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Author Topic: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties  (Read 1713 times)

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Offline Jcald327

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Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« on: January 13, 2020, 07:59:21 AM »
So with my wealth of sawing experience, (where is the eye roll emoji) I have been contacted about a possible long term gig cutting ties (7x9 and some smaller, as well as cedar cant production, and some dedicated slab work).  I operate a lucas 827 with slabbing attachment and extension rails.  

 I know has been covered before, but after consulting a few of the regulars here, I was advised to throw another head scratcher to the forum.

So first part of the question, would anyone in their right mind take a job cutting ties with a lucas?  I know at one point they offered a 9 inch (to 9.5 inch blade for exactly this reason).  I just see this as 6-10 pass cut whereas a bandmill would be able to make it in 4, but I should be able to get away with only a single roll on the cant vs 4.  I'm slower on my deep cuts than a band mill, but not to the point where a band mill (at least a modestly sized hydraulic unit) would be significantly faster with the log turns.  

The prospected employer (a  forestry management service) would like to pay 30 cents a bf on the majority of production (ties), and do all site prep / staging but I'm responsible for help.  I told him my prices range from 30-50c a bf, depending on size of product of course and whether or not I was providing help, attempting to maintain 45$ an hour by myself, and 60$ an hour with help.  This should allow me to bump up to at least 35 cents a bf, but I don't know if there is room to get to 40 (which gets my help to 15ish an hour with 4 ties an hour).  
    Neither on of us area really keen on lifting ties at all, so working though trying to figure out if there is a bobcat/ forklift or any other material handling on site, but it may be a case for some extended bunks out the side to slide the ties on and down, possibly by boat winch attached to trailer hitch(2 logs on the mill at a time, nearly end to end, making  target of 35 per day, and 2 piles ~ 17 ties).

I know in the old days a nickle a bf was good for help, if you can get 200 bdft he makes 10, so on, I'm just really wondering if I will be able to consistently make more than 3-3.5 ties an hour with facing passes, deep cut verticals, and then flipping and shimming (we're working on putting a scissor jack under the each bunk end on plates for stability, and using them as a poor mans toe board, driving them with an impact).

Thanks again for being here FF, and for putting up with all my ridiculous questions.
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Offline Southside

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2020, 08:40:58 AM »
In a nutshell, don't do it. Ties are a volume game and you need everything to be mechanically handled in order to make it work and not get hurt. The "long term" part of the deal will suddenly stop the day the tie buyer shuts off incoming ties. It's the same move over and over in that world. 
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Offline Dan_Shade

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2020, 08:46:33 AM »
I would not make a commitment beyond a week to see how good or bad it is.  It could be the longest week of your life (or the best). 

From what you have described, it sounds slow and labor intensive. 

Efficient material handling (logs and ties) is required to make money, otherwise you spend a lot of time waiting for the next cut.  You have to keep the blade in the wood to make money. 
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Online Jeff

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2020, 08:56:31 AM »
Listen to Jim. I was the sawyer in a large automated commercial mill where we had everything we needed to handle ties, and it was still a pain because you will end up handling multiple times. Tie markets are fickle. And what they take and what they wont changes on what current inventory provides.  Just wait until you have to start sorting 300 lb ties because the rules changed on the quality. The worse i remember is when we were working on the last bundlr of 7 by 9 ties and the buyer called up without warning and said they were full up for probably 6 weeks, but would take 6 by 8s. We had no choice, since that was the egg basket, to put every tie back on the mill and resize.

Dont do it. 
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Offline Jcald327

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2020, 09:15:40 AM »
Well now this is why y'all make the big bucks.  When I'm rolling in dough after a decade or 2 of hard work, I'm going to remember FF ;)

I guess I'm going to attempt to price myself out of this job, 40 cents a bf, paid for what I cut, regardless of whether it meets inspection when they go to sell, 50 cents a mile for travel, and guaranteed money regardless of market (ie I get paid by the log regardless of whether they are sitting on a trailer load they cant sell).

I think I can rig a tie unloader from my bunks in an hour or 2 out in the garage. But you guys are making this sound like the terrible venture I was kinda thinking it would be.  Oh the dollar signs that cloud ones judgment.


Thank you gentlemen, I owe you my back ;) (and my knee thanks you as well)
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Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2020, 09:33:00 AM »
   Read Jeff's post real carefully. If you do agree to cut ties be sure you know the rules such as centering heart, kind of wood etc or better yet just put that back on the customer that rejects are on him (unless it is an obvious sawing failure or such). Or possibly just specify cutting the items you can excel (and make money at) on cutting. Good luck.
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Offline Southside

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2020, 09:50:54 AM »
Before you even do that ask him why he came to you. The reason is likely that it's because nobody else will do it, Jeff gave you a very valid reason as to why. 

I have turned down the opportunity to saw ties. The only money was from the depreciation of my equipment and that's not profit. 

The money in ties comes from getting any grade out of the side lumber, something you are not going to get custom sawing. 
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Offline ButchC

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2020, 10:45:50 AM »
I work part time at an Amish mill that has a tie contract and while I am not privy to the exact dollars it is CHEAP work and they will toss out your bundles for all manner of defects. The only time they make ties is when they lack orders for other finished product, that tells the story I guess. 
 Be sure you know exactly what they accept and what they will not and do not stake anything important on that income, that's my take from the Amish which seems to concur with ithers here.
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Offline SawyerTed

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2020, 11:22:57 AM »
I've been approached to saw ties.  I don't see how to make money at it and it isn't reliable. The average number of ties per hour to cover costs isn't possible with the equipment I have without paying helpers.  Making tie size timbers requires two helpers at my mill or the going is slow and the work is exceptionally hard.  I think I would attempt to saw some ties if you haven't done it before and just see how you like it and how long it takes.  

Even if I buy logs, I make more sawing utility lumber than I ever could sawing ties at what I was offered.
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Offline Jcald327

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2020, 11:42:31 AM »
Yea the response here is an overwhelming no, across the board.  Email has been dispatched declining tie work.  If the want slabs and whatnot, I'm good, but not touching the ties. 

Thanks again FF 
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Offline Ron Wenrich

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2020, 11:43:33 AM »
I sawed ties for a good many years.  I ran an automated circle mill and could break down a tie log in a couple of minutes.  There was no handling of slabs and we also cut lumber off the side cuts.  I maintained long term buying from our tie buyers due to the quality of tie I made.  The quality of tie depended on the quality of log coming in.  Not every log made a tie.  Shake, rot, splits, and wane will kill a tie quality.  Sometimes you can saw around your defects, sometimes you can't .  Produce poor quality ties and you'll lose a buyer.  

What happens to those rejects, and how do you get paid?  I sawed my rejects into another product before it left my headblocks.  The ones that were too bad got tossed into the chipper.  

To make money, you'll need good support equipment and a way of producing volume.  I'm not sure you can do that with a swing mill and at that price level.  
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Offline moodnacreek

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2020, 12:52:59 PM »
Watch a video of a hurdle or other mill sawing out ties and see what your up against.

Offline Tom the Sawyer

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2020, 01:08:28 PM »
 

 

Ties and pallet stock are a low-margin endeavor for a high-production mill setup.  Glad to see you turned that opportunity away.  ;)
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Offline taylorsmissbeehaven

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2020, 01:17:04 PM »
I had a long time customer call me a year or so  ago and ask if I would be interested in cutting ties from logs ff a new pasture they cleared. He would stage the logs, provide a tractor and help me.I gave a price per tie that made him cry. I just couldnt do it for less. A few months ago, he called again and wanted to know if I could cut posts for a new structure on the farm. They needed to be the same dimensions as the ties a year before but twice as long. :D :D Same price again and same tears again. I guess he thought I would do better if they were for him. There is definitely not enough meet on the bone for a sawyer a "broker"!!! JMTC Brian
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Offline Jcald327

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2020, 05:01:55 PM »
Spent the day bucking logs from a windstorm a while back, and the local mill is paying 45 - 75 cents a bf for clear lumber, and alot of these are.  Going to load with a bobcat next week and make a few trips (20 miles) and make more in 2-3 days of work running a chainsaw than I would have in a week or possibly 2 cutting and moving ties, without putting the first hour on my mill.  Although the husky 395 was no fun throwing around for 4-5 hours today, I dont want to think about tie after tie after tie.
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Offline sawmilllawyer

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #15 on: January 13, 2020, 10:02:17 PM »
Good on you! JCald.
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Offline barbender

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #16 on: January 13, 2020, 11:03:10 PM »
I wouldn't want to get into sawing ties, and I definitely wouldn't want to do it with a swing mill. I can't see how that would work very well at all.
Too many irons in the fire

Offline stavebuyer

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2020, 04:58:20 AM »
While I would not recommend a swing mill for sawing of ties I will say that I did very, very well financially by sawing them. I owned the logs and graded my lumber. A tie is no different than any other wholesale market. Supply and demand rule; pricing dictates what products and species are chased. If you have been in the hardwood lumber business more than a short time you will have seen almost every product and species boom and bust. Supply is short, panic buying until market is saturated, panic price drop and zero demand, repeat.

Small world. Business relationships can and do matter. Make your buyer bid, beg, and pay a premium in strong markets, always push the quality standard and you can be expect to be "rewarded" when the market turns to favor the buyer.

If you want to succeed cutting ties you need to want to cut a good tie. You have to have a better quality log than most realize to cut a good tie. Too many think a "tie log" is whatever is left after you cut the grade log(s) off. Ties are a graded product that needs to meet or exceed the grade standards. 

Jump into to cutting ties as a last resort because you can't sell flooring lumber or 4x6s and you will most likely not have a favorable outcome. 



Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #18 on: January 14, 2020, 09:03:31 AM »
   Please don't forget the original question was to saw logs into ties for a customer. He is not selling the ties or any side lumber, just sawing them for a client. The question is it profitable for him to saw slabs, ties and lumber using his current swingblade equipment.
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Re: Reality check, BF pricing and railroad ties
« Reply #19 on: January 14, 2020, 09:35:09 AM »
From a different perspective, if ties are bringing $0.50-.55/ board foot.  ($25 ish per tie with sloppy quick math and I am not up to date on current prices.)  If you are sawing even at $0.30/board foot, that only leaves $0.20-.25 to buy logs?  Most anything that will make a tie around here will bring more than that on the stump!  So, where is he getting the logs? 
 
My hunch is that these are logs rejected from a larger operation and knows a lot about the sawmill biz or else a tree service and knows very little.  Either way, would expect metal or other defects.

On the flip side, there could still be a lot of potential working for this client on the other options, just ties are not the ticket here.  ;)
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