I'm doing some research on getting into cutting and drying urban trees. I've done a little, but I had to outsource the sawing and drying. Logs just seem to come my way. Assuming the logs are free, what kind of cost per foot should I expect to have into the processing if I get set up to do it myself? I paid about $1/bf for the cutting and drying of the few logs I've had done.
I'd be looking at a stationary setup, electric powered mill, at least 36" capacity since city trees are big. I haven't done much research on the kiln yet, but I like the idea of converting a reefer or shipping container.
This would start out as a small operation since I'd be doing it solo, but if I can find a good market for the lumber, it could grow, since there is an abundance of these trees that usually go to the mulcher.
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor B:
It's not the gold mine you picture. I think everyone who has ever bought a mill has been seduced by the vision you have. Here is a small sampling of what I have into milling at this point. This is just the larger items and doesn't include chain saws, peaveys, planers, maintenance, marketing, taxes, etc.
I have a grapple trailer to pick up logs. $17K used. You can use cheaper methods to get logs, but the tradeoff is time and labor.
I have a hydraulic mill that cuts 36" diameter by 20' long. $36K new. You can get cheaper mills, but the tradeoff is time and labor. An electric mill will be cheaper from the manufacturer, but you will need either 3 phase power from the electric company or a phase converter, either of which will negate the upfront cost.
I have a Nyle kiln. $8K by the time a chamber is constructed or container modified.
I have a flatbed dually to haul the saw and trailer. $18K used.
I have a Bobcat to move the logs, slab wood and lumber stacks. $14K used.
Urban wood is not free if you have to spend time and fuel plus have the right equipment to go get it. The cost of ruining a blade hitting metal in an urban tree may not seem like much on an individual basis, but you also have to consider the time spent changing the blades and removing the metal. If you think scanning the logs is the way to go, you'll be surprised at how much time you'll waste scanning logs and still not finding all tramp metal.
I'm not trying to talk you out of it. If you have a day job that will subsidize your wood hobby, go for it. But if you think you want to do this for a profit, you'll be better off paying the buck a board foot costs you are now.
I would look at the market end long before I looked at equipment and think about further processing of the wood (finished woodworking, buying a moulder). When you pick up yard trees, and I am speaking from experience, no matter what you have in stock, someone wants something else. You are handcuffed by your log supply most of the time to sell only small quantities to hobby woodworkers, use it yourself, or sit on a ton of inventory until you have enough to wholesale.
I am not saying you cannot find a niche and do okay. I've heard rumors of guys who make a living doing what you are talking about. I am also not saying you won't have a ball doing it, whether you make any money or not.
If you can get logs like you think, and have a guy doing you a good job for $1 bft, start selling that wood. All you are out is the other guy's processing fees. If you can turn a profit selling the lumber, stick it in a sock someplace until you have enough money to start looking at equipment. If you find yourself sitting on a bunch of wood you paid to have sawn/dried, that beats the heck out of sitting on a bunch of wood to sell... and a sawmill payment, upkeep (there are surprise things that pop up all the time, and can shoot a week's wages), insurance, etc. Less to worry about makes it more fun.
Some vital steps for setting up the business are...
What is your market?
What will your neighbors allow (saws running at 6am)?
Transport and lifting equipment.
Shop around to see what is available. See if it's something you can carve out a market for. Do it better than the other guy (and still make money). Find a need and fill it (some shipping companies need pallet wood). We have a manufacturer who buys all his lumber for various packing crates from a local miller. It's the miller's big dollars. How much time can you invest without harming the family life and your first business (the one that pays for your addiction)? Can you build something out of your own lumber, and make it profitable? Someone at WOODWEB was making benches out of his scrap, and selling them. Consider the idea of being properly insured, having workman's comp, and registering your trucks, etc. One insurance claim, and if they find out you're not properly insured, you will pay big time. So, keep the paying job until you work out your business plan, then bite off a chunk and go for it.
All that said, I am envisioning selling some lumber as a side component of my business of making furniture out of this wood. There are a great number of woodworkers around here, and there are only a few places hobbyists are able to purchase hardwood lumber. Most of these places are Rockler and Woodcraft, and if you've ever bought any wood at one of these places, you'd be happy to have another option. Retail doesn't even begin to describe their prices. But from what I'm hearing, I should stick with the outsourcing of the sawing and drying for a while. I suppose if I have this location where it is easy for the logs to come to me, it would be easy for somebody to bring their mill to me as well, and a truck to come take the wood to the kiln. Maybe I can do this without any of the expensive equipment?
Running a shop and selling to hobby woodworkers "on the side" is enough to try a Buddhist monk's patience. It's one thing to have a retail outlet with racks to let them look through to their heart's content and a clerk to check them out if they do decide to buy something. It's a whole different game if you have to stop a productive job and hold some numb-nut's hand while he spends an hour looking at every board, tells you in excruciating detail about a project he built from discarded pallet wood back in ' 72, then buys a $5 cutoff. At the very least, consider having a $100-200 minimum to weed out the time wasters. And no matter how much lumber you have in stock, everyone is looking for exactly the size/species/grade that you don't have. Must be some kind of Murphy's Law.
Also, since you've processed a few logs already, you probably realize that even the best of logs contain only a percentage of FAS material. You could soon be swamped with low grade lumber with no outlet. Hobby woodworkers would rather buy a wide FAS board and cut it into little pieces than buy a 1 or 2C board and cut around the defects. And they have no loyalty. They will burn $10 worth of gas to drive somewhere where they can buy lumber for $10 less than you would sell it to them. Go to any woodworking site and see how many gloats there are about finding cheap lumber. I better wrap up my rant before someone who has gotten lumber from me reads this!
Again, as others have mentioned here, what you propose has been done successfully, but if it were as easy as it looks, everyone would be doing it. I'm not knocking your ideas, I'm just giving you a heads up.
Market, market, market. When potential customers call, question, question, question. Find out their needs and do your best to meet them. Learn how to sell that customer. It takes as much education to find and deal with customers as it does to learn the woods and how to saw them efficiently.
Finally, I put together a list of items that I needed to consider before I made the leap of faith (buying a mill), and what I have learned since then:
- Time away from family while developing your business.
- Having the support from your family to do this.
- If the business does grow, what will it take to leave your current full time job to support your new business? For me, quite a bit - no 401K, health benefits, pension. That is very difficult to walk away from.
- Cut for grade… Quarter saw whenever possible.
- Establish firm pricing guidelines and stick to them. Haggling by a potential client is not an option.
- Never believe the stories plastered all over the mill websites. “My mill paid for itself in one year,” etc. Yes, this could and has happened, but it is few and far between.
- Never let your love of woodworking become work.
- For me, woodworking is my way of getting away from it all… a break from work. What is that worth?
Bottom line, it is a risk. Knowing your limitations and mitigating risk is all you can do to cover yourself. Good luck!