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Author Topic: railroad ties  (Read 10913 times)

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Offline jay2444

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railroad ties
« on: January 02, 2012, 04:35:41 PM »
is anyone out there making a living sawing railroad ties. I run a sawmill for another guy and I am thinking of getting my own mill I live in northern minnesota just wondering how everyone else was doing. Thank you

Offline jueston

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2012, 07:00:03 PM »
welcome to the forum, its good to see another minnesotan here.
i dont know anything about RR ties but i know there are several people on the forum that have cut a lot of ties and they will be able help answer your question

Offline paul case

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2012, 07:06:21 PM »
As a sideline to my farm, part of my income comes from sawing ties.
The tough part of ties is you must have an outlet for the side lumber and some logs that won't tie. The buyer I sell to will not take defective ties( too much bark, bug holes in the end,heart rot, discoloration, ect.). Those may make some ok lumber for pallets, but not ties. I can't seem to find a logger is the other thing. No one to bring me logs. I have to do my own logging. Most tie mills around here also build pallets or sell grade lumber. I don't think you could possibly find a logger who would bring you a load of logs without having a few in it that won't tie.
I would say that ties only account for 1/2 or less of my sawing income. PC
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Offline Ohio_Bill

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2012, 08:13:04 PM »
Hi Jay and Welcome, I do my own logging   and the butt logs and clear upper logs go to the big boys. I can get more out of those logs than if cut the lumber and sell it .I cut the upper logs and low grade  into tie length  105 inch . I have a kiln and dry most of the high grade side lumber. I sell the low grade for siding and whatever. The center 7 by 9 makes ties.  When I first started I thought we would get covered up with low grade side lumber , but it seems to sell . 
I have a neighbor  that buys his logs and sells ties  . His philosophy is the ties pay for the log and he has the side lumber to make his profit off of.
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Offline Banjo picker

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2012, 08:40:38 PM »
Jay it would be best not to have all the eggs in one basket.  The tie market is fickle...at times they can't get enough and the price is good, followed by a time when they might cut you off and not buy anything from you...it would be good to have several outlets....Banjo
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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2012, 08:49:25 PM »
Welcome to the Forestry Forum, jay2444.   :)

It's all about marketing.  Where do you get your logs from, who do you sell the ties to, who do you sell the side lumber to.  What will you do with the logs/lumber that do not yield a tie.  Will you deliver the ties or will the buyer pick them up.  Also ties are heavy, so support equipment is a must.

There are niches in the sawing/lumber business.  Some may be easily found but most are elusive.  It just may take time to develop a particular market that suits your operation.
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Offline Ron Wenrich

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2012, 05:59:25 AM »
A lot depends on your production capabilities.  I run a bigger circle mill and can reduce a tie quality log into a tie and lumber in about 2-3 minutes.  My cost margin is fairly low.  But, I make more money cutting a log into a tie than cutting it into other products. 

We've been cutting ties for 30 years, so we have a place in the market.  The grader comes in every week to see if we have a load.  A load for us is 220 ties.  He cuts a check and we deliver the ties.  We can do 1-2 loads a week in decent logs.  Not every log makes a tie. 
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Offline gandrimp

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2012, 11:41:56 AM »
This brings a question up I have. From the 105" log can more than 1 tie be cut? Say I had a 28" log, can I get 4 ties?
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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2012, 01:29:57 PM »
I'm not in the tie business, but aren't boxed hearts pretty much a requirement?
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Offline smwwoody

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2012, 02:36:51 PM »
most of the time you can make more than one tie from the same log.  The pith needs to be at least 1 inch inside the finished tie or the finished tie needs to be pith free.  the pith can not be opened in any face of the tie.  This is normally only true for cross ties.  Switch or bridge normally need to have a boxed heart.  a lot of this depends on the grader and how flooded the market is at the time.

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Offline Kansas

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2012, 02:50:22 PM »
First thing you need to do is decide either your market, or your mill, one or the other, in conjunction with your raw material choices. A bandmill in the vein of a woodmizer or similar saw is not ideal for ties. As Ron pointed out, he can smoke through a bunch of logs in a hurry. If you want to put in a circle mill of sufficient size, that will work. But for what ties pay, at least what I see on here, its starvation wages for a smaller band mill. Not saying you cannot get by. But there has to be a better way to make a living with one.  What do you have to cut? What is plentiful in your area? Who are you competing against? If bigger mills have all the tie logs locked up, you need to look at what else is available. Look at alternative markets. Ties will mean you have to take whatever is offered by the buyer, and if and when the buyer wants them. Specialty products and marketing means you can dictate the price, at least to a point.

Out of curiosity,what species are in your area, preferably within 30 or so miles of where you set your mill up?

Offline Ron Wenrich

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2012, 06:07:51 PM »
You need to know your costs.  You can make money sawing anything as long as the final price of the products pay for your logs and your sawing costs.  Profit = Lumber price - saw costs - log costs.

What adds up for us, in addition to low production time is that we can sell our waste.  Chips are about $32/ton and we're getting $25/ton on the sawdust.  We also sell the bark at $40/ton.  Rule-of-thumb is that about half of your production goes into waste.  Taking that a step further, we'll drop the cost of logs about $90-100/Mbf. 

You also have to know what your alternatives are to ties.  We're getting about $20/tie.  If I want to cut that down to a 4x6 cant, I'll get about 18 bf of lumber in the side cuts.  That cant is worth about $6.  That means I need to average about $750/Mbf on the lumber just to break even.  One piece of 2 com lumber will blow the price value.  I don't chase lumber in low grade logs.  Get them in and out as quick as possible.

You should have an idea how much it costs you to run your mill.  I like to know as a time factor, not a Mbf factor.  If your costs are $60/hr or $1/min, then you can figure how much it costs to cut a tie.  If it takes you 20 minutes to cut a tie on a bandmill, you're already losing money.  By knowing this cost number, you'll be able to figure out which logs you can afford to saw and which you can't.
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Offline Bibbyman

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2012, 08:47:19 PM »
I think an LT40 Super or LT70 class mill with roller toe boards and some method of getting the tie off the mill can be productive.  With our setup we can make 4-5 ties an hour – including edging and stacking the flooring lumber off the outsides.  We’ve made up to 30 in a short day.

We have several problems producing ties. 

1) We don’t have a good source for tie logs.  Try as I may,  the logger refuses to understand the requirements for a tie log.  Full half the 9’ logs he brings in will not make a tie due to size, major defects, etc.  I almost believe he thinks you can make ties out of junk.  So any junk log he comes across he hacks into tie length or there abouts.

2) He never bucks the logs to tie length or specs.  They are just as often too short to make a tie or too long.  They’re cut crooked, jump cut, spurs, cracked, etc.  They all need one or more ends trimmed.  The only way I have of trimming to length is by chainsaw.  I can do it in-line but it cuts down on sawing as I can’t do both things at one time.  So I tend to put it off until I get a bundle ready to ship.  Then it takes a couple of hours to trim 40 ties – our load on our Dodge.

So by the time you figure sorting through the 9’ logs to get the ones that may make a tie from those that won’t, sawing the logs to find about 20% have some major defect inside that won’t go, having to square and trim to length,  Or tie production rate is pretty low.

Having a faster mill will not solve these problems.

A few years back we visited with a friend that cut ties and flooring lumber exclusively.   He had a big Baker mill.  His loggers only brought him tie logs and it looked like a majority would actually make ties.  He pulled the slabs and lumber off the back as well as the tie.  His offbearer racked the slabs, edged the lumber and stacked it, and then dealt with the tie as required and then rolled it to the end of the line and dumped it in the bundle.  I can't remember how he trimed.  I didn't see that he had to trim any.

I’ve got a couple hundred 9’ logs sorted out and saved up in case some of our other markets go soft or we run out of other logs.  We’ve went through most of our inventory and sawn up the too small ones into 6x8s when we had a market for them.
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Offline jay2444

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2012, 09:43:35 PM »
Thanks for all the input I have actually been sawing ties for the guy I work for I run a bigger circle mill. He buys really low grade logs usually firewood and I saw pallet wood cants and as many railroad ties as I can get usually takes a month to get a load that's why I was asking the question if a guy can turn a profit just sawing ties and some cants from better logs. oh and to answer kansas question we have red oak, birch, maple, ash, aspen, norway pine, white pine, jack pine, tamarak, balsam, spruce, that is the majority of the species. I really appreciate all the feed back I think I will really enjoy being part of this forum lots of good info

Offline Bibbyman

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2012, 10:03:50 PM »
is anyone out there making a living sawing railroad ties.

I think the answer to this is, “How well do you need to live?”.   If you like to spend money, take vacations, buy toys, have debt, would have to borrow money to buy a mill, logs, etc., then I think you may starve to death before the bank takes everything back.   But if you have a pretty good grasp on your major debts and tend to live a simple lifestyle, then you could live.  Even then it’d help to have a wife with a good job, medical and retirement plan to even out the lean times.

Another point in running your own business, it takes discipline to keep your cash balance in order.  It’s not like getting a paycheck every week or month.  Money goes out, money comes in.  Hopefully, more comes in than goes out.  But that will only happen in the long run.  When the money is in the “in” tide, you need to reframe from feeling like it’s yours to spend.   Our business account can very quite a bit depending on when checks come in, logs come in, major repairs, expenses such as taxes, insurance, etc.  You’ll need to build up a cushion so you don’t have to run in the red.

Around here, the logging cycle is a major management problem.  They tend to log hard for 6 months of the year, slow down for about 3 and are about dead the winter months.  So in the summer and fall, we get logs like crazy. We’ll get logs in 2 and 3 times faster than we can saw them.  We get very few logs in during the winter months as we seldom get a hard freeze.    By spring we’re often scraping the bottom to fill orders.
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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2012, 10:46:11 PM »
When I bought my sawmill, I was not dependant upon the sawmill's income so I took no income for myself until I had recouped my initial investment.  That did not hurt, so I continued to take no income until I had built up a nice maintenance fund.

Now, I do take all above expenses and if I have a breakdown, my maintenance fund is there cover those expenses.  I balance my books every quarter.  At that time, I subtract my expenses from my income and write myself a check.

Whatever you do, write yourself a business plan.  Know where you expect your logs to come from, what your product will be, and where your market is.  Change your business plan as your market changes or expands.

I thought that I would be buying logs and selling lumber.  As it ended up, I buy no logs and sell no lumber.  My business is 100% portable custom sawing.
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Offline Ron Wenrich

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2012, 05:44:23 AM »
I don't agree with the assessment that its starvation wages.  The problem with most mills is in log supply.  We do our own logging, and do mainly bid jobs.  Its not that we are paying the lowest price on the stump.  We separate out the veneer.  The rest goes into firewood or sawlogs.  The veneer pretty well pays for the stumpage and the logging.  The sawlogs are basically very low cost.

If you can't solve the log supply problem, no matter what you're sawing, then you will have a production problem.  Even if you bought logs, you have to remedy your production costs to bring them in line with your competition.  That's what is eating into the profits, not the value of the ties. 

Jay2444 - Some logs aren't worthwhile putting on the carriage.  You have to figure that out and keep them out of the product flow.  If they're too small, they're too expensive to mill.  Your production goes down, and that means production costs go up. 
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Offline Bibbyman

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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2012, 08:27:23 AM »
Whatever you do, write yourself a business plan.  Know where you expect your logs to come from, what your product will be, and where your market is.  Change your business plan as your market changes or expands.

I thought that I would be buying logs and selling lumber.  As it ended up, I buy no logs and sell no lumber.  My business is 100% portable custom sawing.

Did you write a business plan?  If so, how come your business went in another direction?

We didn’t have a business plan back in ’93-’94.  We (well I) just wanted a mill.  We had the farm and most every small sawmill in our area were growing up in weeds and brush as their owner’s died off.

We figured we could saw some for ourselves and a little for relatives and neighbors and it started out that way.  We got a lot of custom sawing right off.  Then more people called and just wanted lumber.  We tried drying hardwood lumber and did sale some of it.  But soon found out it was not a good fit for us.

So we went from an idea we could do custom sawing to almost total commercial sawing.

Our “plan” now is what we can make and sale today from what we have now.  We try hard not to build an inventory.
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Re: railroad ties
« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2012, 09:11:46 AM »
Did you write a business plan?  If so, how come your business went in another direction?

Yup, I did, and I followed my own advice.

Change your business plan as your market changes or expands. 

If you are not flexible and always looking for new markets or ideas, then you probably will not survive.

You also had a business plan.  It just was not written down.  You also changed it as your market changed.  It's what we have to be willing to do if we are to survive.
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