I've recently made a few contacts with tree services here in W. MI. It seems I can pick up some nice logs from yard trees around town. Is there a way to make money without buying a sawmill, building a kiln, opening a retail outlet, etc.? I'm happy to keep it small, but I do need it to be profitable. Is anyone doing this successfully as a one man outfit - full time? Are there any small guys selling logs successfully?
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
If you don't want to buy a sawmill, buy a log splitter. I am an urban logger, meaning I saw yard trees. But I don't pay enough (very rarely pay anything) for logs to make it profitable for a guy who would try to sell them. No one to my knowledge does. I hate to see good logs split for firewood, and it happens too frequently so the log splitter advice was partially tongue in cheek. If you really knew a lot about trees and could pick out figured wood (i.e. the one in a million curly/birdseye maple, burl wood...) those logs would sell, but from most yard trees you are going to make more selling firewood. These tree services, what are they doing with the logs now? I work with many tree services to get my logs, and 80% of what they cut down is not marketable. They have a list of what I will take/pay for delivery (labor, gas) if it is out of their way like persimmon, walnut, cherry, cedar. Most logs I fetch myself for free though, it saves them labor and this would cut you out as the middle man.
Any business is supply and demand. You have to know both ends of the market for it to work. You have the supply. Go to all your local sawmills and ask what the demand is and that will give you a better idea of the average to see if is worth your effort. Two things I will add Ė first, I do wish there were more people like you thinking about the use of urban logs, even part time. I don't see a living in it, but it is a good thing. And second, even if you get a sawmill or two that says they will take the yard trees, when you start bringing them logs full of nails and trash metal (the reasons most sawmills won't take them) they will lose interest in a hurry.
I don't know what advice to give you but here is a thought since you want to keep it simple (not stupid, wise). If you have access to logs and there seem to be plenty of sawyers around you, approach them about share cutting for you (again don't bring them nail infested logs, it'll be your last trip to their mill). I share cut 50/50 on quality walnut for example. If you can get species that they will share cut on a decent enough % for you, you are out nothing except your labor. You will have a little lumber to sell, but an ad in the paper usually will do that pretty easy on small amounts at a time. Find out what the local sawmills are selling their green lumber for and do the same. Or build a little $300 homemade d/h kiln and sell it dried for twice the cost. You say the local mills are having trouble finding markets for hardwood lumber, that doesnít mean they are not selling any, just not enough to pay the overhead of a sawmill operation and still profit. If you spend a few hours fetching logs, getting your share after the milling is done and marketing it you have a lot less overhead and the pressure will not be on you to sell so much to profit.
After paying for the tree I hire a guy with a knuckleboom truck to pick it up and take it to the sawmill. I pay him for the service. Next I pay the sawyer for cutting the logs - the biggest advantage is he will cut to my specs, which helps if my customer is looking for something special. I then air dry the lumber and pay rent for the space it takes up. Then, if necessary, pay for kiln drying. Once dry, I have to ship it to its final destination, which is very expensive. So, is it worth it? Mostly yes. I do have my own woodshop and build furniture for sale. When I get some really nice wood it's quite easy to market as there is no shortage of demand for good hardwood. By keeping it small you have to find your own niche and forget about competing with the big guys.
If you can get trees free and haul them yourself you may be better off just selling them to the sawmill. Of course there are markets for green lumber too. Start small and see where it goes. You will meet lots of people in the business and some doors will open for you that you didn't know were there. Harvesting urban trees is a really delightful and very necessary service in my opinion. You'll have to take the bad with the good so just trust your instincts and learn as you go.
I have the lumber trucked all the way out to Arizona where I live full time and found a ready market at the high end furniture shops and production cabinet shops. No advertising needed - word of mouth has THEM finding ME. I've sold everything from one bd.ft. to 1000 bd.ft. You soon learn what everyone is looking for - species, sizes, grade, slabs, etc. and can have the logs milled to meet their needs.
I think the most fun part is that I can provide wood not usually available at the local hardwood retailer, like sassafras, elm, buckeye, honey locust, osage orange, box elder, and on and on. Iíve recently discovered a whole new market out here in the carvers who need bass, butternut and tupelo.
Be careful - a lot of people will try to sell you crap logs, which is OK if you have the means and desire to produce firewood, which can still make you money. Believe me, you'll learn fast where you fit in and it'll be a heck of a lot of fun too. And every now and then you'll get a curly cherry or quilted maple and they'll be beating a path to your door.