Figuring Sawing Prices

Sawmill operators share views on how to charge for their product or service. December 12, 2008

I just inherited a Lucas mill from my dad and was wondering what a fair price is to charge people to cut their logs into lumber. I mostly deal with hemlock, Douglas fir, and western cedar. I just did a little job for $250/1000. Is that too low a price? I cut all 1X6 and 1X4 boards. Also, my dad charged different for the different cuts. He was charging $250/1000 for 2" (thickness) and by the hour for 1" or smaller. I live in Western Washington on the coast.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
Certainly your location affects the price. You could try and check with other sawyers in your area. Or talk to the folks who locally sharpen blades. You could also look at your costs and determine how much you need to charge to break even, and then how much to charge to make a decent wage. Be sure and factor in insurance, repair, advertising, maintenance, blades, fuel and equipment purchases.

From contributor A:
250/thousand is a good price if you can get it. How much are you making an hour? Don't worry about being fair. Does the transmission shop worry about fair when they charge two grand to rebuild a tranny? Most services try to figure out what the market will bear and fairness has no part in that.

From contributor D:
250 a thousand for 1 inch isn't enough. I generally charge by the hour for 1 inch. It's not too bad for 2". I try to get my prices closer to 300, but I come with a skidsteer as well. Depend on the size of the logs as well. I've got over 4000 hours on my Lucas.

From contributor R:
Be fair. There are few tranny shops, and sawyers hanging off every branch.

From the original questioner:
Well, my brother and I are pretty new to the game, so we don't want to charge by the hour right now. We are pretty slow at setting up the logs and still figuring out the saw. We were thinking that 250/1000 for 1" was not enough also. Our dad told us that we should charge by the hour for 1" too. We also had to deal with small logs on our first job and I am pretty sure we shorted ourselves on our price. The biggest log we had was only 20" and 14' long. Most of them were 14" and under. Thanks for the info.

From contributor S:
Well, a fair way for everyone involved might be to charge by the bdft, but set a minimum hourly charge. That way, if the client supplied small, crooked logs or really big ones that were a hassle to deal with, you'd end up with at least your minimum rate. I'd also set a minimum job rate, say 5-6 hours at the minimum sawing rate. You can't go driving around and setting up for a few bucks.

From contributor J:
I am new to the sawing game and I realise that different areas of our countries have different economic circumstances, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a cost to sawing, the equipment, and maintaining your equipment and yourself, and those costs don't seem to respect economic boundaries.

When I started sawing and went out to buy a new mill, I did some cost accounting and I came up with a dollar figure to turn the key on my mill of $25/hr. Based on a 1000 hour year and wanting to make $50,000/yr for myself, I need to add $50/hr to the $25 it costs to run the mill. As a result, I only cut by the hour, I charge $75/hr for "retail" customers (one time cut - no repeat business) and $60/hr for "commercial" customers (referrals and repeat business - farmers, etc). I don't see any sense in working for a poverty line wage when I am the one investing in equipment and without a pension plan or any other sort of benefits. Cheers!

From contributor S:
I don't see a big cost hit to cut 1" stock (as long as it is wide). It may be a help if you gave us your hourly bf production rate for 1" stock. Isn't yours a swing blade mill? If so what is the cut depth?

I do work in the west and I do share my prices with the local mills; we also talk occasionally and it is a big help to compare notes on price, blades, and techniques. Our current prices run at .35/bf (but can be higher for various reasons, such as small logs). My last two hourly jobs came in at .30/bf and I wished then I sold the jobs on a bf basis.

From the original questioner:
Okay. We have only done one job and it was a learning experience so I cannot guess what our hourly bf rate is. It gets faster every day as we figure everything out. Yes, it is a swing blade and it has an 8" cut depth.

We just moved to another job and taking into consideration what info we have gotten from the forum and other sources, we have decided to charge $45/hr on the 1" stuff and $300/1000 on the larger cuts.

Thank you all for your input. I definitely know where to go when I have a question, and trust me I will be on here a lot. I think we have it figured out now and we will just have to fine tune our rates as we progress. But at least we have a pretty good ballpark figure to work on now.

From contributor S:
I would expect your hourly to be higher. From my calculations if you cut 250 bf in an hour you would be making $75/hr. Your rate suggests only 150 bf/hr.

From contributor M:
I too run an 8" Lucas. Currently for commercial customers (a local sawmill) I charge .25/bdf gross log scale. The mill bucks to length, cleans up the scrap wood, brings me the logs and hauls off the sawn wood. Rarely will I cut anything less than 12" and then only if the mill is short on logs for the cut list. They also scan the logs for metal before I get them. I mostly cut 4/4 for that price. Currently cutting 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 10'. On really large stuff the mill provides a hand to pull the cut wood. I'm just not dumb enough or hungry enough to try and pull a 4" x 12" x 12' white oak.

At first I tried cutting around metal in logs and it just doesn't work. One nail = one saw blade rebuild = $25. Don't go there unless the customer agrees to pay for blades.

I charge double price for the whole log to double cut wide boards. It's funny that it took me 2 years to get established with the mill to cut his "oversize" logs and now can't hardly get away long enough to do other sawing jobs. On logs over 36", you should be able to get a little more per because very few mills can cut them and the log can be sawn in place getting away from any trucking charges. I'm located in western Oregon.