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Author Topic: Questions from a wannabe  (Read 656 times)

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Offline Jtclark74

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Questions from a wannabe
« on: May 14, 2020, 09:35:22 AM »
I'm thinking about purchasing a portable mill and striking out on my own to do some custom milling work. I've recently been unemployed due to the Chinese virus. I have a shed that i can mill under if needed and another that i could store some cut lumber for air drying. I have some experience milling southern hardwoods but haven't worked in the industry for about 20 yrs. I don't have any equipment to move logs. My question is do folks who do milling work typically do their own logging? I have no experience logging and only minimal experience felling trees. So i guess I'm asking for any advice from folks who actually make a living in the industry. Do you wait for a storm to come and then go clean up damage or felled trees? Or is the customer usually responsible for getting the logs on the ground? Once on the ground how do most folks handle them? Sorry for the long list of questions from a wannabe but i would really like to make this work if at all possible.

Thanks in advance for your time.

Offline Magicman

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2020, 10:06:29 AM »
Welcome.  You have logical questions, but most of them are outside of my business plan.  Storm damaged trees can be very iffy.  Those across roadways, utility lines, and buildings are often whacked into easily moved lengths and often too short to saw.  Your lack of logging experience and lack of any equipment to move/skid logs handicaps you, plus finding a landowner that happens to have property with suitable trees that also happens to need lumber is iffy. 

Personally, I only do portable custom sawing but this takes time and advertising/website for customers to find you.  I have no log/lumber handling equipment investment other than the sawmill.

Everyone that needs lumber is getting it from somewhere or someone so you are attempting to break into a market that is already being supplied by someone else.  Investing in a sawmill without any customer nor lumber market is also iffy.  Yes it is doable, but it will take some footwork and sorta risky investment. 

My response is only looking at your question from my viewpoint.  There are many more views from other sawyers who are supplying different markets.  I wish you the best.
Knothole Sawmill, LLC     '98 Wood-Mizer LT40SuperHydraulic   WM Million BF Club Member   WM Pro Sawyer Network

Never allow your "need" to make money to exceed your "desire" to provide quality service.....The Magicman

Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2020, 10:30:21 AM »
   Welcome. Please update your profile so we know more about where you are located and such which will help us answer or ask you more questions.

    I mostly saw mobile but do harvest and sell a few excess or salvage trees off my 40+ acres of mostly wooded mountain land. I have never seen you shed but I can tell you - its not big enough. :D Storing lumber takes up an awful lot of space especially when you start trying to separate by sizes and species and such. That means you need to think vertical which also means a lot of labor and/or MHE to lift and move and access the lumber. It is a battle I fight almost daily. Trust me - the board the customer wants is always on the top shelf on the bottom of stack. ;)

   On my mobile jobs the customer always saws and stages the logs. If they are close and/or I am in the area I may do a site visit and advise them on the best location and procedures for getting them ready to saw. I am in a rural area and most customers have or have access to tractors, often with FEL's and forks, often have skid steers, etc. I did a job yesterday 54 miles away. It was in the hay field behind the customers house and he had dragged to logs into a loose pile with his farm tractor and continued to move them throughout the day as we finished the ones closest to the mill. You will end up sawing in some odd locations and laugh at it later. I have sawed in front yards with my back 2' from the front porch and just enough room for the customer to drag one log at a time to the mill with his mower or ATV, sawed in backyards where the logs were in a long row where the tree service left them, I once sawed in the bend of a dirt road and had to spin the mill around by hand to face the logs and sawdust and slabs went over the mountainside behind me. (BTW - do you have a 4WD truck to transport your mill?)

   If you saw you will get calls from people wanting you to come cut that dead leaning tree between the house and garage. You know - the one directly over the fence and power lines. They are often willing to let you keep some, sometimes all, of the lumber if you clean up all the mess and redo the landscaping afterwards. (They don't tell you the tree died because of the excessive nailing of yard sale and clothesline wires they put in it over the years). I tell the folks I am not insured for that kind of high risk sawing and never cut trees for people. I may loan them my cable and snatch block to help position the logs in some cases. 

   In my case the customer nearly always provides the labor for stacking and off-bearing. I do not want to get into an employer/employee relationship.

   Good luck.
Howard Green
WM LT35HDG25(2015) , 2009 4wd Dodge PU, Kawasaki 650 ATV, Sthil 440 & 441, homemade logging arch (w/custom built rear log dolly), JD 750 w/4' wide Bushhog brand FEL

Dad always said "You can shear a sheep a bunch of times but you can only skin him once"

Offline Jtclark74

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2020, 10:46:25 PM »
Thanks for the reply.
I have a few questions if you will...
You mostly saw mobile, does that mean you also saw at a fixed location like your house/shop. When you saw at a fixed location how do you get your logs there? 

When you saw at the fixed location is that the lumber that you mention having in inventory? I assume when you go mobile the lumber stays at the location where it was sawn.
How do you dry the lumber?

How far do you typically travel when mobile?

If you dont mind me asking and i don't want you to be too specific but how do you price those mobile jobs?
Do you hard quote or price by the hour/day or by the boardfoot?

Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2020, 11:58:38 PM »
Thanks for the reply.
I have a few questions if you will...
You mostly saw mobile, does that mean you also saw at a fixed location like your house/shop. When you saw at a fixed location how do you get your logs there? Yes I also saw here at my home, sometimes in my pasture, sometimes on my front lot, whichever is convenient at the time. Some of the logs are mine as I have about 30 acres of woodland on the back side of my place. I cut down the trees and drag the logs down with my ATV or tractor. If the customer brings his logs here we typically unload them with my tractor or ATV. A customer brought a trailer load of walnut Thanksgiving when my tractor was sick and we unloaded with a cable and snatch block and my truck. The last one the customer drove out from under the trailer. I moved the mill to that log as I did not have anything on my place at that time to move a log that big.

When you saw at the fixed location is that the lumber that you mention having in inventory? I assume when you go mobile the lumber stays at the location where it was sawn. When I saw customers logs here at home he takes the lumber with him. If mine I stack and store it as inventory for sale or my use. When sawing mobile the lumber is left for the customer to process.
How do you dry the lumber? I only air dry any stock I saw. I do not own or have access to a kiln. If I did have it dried I do not have climate control storage to keep in in a KD condition - i.e. it would revert to an air dried condition.

How far do you typically travel when mobile? Most of my jobs are 25 miles or less from home. I did one last Wednesday that was 54 miles from home. That is about as far as I have traveled so far but I don't set a limit.

If you dont mind me asking and i don't want you to be too specific but how do you price those mobile jobs? My price list is posted on my website 
Do you hard quote or price by the hour/day or by the boardfoot? I do not do a hard quote/fixed price up front if that is what you mean. I charge a one time one way mileage charge. I have a minimum charge to move my mill of $300 which includes the first 1,000 bf since my rate is $.30/bf. In some cases I saw by the hour if appropriate. For example 2 weeks ago I sawed 2 days at bf rate for a customer. Before I left he talked with his neighbor half mile away who asked me to saw while I was in the area so I left the mill and sawed hourly for him as he had a small bunch of small "logs" (5-6 ft long and 6-8 inch diameter), cookies, benches, mantels, etc. I did not charge him mileage or a minimum rate since I was already there and as a good will gesture to his neighbor who asked me to saw for him. I also have a replacement band fee of $25 every time I hit metal or otherwise damage a blade on a hidden object in his log. I do not charge for bands that get dull or break during normal sawing. I figure that is cost of doing business and if not enough, I need to adjust my rates. The customer provides the labor to off-bear or I go to a different rate. Two weeks ago, at the customer request, I brought the helper but he paid him and we were all happy at the end of the job.
  I hope your questions are answered in bold above. I suggest you take some time and surf other mobile sawing sites and see how others set up their billing schedule. Some are real specific and complicated with different rates for soft vs hardwood or different thickness of cuts, etc. Some scale the log before sawing and charge based on that. Some charge by the hour and they define that differently (Time they start sawing, time the leave home, etc). I saw one guy who sawed at a per log rate. Some people saw for a share of the lumber or a share of the logs.

   All billing techniques are fair as long as both you and the customer understand and agree before you ever start the job. Know your costs and what you are worth and set your rates based on that, not what someone else "says" he charges. They know their quality and what their time is worth. If I'm going to give something away I'll give it to family and friends not to a stranger trying to swindle me.

   Feel free to let me know if you have more questions. Good luck.
Howard Green
WM LT35HDG25(2015) , 2009 4wd Dodge PU, Kawasaki 650 ATV, Sthil 440 & 441, homemade logging arch (w/custom built rear log dolly), JD 750 w/4' wide Bushhog brand FEL

Dad always said "You can shear a sheep a bunch of times but you can only skin him once"

Offline Magicman

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2020, 08:03:34 AM »
With very few rare occasions, all of my sawing is done at the customer's location.  I do not buy logs nor sell lumber which removes the shed/storage requirement.  Most of my jobs are for landowners who always/usually have tractors for moving logs.  I determine whether I will charge bf rate or hourly rate based upon the lumber product that the customer wants.  I charge a travel/setup fee and based upon the distance, if the job requires multiple days, the customer pays for lodging.  I have no travel distance limit and my furtherest distance is 236 miles. (Which is in NE Mississippi.) 
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Never allow your "need" to make money to exceed your "desire" to provide quality service.....The Magicman

Offline YellowHammer

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2020, 09:33:45 AM »
In my experience, chasing trees and logs to mill takes more time than milling, and it seems productive for awhile, if you really need logs to get started, but doesnít provide a reliable or quality supply.  So if I spend a day hauling my equipment and fetching a half dozen storm damaged logs, I could have picked up the phone and had many times that many bought and delivered from a professional logger.  

Most random trees that are felled in a storm were in some sort of health distress to cause them to weaken, or if they had strong roots, the act of a tree breaking in half damages and ďWind ShakesĒ the wood.  Of course, if all the trees in a local area get knocked over, then itís a different story.  If thatís the case, Iíll occasionally stop by, hand the tree cutting guys my business card, and they can drop the logs off at my place and save themselves the $15 per ton landfill fee.  However, by and large, storm damaged trees produce degraded lumber, and I generally wonít even mess with them if they are delivered to me.

We used to have a crane and dump trailer, but sold it because once you step foot on someone elseís property to take ďtheirĒ trees, you become their boy and they expect a lot more than you just taking the logs.  They want the tops cleaned up, the brush removed, the yard manicured, the leaves in their swimming pool cleaned out, and they want you to do it all for free, because you are making money on ďtheirĒ logs.  

I had a lady call me the other day, it was all I could do to not laugh at her.  She wanted me to come log her little 5 acre tract, only take out the trees she wanted, not the good ones, clean up all the tops and limbs, fill any tire ruts I made, pay her a penalty for any other trees I damaged in the process, and then to top it off, wanted me to pay her for the logs.  Actually, I did laugh at her.  I told her I run a business, and most business canít stay afloat by working all day, hauling equipment back and forth, and then paying the customer.  

I do custom milling, not nearly as much as I used to, and required all customers to bring their logs to me, at my facility, where I could work efficiently and quickly.

Itís an old but very true saying, a sawmill only makes money when sawdust is coming out of the chute.  


YellowHammerisms:

Take steps to save steps.

If it wonít roll, its not a log; itís still a tree.  Sawmills cut logs, not trees.

Kiln drying wood: When the cookies are burned, theyíre burned, and you canít fix them.  So donít burn the cookies.

Sawing is fun for the first couple hundred boards.

Offline SawyerTed

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2020, 11:38:08 AM »
Thereís great advice already given.  A little over two years ago I was in your situation.  Lots of questions and searching for a direction.  

I work portable with a stationary location as well.  It doesnít work too good in my estimation.  Others can make it work.

My portable sawing makes up close to 75% of my business so thereís lots of set up and take down to switch between the stationary site to go mill off site.  Not a lot of time involved each time but if I have to switch several times a week, it becomes a hassle.  I donít do any tree felling service due to liability issues. Tree service insurance is expensive and Iíd never cut a tree for someone else without it. My portable business side is similar to Magicmanís and WV Sawmillerís.  Customers must stage the logs for sawing or have the equipment there to handle logs.  There are other advantages besides needing limited equipment like you donít have to deal with the waste.  Dealing with slabs and sawdust does cost time/effort/money.  Dealing with customers is usually a good experience.  Iíve traveled 80+ miles one way.  Customers provide helpers at the mill.  At the end of the job you pack up and leave the mess behind, no payroll, no waste, only maintenance, fuel for the truck, sawmill and any gas powered tools like a chainsaw.  

The other 20% of my business is custom sawing orders from my logs.  My logs have come from a variety of sources including some I cut on my own farm but Iím buying most now.  This is a time consuming way of doing business.  It is difficult to do the logging and the sawmilling with equally high success as a business, some do it but itís not easy.  Sourcing logs is a big consideration and takes time to develop sources.  Relying on tree service logs is no way to run a sawmill business if you want consistent quality.  Waste is a big consideration moving and disposing of slabs and cull lumber adds to the material handling issues to be resolved.  Dealing with customers is time consuming.  Having equipment to handle logs and load orders is a consideration.  Selling only air dried lumber is a consideration.  Are you going to kiln dry?  Then thereís labor to help at the mill, to help manage waste, stack and sticker lumber, load lumber and clean up.  A one man operation is possible but requires lots of work, organization and material handling equipment like rollers, roller conveyors etc.  If zoning is an issue, that can become a time consuming headache.  It can be done and done with success but splitting between logging, portable sawing and stationary sawing is difficult.  

Iím seriously considering only portable sawing and phasing out any custom sawing. The return on custom sawing requires consistently harder work and expense than portable sawing. In custom sawing at a stationary location, log buying can make or break an operation.  A load of poor logs costs as much as three times the cost of a load of good logs.  It costs more to saw junk logs as quality logs because time involved and thereís loss due to poor quality lumber, loss to dispose of additional waste and additional labor dealing with increased waste.  Free logs usually arenít. 

A thousand dollars earned portable sawing comes easier and with less hassle than the thousand dollars earned sawing and selling lumber. 

My advice would be to pick a model either portable or stationary, then build the rest of the business around that.  Let loggers log, truckers truck and focus on your model.
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Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2020, 12:28:32 PM »
    Ted makes a good point about the more immediate return on investment with portable sawing. I have pretty well defined and standardized what to take and can pretty leisurely load up my truck and hook up the mill in about an hour or less. I load up the night before, drive to the customer site and in about 20 minutes or so I am generally ready to start sawing. Takes about 20-30 minutes to pack and hook up and leave at the end of the job with a check in my wallet and a new friend on my contact list. The customer cleans up the sawdust and slabs and handles all the stacking and stickering.

  I sell lumber off my place partly to take up time between mobile jobs and to salvage excess trees I want to thin or dying or damaged trees. My ash is a good case in point - lumber instead of firewood. Most of my trees I won't cut - healthy oaks, hickory, cherry and walnut, etc are worth more to me for wildlife than I'd get for them for lumber. I have only bought a few specialty logs such as a nice cherry or two and I paid to have a load of free red oak logs delivered rather than saw them at the customer site, which he offered to let me do, and haul the lumber home.

  If you have the time and inclination and a little (or lot) of skill to make other products you should always double+ the value of your lumber with each step of the process I'd think. Products like tomato stakes, bird houses, crates, primitive benches, fireplace mantels, raised flower/garden beds, etc. are not that hard to make with a little equipment, time and skill. For me a few board feet of live edge slabs and some 2.5" diameter square cuts a couple feet long would sell for $10-$25 (depending on wood type) but by cutting tenons on the legs, drilling 4 - 1.5" holes/mortises, trimming and cutting to height on the mill, a little sanding or planing and wipe with a couple coats of tung oil and then the same board is now a $100-$200 bench. But it may take several months to store and market while a custom cut load of lumber or a portable job is a more immediate return on your time and money. Sawing a bunch of 1" rough boards, standing them on edge and edging in 1" drops and sawing a point converts rough low grade lumber to tomato or tree stakes. I often saw 10' boards into 1" strips, saw in half at an angle leaving a point on each half to make 5' tomato stakes that I sell for $10/dz and cheap at that price. That converts a $.75bf board into $2/bf tomato stakes plus they can be a salvage during edging if you have and take the time to save them. The big, full time professional sawmillers will tell you it is not worth their time and it is not for them but it is for people like me who have more time on our hands.

  Just more things to think about. Good luck.
Howard Green
WM LT35HDG25(2015) , 2009 4wd Dodge PU, Kawasaki 650 ATV, Sthil 440 & 441, homemade logging arch (w/custom built rear log dolly), JD 750 w/4' wide Bushhog brand FEL

Dad always said "You can shear a sheep a bunch of times but you can only skin him once"

Offline Jtclark74

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Re: Questions from a wannabe
« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2020, 08:19:43 PM »
Thanks all for the advice y'all have given me alot to think about.
Let me chew on it for a couple of days and I'll probably have some more questions. 

Thank you 


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