Log-Hauling Equipment Choices

Sawmill operators talk about the rigs they use to move logs from off site. October 3, 2007

Does anyone have advice to share on adding a road-legal log trailer/grapple loader to a small-scale lumber service? I currently have a WM sawmill, 2500 bf kiln, skidsteer, and a 25" planer. Total investment of $41K, plus barn, truck, chainsaw... It looks like a trailer/loader to match my operation would run between $15K and $20K. I started off mobile, but now I'm only willing to accept jobs where the customer delivers logs to me. This limits my customer base and my business to part time. I'm wondering if the ability to bring my customer's logs to my site for a fee will add enough business to justify the added equipment. I realize there are too many variables for anyone to say whether I should or not. I'm just looking for insight from others.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
It's hard to justify spending that kind of money for something you don't really put to work all the time. I looked at getting a grapple trailer, but like you, wondered if I could justify the expense (especially to get one that would lift up large logs). I have a lot of urban customers that have one or two logs from a yard tree and frequently no room for the sawmill. My solution was to take a 16' flatbed trailer and make hydraulic loading arms similar to those used on portable sawmills. You drive the trailer next to the logs, roll them on the arms, and the loader flips them on the trailer. I put a little 5hp gas and hydraulic pump up on the trailer tongue. The arms fit into stake pockets on the trailer, and get thrown in the truck when the logs are loaded. To unload, you just roll the logs off the side of the trailer (no fenders). Excluding the trailer (that I already owned), the whole setup cost somewhere around $1500. I'm still not sure how much weight it will pick up... biggest I've lifted to date is a 28" oak 10' long.

From contributor H:
I say hire a log truck to haul the logs to you. Here they charge $75 a thousand feet, and they can haul about 3000 feet at a time. That's for 50 miles or less. Check around and find out what they charge in your neck of the woods.

From contributor J:
While not strictly related to your question, yesterday a neighbor had two sweetgum trees taken down. The tree service moved the logs out to the street. There were 9 logs total, each 12.5' long and the largest was about 24" in diameter at the big end. About an hour after the tree guys left, an old truck pulled up - it was a converted U-Haul, with the box removed and a PTO driven winch and short crane mounted right behind the cab. With one helper, the operator was able to load all the logs in a very efficient manner - he would lift one end and drag it up onto the bed so it was caught by an upright fork, the helper would move the grapple to the other end of the log, then the winch would pull that onto the truck. I was impressed by the simplicity and low budget nature of the setup. It did require two people, but they loaded the logs and motored down the road in less than 15 minutes after arriving. Obviously, this is just one approach, and your mileage may vary.

From contributor B:
I personally think you would soon find picking up customers' logs and delivering the lumber to be a royal pain. To pick up a log, even one just down the street, will require at least an hour of your time hooking up, driving, loading, returning, unloading and unhooking. By the time you add $50-100 for pickup onto a customer's bill, there is really not much incentive for the customer to have their logs custom sawn.

If a customer really wants logs sawn, they can get very creative in getting logs to you. If you want such a trailer for other uses as well as picking up customer logs, it may be worth the price, but as a means to generate business, I wouldn't recommend it.

By the way, I have a Majaco grapple trailer. I find it useful for dealing with slab wood, getting freebie logs and buying large, hard to move items at auctions cheap because others can't move them, but I don't use it much to get a customer's logs for the above reasons.

From contributor S:
I don't know about other states, but here in the Communist State of California, you don't want a truck larger than a 1 ton as the regulations on anything bigger are more than a sawmiller can afford. Annual inspections by the CHP, license and weight fees, and required insurance, to name a few.

My mill isn't portable and I have to turn down a lot of work and/or free trees because of that. I will get free ones here within a few miles, but it is a pain since I have to haul the tractor to the site and then go back to get it. A grapple trailer would be nice.

From contributor A:
A 20k investment depreciated over 60 months is about $335/mo to own the equipment. Will you make more than that by owning it? I'm going to buy a 12'-16' trailer and add a log loader similar to what contributor R mentions in his post. You could also get by with a trailer and a winch to get started. Where are you located in Wisconsin?

From contributor C:
You already have a skid loader. All you need now is a trailer. Load the logs with forks and haul them home. This takes two trips unless your trailer is big enough. I have a 28' gooseneck and can haul one row of logs and the loader.

From the original questioner:
Excellent advice everyone. Thanks much. I'm in Milltown, in the center of Polk County, 1.5 hours NE of St. Paul, MN.

From contributor O:
I use an 18 ft. flat bed trailer with 10,000 lb winch, pulley block, and two steel ramps for moving logs. It works good and fast for less than $2000 invested. The largest log I loaded myself was 16' long and 24" diameter red oak.

From contributor U:
I live over in your neck of the woods. What type of kiln do you have?

From contributor I:
If you want to load on the cheap, like me, get a cheap 12 volt winch, and drill some holes in the edge of your car trailer so you can mount the winch on either side temporarily. Then carry a couple 2x6 5' long to use for ramps, run the cable over the top and under the log, then hook to the edge of the trailer. The winch just puts the log right over the edge of the trailer and off you go. The winch mounts on the far side of the trailer from the side you are loading the log onto. Take your cant hook along so you can roll the logs after loading, and fill the trailer up.

From contributor M:
5 ton truck (diesel) with a hiab picker - $8000 - and I also use it to deliver lumber. It's registered to the farm for cheaper insurance. I use a set of log tongs rather than a big expensive grapple (just have to climb up on the deck to release them). Best part is no trailer to hook up and similar mileage to a 1 ton pickup.

From contributor S:
Using my Kubota, ramps, and cross-hauling, I have loaded a 4' x 12' (small end diameter) sugar pine butt cut and hauled it with the next 12' cut on my 16' 2 axle trailer about 5 miles to home. The tree was in town at 2750' elev. and my house is at 3200' with a mid trip elevation change of about 300' when I crossed the bridge at Bear Creek. I am located in West Point, Calaveras Co., Calif. By the way, I went back for the rest of the tree.

From contributor K:

I use a dumpster and chain the log to the hook lift... Sling it in the dumpster, close the doors, and I'm on my way. For the record, when you're hauling logs, ensure that your maximum gross carry capacity isn't overweight. The lawyers have ways of making those determinations during an accident investigation. You will lose every time. Also ensure that you're compliant with the local/federal tie down requirements. So many get by with a jerry-rigged setup that is far from appropriate. Any accident and you will be scrutinized beyond your capacity to believe. Just because your 3/4 ton truck is tough and your single car trailer is tough, and you're either overloaded or under-secured, if you're involved in an accident (your fault or not), you will be screwed.

They even inspect the wear rating of the tires on the trailer. 5 ton trailer with tires that are for a light pickup, you're screwed. Or a converted travel trailer with a 2" ball is now a big log carrying trailer. Except it still has only one axel of brakes, and the 2" ball, etc. You get the picture. No excuse for killing someone because you were using the wrong equipment for the job.

From contributor T:
I use a 14' flat bed trailer that has no springs, so it is low to the ground. I put a boom that will swing to both sides and is 8' long so it will reach the half way point of the trailer. I put a hand crank winch on the boom. It will lift about as much as you want to crank by hand, but that is about a 16" log 8' long. If the logs are dried out some it will lift larger. Anything larger than that I will drag load with ramps at the back of the trailer. It's a little bit of a pain, but it beats the "heave ho" method.

From contributor L:
I purchased a 7 ton log trailer and grapple from Baileys several years ago. It does a good job. Get the highest rated grapple and hydraulics you can afford. The unit is rated at 7 tons but the trailer and grapple weighs 2.5 tons, so the load capacity is about 4 tons. I hauled (4) red oak logs with an average diameter of 22" and 10' long and it was a load. Not only can you haul logs for your customer, but also pick up a lot of free timber from folks who just want to get rid of it. The (4) logs came from a gentleman who had the tree sawn down on his lot. The tree service wanted $1500 to haul it off. He was glad to give it to me.

From contributor K:
Hey, if they are paying someone to haul them away, you should tell the customer you will do it for half of what the other guys are going to charge. You will get the logs and you will be paid. In 1998 I cut up a tree that someone was going to charge $5,000 to cut up, remove, and clean up. I went in and saved him a thousand dollars. Did it all in two days. One tree, 5 cords of wood.

From contributor L:
I try to be fair with everyone. I was able to get (4) logs that will yield about 1000 bd. ft. of lumber that will be used in projects I build. If purchased at a sawmill it would have cost at least $1500.00. Quartersawn, the lumber would sell for a minimum of $1000.00 green. Had I taken them to the log yard they would have brought $700/$800. The owner took care of the limbs and unwanted wood. All I had to do was back the trailer along side of the logs and load. Took a total of 20 minutes and about an hour of travel time. I think $1000.00 worth of wood for 1 1/2 hours of work is fair. The owner saved $1500 and I was justly compensated. Also, the logs were in a residential area and I was able to pass out business cards to several people that day, so who knows what the job will lead to. It is still possible to earn a living and be fair when dealing with people.

From contributor K:
I understand your reasoning, but let me put it another way. You have now created a value to your services. The next guy will have a difficult site, and your "picking it up for free" now has less of a value to you (more time, effort, etc). Now charge him, and he will report back to you, "you didn't charge neighbor A." It makes for a can of worms.

I used to haul used horse feed. Charged for it to cover expanses, trucking, tires, tarps, tractor, etc. Soon my competitor undercut my charges, then another competitor undercut his charges. Within a couple years, it was being hauled for free. A $10,000 a year contract became a $00.00 dollar contract. It hurts the economy of work... It hurts the bottom line everywhere.

People will act differently when they have to pay for a service. I don't mean gouge. Just pay a simple fee, even if it saves him a ton of money, human nature says that he will feel like he got a good deal at your lesser rate, verses "free." Then you can get folks trying to take advantage of your free tree pickup service... by loading junk wood (just to get rid of it).

I have dumpsters, used to set them for free at tree sites, then I noticed all the garbage wood (had a grinder at the time, so it wasn't all that bad). But I was looking only to get the saw logs. They saw it as a way to get rid of all their logs, for free. When I started charging for the service, they were really particular and careful to load only good saw logs. Garbage loads cost a lot more. And I had a sliding scale; some folks just don't have the money (traded services once, for a peach pie). Money does make a difference (the pie was worth it too).