It looks like bandsaw mills have a higher recovery rate than circular mills do. My reasoning is that if you are buying logs by the board foot and are being paid by the board foot, you would get more board footage with a bandsaw mill, which means you would make more money, plus you may get overrun, more footage of lumber, than what you bought the logs for. But the bandsaw mill blades cost more to maintain. So are the bandsaw blades and mill worth the extra money to get a good recovery rate?
(From WOODWEB's Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
Recovery rate is not the most important factor in a production mill setup. When I ran a circle blade we would saw a lot of 12 to 14 inch logs into cross ties and get 4 boards off the sides. My band mill does no better other than the fact that I can take a bit more time and often get a better board and trim a bit better. On the circle mill I sawed in an hour what I saw in a day now. I might lose $0.05 a bdft with my circle blade, but saw 10 times as much.
With cedar and small logs, I can recover a bit more, but make smoother cuts and the green lumber looks better. Also time spent planing is less, so profit margin is improved.
As for blade cost, the last circle blade we bought cost about $1600 and took 15 minutes to sharpen every day. Hit wire or trash and you were down 1/2 hour with 6 hands wondering what to do. So I am not afraid to run a $20 blade through a log that may have trash in it. Takes less then 5 minutes to change.
Portable, overrun, lower blade cost and ease of operation are the benefits of a band, but production will never equal a circle. (Yes, there are large production bands, but the cost is high and they rely on bdft per hour to pay.)
1. Time is money. I owned the top of the line Wood-Mizer, but still had to deal with blade maintenance. Though Wood-Mizer offers their ReSharp program, I found it to offer mixed quality. I settled into sharpening my own blades. This added one to two hours onto my sawing day.
2. Most timber sawn is for utility use. Barns, fence boards, even lumber out of high quality logs contains a high percentage of #2 and #3 common.
3. Bandsaw sawdust is a nuisance. Horse owners don't want it, chicken farmers don't want it, and your wife doesn't want it either. Come in looking like a powdered donut a couple of times and you'll know what I mean.
4. Circle saws cut straight lumber. All things being even, a circle mill is going to cut straighter lumber longer with a minimum of care versus a bandsaw mill.
These are some of my thoughts on the subject. I know the orange crew will have a response, but alas, I've "been there, done that." One more thought - if you were sawing high grade cants most of the time, a bandsaw would make sense. That's why they make resaws. Oh yeah, my Peterson cost 1/3 of the Wood-Mizer.
Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
I would have to say the recovery rate of a band mill far outweighs any benefits of a circular mill.
Let's say that a band mill can cut 4000bf of timber a day... band blades at a cost of $20, each lasting 3 sharpens through 400bf and cutting 4000 bf per day (with what a swinger can achieve with a tale man) would bring you a daily cost of $80 dollars, a yearly cost of $20,800. Compared to a swing saw's blade sharpening and tensioning cost of $40-80 every 3 days, $3460-$6933 per year cutting the same quantity. I hope I've got my figures right. $400bf-per band blade=$20, $400bf-per circular=$2.66. Doesn't sound right... Someone told me that they were using one band every 400-500bf - is this correct?
The rule of thumb of 1 Mbf/manday works well and most guys are getting that on a bandmill. But I'm getting in the 2.5-3 Mbf/manday on a circle headrig. That puts my labor costs at about 1/3 and that is probably the biggest cost factor.
My saw costs are less than $1/Mbf, which includes periodic hammering and replacement of a head saw. Replacement teeth cost me about $40 and I can get 75-100 Mbf before replacement, depending on species and the amount of trash hit.
If you're cutting low grade logs, your increased recovery will never pay for your increased mfg costs. However, there is a break even point where the extra recovery will make up the costs. I had figured that out last year and you need log run lumber to average around $600/Mbf. Great if you are in cherry.
Larger mills have taken advantage of using bands in resaws and still use a circle mill for primary breakdown.
He was new to the mill and let himself get in a hurry and reached across the blade for something. Next thing he knew he was in the horsepistal. Not quite the recovery factor you were looking for, but something to think about.
An example: a mill buys 1000 bdft of mixed hardwoods delivered to their mill. The bandsawmill cuts the logs up and might come out with a 20% overrun on board footage, which would be 1200 feet of lumber out of 1000 bdft of logs, which means more money. I cut the cant log for railroad ties and pallet lumber, the clear boards for cabinets, furniture, etc. That way, get the maximum amount of money out of the logs that I purchased.
The swing blade having a "carriage," where you could flip the log while you are sawing it to see if there is a clear side, would be an advantage to the swing mill.
The difference in overrun comes from the number of cuts one makes. If a circle mill makes 8 cuts in the log (after the 4 slabs are removed), on the 9th cut I will get an extra board (saved in kerf). That does not mean that it will be a FAS board. But I can get better boards, for I take a bit more time, and since I am so slow, I had better make the most of it and get the best from each log. There is an overrun and most of it is due to the way the scales were set up and they were set up to discourage you from bringing in small logs.
By the way, in the first cut on each face, the waste should be in the slab, not the board as the opening face should be the same and thus kerf has no bearing at this point.
I am currently trying to find log prices delivered to the mill in central West Virginia, but haven't found anything yet. I have also tried to find logs for sale. If I get a bandsawmill, I will need logs to cut and I need to know how much to pay for the logs.
Contributor N, 1/32" is 3% of an inch, not 1%.
Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
To the original questioner: Have you seen a swing mill in action? Only one of the four dimensions of the log is hidden, and that side you get to see as you clear the last layer approaching it. The operator can cut horizontal boards or vertical boards wherever the clears may be and to whichever grain pattern he/she chooses. If I was in a hurry to get the clear boards cut, I'd box the knot wood to sleepers and get into the good stuff, too. You don't get to see a lot of band mills in New Zealand, but I did get to see a Wood-Mizer at a show and I was impressed at its completely different approach to what I would call the usual. Ultimately, band saws have their advantages, as do swing saws. The kerf thing on that Wood-Mizer did look impressive, but the pile of wood sitting next door in the circs site looked good, too.
Wide boards are a blessing and a curse. They look pretty coming off the mill, and many of my customers have been pleased to have a couple of 16-18 boards. However, most cabinetmakers are going to rip these boards down to 4 inches, primarily because of the cup that will show up in drying. Wood-Mizer has clearly stated in the past that cutting boards over 12" wide may lead to the blade wandering through the cut. That fact does not stop you from doing it, but you must go slow!
Gene, your math is great. But what is the cost to the small bandsaw operator to reach that profit?
Contributor A is right on the money with his 4-5 sharpenings per blade statement. I always figured on using 4 blades per day to produce up to 2MBDFT of 1" lumber. This is an average, for some days I would use 2, other days 8 (I hate nails!). Figure $25 per blade. With four sharpenings, I was using about .75 blades per day. Those four sharpenings cost $32. Total cost for a day: $42.75 in blades and sharpenings, or about 2 cents a bdft.
An 8" Peterson blade costs about $270. The eight teeth can be re-tipped for about $16. Unfortunately, I don't have hard numbers on how long a set of teeth will go before re-tipping, but I suspect with 2 5-minute sharpenings per day, 10MBDFT is a conservative number. The blade itself will need periodic re-tensioning at a cost of $20-30. The blade itself should not have to be replaced for years, barring striking something catastrophic.
My point is yes, a thin kerf bandsaw will enable you to recover more of the log in 1" boards. The profit estimates are based on two items that need to be closely examined. One is that you have a consistent run of good logs that you will saw for grade. Two is that the costs for bandsaws and swing-blade circle mills are the same. I don't believe they are.
There are also the dimension mills. D & L makes one with a carriage. It doesn't have a log turner, but I imagine one could be made so that logs could be turned.
Contributor A has a good point about how many cuts in a log, and as he has said many times before, every mill has its place.
Contributor R, good point about circle mills vs swing blades. A Peterson hardwood blade is 4.75mm, a respectable thin kerf with less maintenance than the bands.
Contributor J, I don't have any numbers either. One of my blades needs to be re-tipped after about 3000 feet (I hate lead-coated steel bullets), and another has about 2/3 of each tooth left after 12,000 ft. Carl Peterson has used the 40,000 number on a blade. I'll check back after I've sawed 40,000. I'm still a newbie.
To the original questioner: I think there's more money in a McDonalds franchise. Or medicine. Take a look at how many of the big hardwood mills are shutting down, even ones with a vertical business model, owning thousands or hundreds of thousands of acres. Take a look at how many guys are buying portable mills and working hard to turn a dollar or two at or near the bottom of the forestry food chain. Every one of them has found a niche, usually without tying up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There has been a lot of discussion about the US Forest Products Lab publication that was initially written almost 50 years ago about how to saw logs. Unfortunately, the log diameter, quality, lumber value, and lumber grading rules have changed enough to make some of the procedures no longer prudent. (For example, with a very large log, 180 degree rotation is not too important. Another example: with a large high grade log, opening face location is not too critical.) So, be careful if following this report or listening to a wood "expert" who has little practical experience and just repeats what is in this report. The report also has some unwise suggestions for edging. But 50 years ago, hardwood was cheap and plentiful. Production was how you made more profit and not quality back then. Today, quality and processing efficiency are the keys to good profit.
Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
Jake, a de-barker makes a big difference in blade life and anyone sawing more than just hobby with a band should spend the coin to get one.
One thing you guys are not looking at with a swinger is that the sawyer is able to take Qsawn boards from a bad face and may get the boards between the knots. So they can flat saw in then switch and Qsaw the same face. It takes a bit of time but can produce better lumber. A disadvantage is the fact that it can not take a very wide board. I have sawn red oak boards 25 inches wide and 3 inches thick. But even a slow cut at 25 inches is still producing the same bdft per hour. But most wholesalers do not want oak boards wider then 12 inches.
Kerf is an issue, but so is time. I would look at the cost of the blades and maintenance cost per bdft. If you can lose 3% of your lumber and go 10 times faster with the volume of logs needed is why the circles are still in business.
Could you take the coin invested in a large circle operation and put in several LT40 Supers with 2 men on each saw and produce and save enough lumber to do it?
The mobile double-cut select bandsaw mill costs about $70,000 loaded up, and the Meadows #1 Mobile Automatic sawmill costs about $61,414 without a 60-100 hp diesel motor, which I figure would cost about 15 to 20 thousand dollars new. The Meadows does have a conveyor with it, and an enclosed cab, but the sawblade doesn't come with it, so total about $75,000 to 80,000 for the Meadows Mobile Automatic sawmill. The track is 8" channels welded with patented tubular cross members. 12lb railroad type rails welded into place. Does the Wood-Mizer have anything like that on it? A big difference probably in the way a Meadows mill is built, or even a Select, compared to a Wood-Mizer mill is the steel that went into the mill. Wood-Mizer probably has nothing like the Meadows, but you got to pay for that steel.
The Meadows can saw 4 to 10 thousand board feet daily. The Select double-cut bandsaw mill can saw up to 3 feet per second. I have heard that it can cut 10 thousand board feet daily.
With the commercial mills, you are going to need logs to saw. I have tried to find prices for logs delivered to the mill, but no luck. Also don't know what the price of the lumber leaving the mill sells for. I know that grade and species of the lumber and whether it's been trimmed and edged can all add to the final price. Those are definitely some factors that a small commercial sawing operation investor would want to know. These numbers must be a big secret.
Contributor N, I haven't heard of Coastal lumbers operation shutting in West Virginia. Coastal has about 4 big bandsaw mills and scragg mills and one double-cut mill in West Virginia, and a whole bunch of land and none of it is for sale. I don't see any sawmills shutting down in West Virginia. They just keep getting bigger, with pulp plants moving in - Georgia Pacific, Werheusyer.
Big mill down the road put in a Baker and all red oak butt cuts go to it and it spits out lumber and 6x8 ties. They are to do 4 mbdft a day with 3 hands. Seems to be working for them.
I have spent many a night scratching my head about circle primary breakdowns and band resaws, but have pretty much concluded that competing with the big guys in volume won't cut it. The coin involved in more production gets bigger exponentially. You're running 10mbf per day; you better bet your britches that you need 5 times that sitting in the yard for spring breakup, and those times when your favourite logger goes away on vacation.
Kiln-drying is an obvious one, but taking it the next step requires some serious brain scratching. Moulders, dust collectors, etc. are a whole new ball of wax to the died-in-the-wool sawyer. My point is that there are lots of ways to get the production up, or some extra value added, but only a few ways to make a good dollar. Let's head on over to the value added section, and compare notes on marketing and scratching that other 2% out of our customers.
I think too much time is spent arguing amongst ourselves that "my particular mill is better than yours." You're either a small operation or a bigger one. Each has its own plusses and minuses.
2. Pulp mill construction numbers. I suspect you will find that pulp mills require a steady supply of low-grade logs. According to a friend of mine at International Paper, once the currently planned and permitted mills are complete, they do not plan to build any more mills in the US. Pulp and real estate prices in Central and South America are so low that the permit and environmental process rules new US mills out.
3. Recent timber company real estate sales nationwide. The longstanding market for large timberlands has been insurance and banking industries. Their solid performance based upon tree growth has underwritten these companies for the last century. This market is also waning, again based on the stock market.
4. I suggest you subscribe to industry journals in your area. They can give you up to date market information about mill prices for logs and selling prices for lumber. Your state Forestry department or extension service also has this information.
5. Subscribe to the Northern Logger. Their "yellow sheet" in the front of the magazine tracks trends in the large mill business up and down the east coast.
6. Last but not least, one of the three basic tenets of business ownership is to know the business. Go get a job in a mill like you would dream about having. Work at that job, whether it is in the office, on the green chain or driving a truck. If you like it after a year or two, I'll offer you more advice. Until then, good luck.
My point is that our operations end up over time making adjustments for time/labor/recovery/etc. depending on our particular situations. You can learn some stuff by these threads but it would sure pay a newcomer to visit various setups. The original questioner is going to keep going around in circles until he gets some sawdust in his shoes.
Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
It is a constant focus on these three things: getting the proper supply of material to saw, getting and maintaining the proper equipment along with the labor to run it, and a profitable market for all products, not just some of the resulting products.
It is a constant juggling act. Get as much education as you can. This forum helps a lot.
Our expansion from a WM manual LT30 in 84 to two locations in two states with 20 employees now was a result of market forces that I was not fully aware of. We have grown steadily. Believe me, we made a lot of mistakes, some just stupid, others seemed like a good idea at the time.
So, set a timetable in which to make the decision. Research, then if you buy a mill, give it 100 percent. When you look back a few years from now you will be amazed how far you have come. Do not be afraid to fail. The sun always comes up the next morning.
Reading back through the posts, I see where some might confuse recovery rate with overrun of the scale. These are different and if you use a different scale then Doyle, my results would be different then yours. Also, if opening cut is the same, there is not any waste different between circle and band. It is in the number of cuts inside that make the difference. It is taking time to look at a log and take the short boards from the slabs and make an opening cut of 3.5 instead of 6.5. Most of the time I look at my opening cut and go up 1 1/4 inches and make my first cut. That makes for a higher recovery rate.
Comment from contributor T:
One thing you have all forgotten to mention is the recovery rate of logs much larger than your blade can handle.
We take our swingers to the log (no cost involved with getting the log to the mill). We cut the log and return with lumber only, leaving the sawdust and waste for habitat use and regrowth.
Most logs are greater than 1.2m (4ft), with the big ones being 2m plus. These large logs cause no problems to us and we typically recover 70% as grade A lumber.
We can also vary our sawblades from 7.1mm kerf, using insert tips, to 3.5mm kerf for thin blades. With new technology, this will come down to 2.5mm in the near future. I have not seen any bandmill capable of doing the same.
All trees eventually die and can be downed for various reasons. The salvage of these logs tends to give hugh profits.
I don't know the BF, but we can produce 3 cubic meters of sawn timber per man, per day when we have good logs.