.

From contributor T:
I've never paid for a yard tree, but it seems that that's where a lot of my big walnuts come from. As far as extracting steel goes, I recommend a decent sized compressor accompanied with an air hammer. Crescent nail puller (no. 57 I think) is also a nice tool. I remember when I was 10 or 12 and going down to a local circular mill and the owner was pulling out arrowheads from a huge oak log. Gotta hate pin oak; it smells like piss!

From contributor P:
If you are going to pick up the logs, you should expect to pay almost nothing. Generally tree service people will not generate enough marketable saw logs to entice a larger mill to buy them. If the tree service people are delivering them to you, then they are worth paying for. I have a logger that delivers white pine tie logs to my site and places them conveniently in front of my mill. I pay about 150 MBF ($0.15 per BF). Check with a local logger. In my case, the logger brings me pine that is not quite good enough for the pine mills, but still makes decent lumber for my needs. He would most likely end up chipping them if I didn't take them.

From the original questioner:
Well, it seems the general consensus is to pay little to nothing for yard trees, especially if I'm going to pick them up. Might still have to shell out a few bucks for a pretty cherry. This brings up a few new questions:

1- Do I go to the sawmills to purchase logs?
2- Are the loggers a separate business?
3- If so, how do you locate them?

From contributor I:
I believe that tree service guys prefer to be called "brush apes." I keep my sawmill out at a tree service owner's farm and he brings me all the logs I can saw up - and then some. I'd say that if you were to buy logs from a tree service you'd definitely want a decent hobby style metal detector. I got mine on sale at Radio Shack for about eighty bucks. It works great. Of course some logs come from virgin timber at building lots. I don't worry too much about nails in those logs.

I hit nails quite frequently, mostly because I'm too lazy to go up to my shop and get the metal detector. I have spent half a day pulling big #20 barn spikes out of a huge walnut log, but it was worth it. Best walnut lumber ever. It happened to be on my truck when I visited a woodworker friend… Sold it all that day, to two different buyers.

I wouldn't pay any more than .25 a board foot, Doyle scale, for any log from a tree service. You're doing them a favor. Offer that amount and if they squawk, walk away.

From contributor T:
Why buy logs from sawmills? They're only going to have increased rates after paying the logger's rates. Loggers are usually a whole separate business independent to themselves, depending on the area of the country you are in. I'm in NJ and the loggers around here are few and far between, and all independent. Other parts of the country/world, that may be an entirely different story.

As far as locating sawmills and loggers, if that's what you meant… Phonebook, internet, word of mouth, business cards, magazines. Loggers are sometimes tree services, maybe even landscapers, so call every one in the phonebook.

From contributor E:
Stop by your local chainsaw sales/service shops and tell them you are looking for loggers in your area. (They will name names quick. If it's good for their best customers, it's good for them.) They will generally allow/encourage you to put a notice on their bulletin board about your need for logs/loggers in your area. Response will probably be very quick.

From the original questioner:
Unbelievable! Went out for a few drinks Saturday night and started talking to a guy that happened to be part owner of a tree service. Complained that he was dropping trees off on a farmer's lot near me for the past 3 years and the farmer says, no more! Told me he will be glad to drop them off at my place for free. My wife is not too excited about it but I now believe in Santa Clause again. I just hope I'll be sawing logs and not starting a firewood business (but then again, as long as I'm working with wood, I'm a happy man).

From contributor S:
Now you will be paying to get rid of logs! Buy a metal detector or two, even. Saw everything that he brings you even if you only get a 4x4 out of it. Only sell scraps as firewood. Cut the scraps into 4'ers and palletize them, sell them at half of the cost of the local cost of firewood. (Too much work to split and stack real firewood for profit and anybody that wants to save money on firewood needs to work a little for it.) Let's see some pictures of that timber frame garage as it gets going!

From contributor V:
All of the responses to this thread have been great, and I've used a few of them to get log sources, too. You'd be surprised how personal this business can be in dealing with tree services. Keep an eye out for tree services operating in your immediate area and find out where the landfill/mulch/recycling points are in relation to your site. With today's fuel costs and you not charging them to get rid of the logs, the tree service will be more inclined to help you (and themselves) out - but you might have to explain this to them.

By the way, I tried contacting the State Forester by mail in Charlottesville, Va., asking for information on loggers and pricing schemes for logs, and haven't even received an acknowledgment that he received the letter. I went to one of the commercial mills in the area during their maintenance day and got a lot of useful information, but the scale has a lot to do with it. If you are after small loads of good quality logs, it will help to offer the logger a premium over the going rate of, say, 10%. But if he is having to transport his current loads 3 or 4 times farther than his operation is from you, he'll already have an incentive to bring you a load. Just make sure you both know what you are getting for your money, including which log scale you are using, species and log grades expected. Make sure you have a way to unload those suckers, and it never hurts to pay cash.

From contributor W:
Buying wood from loggers is a another ball of wax. Most big loggers (in the South at least) do not own the wood that they cut; they are under contract for the logging and hauling only. In that case, you have to find out who owns the trees (stumpage) and make a deal with them. In the past I have offered a price higher than the going price that they are getting from the bigger commercial mills to create an incentive for them to haul the wood to me.

In one example, for walnut, there was no separate market for walnut in Georgia (too scarce to get a whole load at a time). I took the price for the highest grade hardwood saw logs being sold in the area, added 50% to that, and added in the cost for the logger to cut and load the wood and added in the cost to haul to come to a price delivered to my place. So, instead of $40/ton, the going rate I ended up paying was $60/ton. However, they hauled the load to my farm and dropped off the trailer on a Friday evening, I pulled the logs off the log trailer with my tractor over the weekend, and the logger picked up the trailer before daylight the next Monday morning. So instead of a cost of $.32/board foot (Doyle scale), I ended up paying $.48/board foot (Doyle scale), but I got 29 tons of walnut that I would not have gotten otherwise. And, the logger did not have his truck and trailer tied up because we did it over the weekend. I did this three different times with three different loggers and ended up sawing 12,000 board feet of walnut.

The small loggers may be another story, but for the big guys, selling a few loads to a very small sawmiller may be more of a hassle that it is worth unless you can make it easy for them and they get a little something out of it. One big word of caution when dealing with the little logger… Make sure everything is legitimate so that they are not slipping a little wood away from the landowner and not paying them for it.

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

Comment from contributor L:
I get logs from a local tree service for free – sort of! It's beneficial for him to bring his logs to me as opposed to trying to find somewhere to haul them and then dispose. We have a full service shop on the property and we do welding and repairs on his equipment from time to time. It's a fair exchange of services.