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More questions about sawmilling business


       I want to thank everyone on all the info provided in my last thread, and its time for me to pick your brains some more.  Ok this will be an equipment question.  
      Let's assume for this question I plan on owning 50 or more acres, at least part of which will need reforestation and I plan on making my living fom a combination of tree farming my own land, custom mobile milling (on my property too if people will bring the logs), and value added wood sales i.e. kiln drying, moulding, small scale sales to hobbyists (if I can find a market for this I may start buying decent quality logs from loggers, if I can find the logs). Let's also assume I have no equipment at all, not even a pickup truck.
      Finally, the question.  If I have $75,000 to spend on equipment, how would you spend the money?
     I am fairly certain that 2 items I absolutely have to buy will be a mobile mill and a truck, after that opinions differ widely. Items I would really like to hear comment on include(but is not limited too):
1)Tractor- Seems like a 65hp+ with a loader is a popular choice because of its many abilities. My research leads me to believe this will cost between 20-30k(new) without a cab at a minimum. As an aside do tractor dealers negotiate like car lots? Or is it a fixed price?
2)Skidsteer- Sounds useful for work around the mill, but not particularly handy in the woods. Expensive if I can only use around mill in my opinion.
3) Forklift- Less expensive than skidsteer but also less utilitarian, probably very useful if I get heavily into kiln drying
4)Trailer with Grapple-boom-  Sounds great in the woods and might be very handy moving logs around near the mill.  Biggest problem is there seems to be very few available used and a new trailer and decent grapple combo could cost $15-20k easily.(based on my research does this sound right?).  If my tractor is big enough, I could hook grapple device directly to tractor. Negatives here seem to be long time involved in taking grapple off tractor when tractor is needed for other things.
5) Other items that might prove handy. ATV, Gator(Deere golf cart like thing, looks like it could be handy in woods), chainsaw, and I am sure a hundred other things I have omitted.

Ok guys I am all ears.

Keith, being "all ears" certainly conjures up a funny picture.

Everybody in starting in this occupation seeks the same info that you are after.  Many of us continue.  It is a never ending task to procure the right equipment on a limited amount of money.

Here is my best first shot.

The first thing to decide is how much time you can delegate to each task.  Small sawmills and tractors can do pretty much the same job that Large sawmills and tractors can do if you have the time.

Because you are considering a mobile sawing service you will need as large of a machine that your money will buy.  Other peoples logs always seem to be the biggest they can find. The large mill should have the capability of cutting  30" diameter logs and 20' or more in length.  That is no problem because most bandmills will do that.  It should also have log handling capabilities. You will need a lift/loader on the mill and the capability of turning large logs and leveling large logs.  This means that you should shop for Hydraulics on the mill.

You will also be confronted with cutting small and short logs.  Your mill should have dogs that will allow you to cut logs as short as 4 feet. Many homeowners and tree surgeons will cut your available "free" wood up into 6 foot lengths.  This could be valuable to you in one of your sideline ventures.  Now, you can fabricate jigs and dogs that will help with this but if the mill already has the capability then you are time ahead.

Your mill's power plant should begin at 20 horsepower gas and go up from there.  Diesel 30 and 50 horse mills are not uncommon anymore and are worth the money.  Not only are they efficient to cut with but provide the power to move great quantities of Hydraulic Oil which is necessary to handle the logs efficiently.

If you are to be mobile, then you need a trailer package under the mill and a concern of how quickly and easily you can set the mill up and start sawing.  Some models will have you sawing in 10 minutes and some will take close to an hour.  More than an hour and you don't need the mill.

Looks matter also if you will be cutting in town.  Farmers don't care what it looks like but Urbanites do.  They make decisions on how professional you are depending on what your equipment looks like and what brand name it is. ( I stepped way up on their eyes when I replaced my Maculluch with a Husky.)

I have a 1985 Ford 4wd mod. 1910 which has 28 horses at the drawbar and a front end loader.  This tractor is a real workhorse and is sufficient to handle most of the logs I have around them mill.  Some logs are really big and need to be dragged or rolled up on other logs for rollers and dragged but I can always manage somehow to get the log to the mill.  A smaller tractor would not be able to satisfy my needs.

It has pulled a new ground plow and a tree planter too.

The handiest thing I have here at the house is a Ford 555A TLB  (rubber tired backhoe...65 horse I think).  The front end loader will lift huge logs and it scoops up trash and sawdust for removal at a quantity that leaves me time to do other things.  I have built forks for loader that allows me to move stacked lumber.  I use the backhoe as a crane to unload logs from trucks and trailers. I use it at the mill to position large logs and to help turn a log that is too large for the turner on the mill to handle alone.

It also is used for other chores around the farm like digging stumps, pulling trucks out of the mire, grading the driveway, clearing land, burying neighbors livestock, carrying fill dirt, pulling engines and a myriad of other things. It isn't a necessity but I won't sell it.

Whatever tractor you get, make sure it has a ROPS and/or other safety equipment. (!)


I would rather have the little tractor any day than an ATV.


A Husky/Jonsonred or Stihl would be my choice.  It should have a 20" bar and an engine of 3.8 cubic inches or greater.


This falls in the category of "wants".  I would like to have one but have managed without.


I would opt for a 3/4 ton of your choice, minimum, even though a 1/2 ton can do the job.  Four wheel drive would be a big plus feature and a winch a handy "want".

Make it American.  I burned up an oriental import pulling my mill.  They just don't work as hard as a "real" truck.

Even though a truck with a 16 foot bed would be handy to haul lumber, a trailer will suffice for much less money and the licensing will not be as stringent either.

RBI and Woodmaster (see TimberKing) make single sided planer/moulder/saws which straight-line rip and mould without costing you an arm and a leg to get started.  If you find that the effort is being profitable you can shop for the $200k machines.

An inventory of things for doing business should contain:
At least 3 and preferably 6 sharpened blades per day even though you will not always use them all.
A box of Manufacturer recommended spare parts.
(2) 4 1/2 foot cant hooks (at least)
(2) good  3/8 chain of 10 feet each.
Fuel containers
water container (for the mill)
Tool boxes for Mill tools.
Metal detector
Tools to remove nails from logs (straight claw hammer,chisel, pliers etc.)
Broom to help clean logs
shovel for leveling mill and moving sawdust
Sharp knife for whittling a spoon for your peas
office supplies (invoice book, paper, pencil, calculator etc)

Most everything else can be accumulated as you discover you need it and there will be a lot.  This is enough to go on the road.


Tom, how do the neighbors feel about you burying their livestock?  Is it considered acceptable to bury the neighbors, themselves, if they are a pain? ;D   :D :D

Keith, I am a rookie at this, also, but I'm a little ahead of you in the process of becoming a sawmiller....I already have my saw. 8)   Let me share a little of what I have learned, both in this venture, and from past ventures.

I bought a used mill, because I don't have $75,000. I got mine for $9000, and anything else I get has to come from my meager savings, and my monthly budget. This means that I have to economize, big time.
I already have a 60hp tractor, but no loader. I plan to shop for a loader to put on it. Meanwhile, I have the use of my neighbor's backhoe, when I need it, and IF it is available. I plan to set my mill up semi-stationary, so I can move it if the situation calls for it, but I plan to primarily saw at home.  I have a 20' trailer, that I'm going to raise to the same height as the mill, so I can roll logs directly onto it without lifting them again. I am also going to build several 4-wheel wagons of the same height, so I can load all of them with logs, while I have the backhoe, and won't be down  when I don't have it. The wagons will be made from old truck chassis', which I can get for free.

Now, about the money:
If you go out and buy all new equipment, you're not going to make a dent in your wish list with $75000. A new, top-of-the-line, hydraulic bandmill is going to set you back at least $30k.
A new 3/4 ton, 4wd truck will be another $30K. A new tractor with a loader will be $30K, plus. Tack on a Grand for a good chainsaw, another G for a good winch for the truck, etc, etc, and you are over a hundred thousand, and you ain't even got a cant hook or a gas can.
That being said, there are a lot of good, low-hour, used mills out there for under $20K.  You can get a good, used, one-ton pickup for under $15K, or even $10K, if you ain't skeered of an older truck. Mine is a '88 Ford F350, and it does just fine. One like it can be had for about $7500.  You can really save a bundle on the tractor, by getting an older one. There are some 40 year old tractors out there that are as good as a new one, if you know what to look for.
Now, about YOU.  You can get away with buying all of this used equipment IF you are mechanically skilled enough to maintain and repair it.  This stuff don't come with a warranty, and it WILL need to be fixed, from time to time. If you don't already know how to work on stuff, then you need to start learning, pronto. You can pay someone to fix your stuff, but it ain't hard to shoot a week's profit on one repair that you could have done yourself in a few hours. For instance, I can change out the clutch in my tractor in about 6 hours, for $150. I can take it to the dealer and have it done for about a thousand, and still spend at least 3 hours transporting it there and back, and I'll have to do without it for several days. Put some of your money into good tools, and a shop, and try to learn as much as you can before you go into this. It can mean the difference between success and failure.
If you are lucky, that last paragraph won't apply to you, but it will probably apply to someone who reads it.
Good luck in your venture, and I'll keep you posted on my progress, or the lack, thereof. Maybe you can pick up some tips from my mistakes. ;)

Ron Wenrich:
Here is a site you might want to check out.

Check out the sections on portable mills.  It discusses the pros and cons on different types of mills.  There are band mills and swing blade mills.  Also, look for the price of used equipment from all over the US.  Some really interesting reading there.

If you don't read anything else in the site, read this:  It is titled "Before you buy a portable mill".

They also have a section for every portable mill manufacturer in the country.  Links to all sorts of sites.

For portability, swing blade mills go to the log.  Size of log is not as much of a limiting factor.  This can be helpful if you want to limit the amount of initial expense.  There is less support equipment needed.

You want to keep your initial expense as low as possible, to preserve capital.  You could lease equipment, but, then you have a monthly bill.  Miss a couple of months and you're out of business.

You have to decide how soon you want to get into the value added end.  If that is where you think your markets lie, then you would need something to move lumber, a kiln, and a molder/planer.

You could go with a solar kiln, if that meets your needs.  If that is either too slow or too small, then you could go to a dehumidification kiln.  

I can only add that I have been in the direct timber industry for almost 35 years and the desires for new a bir toys does not stop.  I have slowed down some. I use to put out over a 100 cords of wood a year and teach full time.  I wised up and bought a mill. I slowed? :D :D  I have invested $65,000 in three mills ( two portables and a large head rig.)  '99 F450 with 10 ton hoist, 98 JD5300 4 x 4 with loader, 3 pt chipper, six saws, ( Stihl) kiln, 18,000lb fork lift all terrain, grapple/winch 3pt., F700 tandem 10Yd dump truck, several flatbed trailers for lumber, equipment hauling trailer, log hauling trailer, and a wife who is most congenial at letting me get these things as it helps in keeping me here on the farm.  
8) 8) 8) 8)8) 8) 8) 8) I reckon what I am getting at is what was all said above, go slow, determine what it is you actually need and not want.  My banker taught me that.  make sure you have the market for the product you want to produce.  And, as you progress you will find new and more finely tuned kinds of markets for the products you produce.  The bes of luck to you in your venture.  If I can be of assistance please do not hesitate in contacting me, as I will be more than happy to try and help. ;)


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