Getting Into Flooring Production

The owner of a rough lumber business has been getting a lot of requests for hardwood flooring. Here's a discussion of what equipment he would need to start producing it, and what markets he should cultivate in order to make money. November 13, 2005

I cut and sell rough lumber, some green and some dried. I'm getting a lot of requests for flooring, mostly oak, maple, and walnut. Can someone give me a quick breakdown on what is needed to get into the flooring business, excluding advertising?

I'm imagining something like:
1. Saw lumber to 4/4. What width?
2. Grade and dry lumber.
3. Resaw to rough thickness and/or rip to width.
4. Run through 4 sided moulder.

Is that accurate, in regard to production?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
To start a small scale flooring manufacturing operation, you would probably need a dry kiln, resaw, straight line rip saw, and Logosol 4-sided planer moulder. Costs for machinery new, retail, would be about $30,000 to $50,000. The Logosol 4-sided planer moulder's production rates are advertised for up to 1,300 board feet per hour. With that much money invested, you would want to keep the planer/moulder busy. Do you have any estimates of board footage daily, yearly, etc.? If you know about how much flooring you will be producing, you can size machinery accordingly.

From the original questioner:
I can get kiln dried material pretty cheap right now, so I think rather than spend money on a kiln, it may be better put towards dry lumber. Plus, it'll get me going faster. I've got a vertical resaw with auto-feeder, so on a small scale I think that should work out to get started.

Can I do my ripping on a tablesaw or bandsaw, rather than buying a dedicated ripsaw right now? A moulder is a must, and maybe if I can save money on the items I mentioned, I can get the Logosol
I've got a good line on domestic woods, and also some nice low pricing on exotic lumber. Also, I was surprised to find some smaller flooring operations using air dried stock, rather than kiln dried. If anyone here is selling flooring, can you tell me what kind of money is in this market?

From contributor B:
I think a power feeder on your table saw would work to start out. You should use kiln dried wood in the range of 6%. You donít want a situation where new flooring is installed and then starts to shrink, with the joints opening and boards cupping.

From the original questioner:
Kiln dried it is. It sounds like the integral part is the moulder. I can get kiln dried cherry for $1.75/BF. If I run it thru the moulder, what is it worth? Does anyone know where to find the going price of flooring across the country?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Most flooring is also end matched. You need to also have a grading system for flooring in mind, as some customers like character and others do not. Some want vertical grain, some like heartwood only, some have color requirements and only a few will accept all these variations in one bundle. There are also size requirements for flooring. But you will find the greatest issue will be installation - correct MC, excellent size control, etc. Length is also important. Then you need to package and wrap. Although a molder is OK, you will need 4 different heads.

Once you check out all the issues, including dry storage, you will find that you cannot compete with the flooring offered at Home Depot and similar places, for the price and quality. Your only chance would be to make specialty flooring, but then finding markets would be the hurdle.

From the original questioner:
If it's so hard to compete with Home Depot, then why is WoodPlanet so full of flooring RFQ's?

From contributor C:
Around here you can buy oak flooring for $2.00 sq ft. Unless you can buy kiln dry rough oak for significantly less than that, you would be hard pressed to make any money at it, unless you find a niche market.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Perhaps it will help if you recognize that most commercial flooring manufacturers use No.3A common grade of oak lumber. Yields may be a bit lower, but they can produce good flooring. Raw material cost is about 80% of the total cost. If you use higher grade, you cannot compete economically.

From contributor D:
I would try and do custom runs of specialty flooring, that you can't get in the big box stores. Don't be afraid to charge. People who are looking for that sort of product are not looking for a deal. They are looking for customer service, quality and a one of a kind product like quarter sawn white oak or wide plank walnut.

From the original questioner:
It sounds like I'd need to find a much cheaper source of material.

From contributor E:
You might take note of the fact that none of the above responders is actually doing what you are contemplating. Seek out someone who is doing what you have in mind. Also, price is one thing, and value is another. I can and do sell oak flooring for over 3 bucks, using my own sawn lumber, in the shadow of three major box stores and several competitors who are much like me. The installers here know that the box store flooring is lower quality, and some will charge extra to install the ten zillion short pieces and for the 2 extra sanding grits they will have to use to get the floor flat. Some will not install it at all. I do not end match. It is not necessary and should not hinder your ability to sell. It is totally possible to profitably produce high quality flooring from better than 3a lumber, in long lengths.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor E has indeed repeated what I said. You cannot compete with the box stores so you must make a special flooring. Contributor E apparently makes long, flat pieces. He also must do good marketing if he is able to get business when there are several competitors nearby. In general, people will often buy a product because of delivery and quality and not necessarily because it is the cheapest. In other words, you do not want to try to compete with the others (i.e., big box stores) by making the same product. I think that this is what many of the postings were trying to say. I do think we are all on the same page indeed.

From contributor E:
Gene, your initial post sounded like you felt the idea was a lost cause because of the box store product. I have never found that to be the case, and in fact their mediocre offerings help me to market mine. Much of the advice was to not offer what they do at the box stores, and I agree. However, I can sell a 2-1/4" strip floor, which is their main flooring product, for more than they charge because I can demonstrate to the customer that it is a better value, and a finer product. I thought the original questioner might like a little encouragement that it is possible to do what he is considering without using the box store as a pricing or quality model.

From contributor F:
Why do you need a resaw to make flooring? I assume you are making it 3/4" thick.

From contributor G:
I don't see a gang saw mentioned in this topic. That is much faster than using a SLR saw. If you use a 5 head moulder your thickness probably won't be as critical pre run. 3A grade lumber does make excellent flooring, if you donít need wide flooring. If you are going to be a wholesaler, the vendor will most likely want it end matched. We make 10-15,000 sq. ft. a year, and we also install and finish. A big item for us is that our flooring doesn't have the bevel or radius on the edge, so less dirt can get into cracks. We mainly run quarter and rift sawn White Oak, but do other specialty runs, for example varied widths, 8" widths, character grades, and longer lengths.

From contributor A:
I do some residential construction work, and I am an assistant manager for 300 acres of timberland. We had thought about adding a Logosol 4-sided planer/moulder to our operation, but after crunching some numbers, we discovered we don't have enough board footage to run through the machine yearly, monthly, etc. We have come up with a new idea of a 13" Dewalt thickness planer and a 3hp. router and router table with tongue and groove bits, and also raised panel bits for cabinets.

An option to the Logosol 4-sided planer/moulder may be the Powermatic 15" planer/moulder with commercial capability with a 5 hp. Motor. Price new retail is about $1,800.00. We simply don't need that much machine for our operation, and having more experience in residential construction, we like the portability of the Dewalt thickness planer and router with router table, giving us mobility with the capability we need at the job site. We can solar dry some high grade hard maple and take the lumber to the jobsite and custom build cabinets, flooring etc. right there.

From contributor F:
You may be better off having someone else with good equipment turn your wood into flooring.

From contributor G:
There are a lot of guys on here who swear by W&H. I'm not that familiar with them but worth a look. If you're doing cabinetry it is worth it to have a moulder in my opinion. You always need rail stock, crown, some base, and if you make your doors and drawers the S4S is invaluable. Moldings and flooring should just be icing on the cake.

From contributor H:
I make flooring with a Logosol. It is much faster and easier than a router and planer, but it has its pros and cons. The pros are that it is faster, thicknesses don't have to be the same, as the sizes coming out of the machine are the same every time. The cons are that it takes some time to learn how to set every head and roller, it is very hard to not get snipe in the first 6 inches of the board, and if you are running long boards you need a lot of space. You must also think about routing tongue and grooves on the end of the flooring. For the tongue I recommend that you use a shaper with a good clamping slide. You will need good help because after running in the Logosol, your ends must be cut square before you put a tongue and groove on it.

A rip saw is a good investment. I use a Woodmaster and it is much safer than 1,000 consecutive rips on a table saw.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
I currently operate a small moulding/flooring shop doing what you are proposing. I purchase stumpage and harvest the timber where it is then sawn into lumber using a Wood Mizer bandsaw mill. From there it goes into a Nyle L200 dehumidification kiln and is dried to 6% MC in about 30 days. (4000 bd ft per load) It is then taken back to the Wood Mizer and resawn to specified widths to make 2 1/4", 3 1/4" and 4 1/4" flooring and sorted into 2 grades that I offer.

The first grade is a clear grade which sells for $2.50 per square foot and has no knots or defects. The second is a "rustic grade" which has some small tight knots and defects and sells for $2.00 per square foot. It then goes through a Logosol PH 260 single phase moulder and made into flooring. This machine is very accurate and does a good job in a finished product. I do not end match any of my flooring. I have installed flooring in three projects and had excellent results one of which was 1100 square foot of white ash 4 1/4" flooring in new construction.

I make about 60% profit on the clear grade flooring prior to installation and even higher if I install the flooring, which I rarely do. I plan on adding a second Logosol moulder, but in a three phase model for the additional power and it will only produce hardwood flooring and trimwork.

I stay as busy as I need to be and have done little advertising; most has been word of mouth. I have operated the moulding part of my operation for only a year now and am not sorry I expanded from harvesting/sawing to now offering a finished product involving kiln drying and moulding/flooring. The key is to produce a quality product and control your MC through all aspects of the product. My kiln is full and drying either lumber for stock or for a customers each day of the month and has not been shut down longer than to unload/load it.