Can you Make $1,000,000 a Year in the Sawmill Business. Building a sawmill
Can you Make 1,000,000 a Year in the Sawmill Business?
As is the case with any business, people like to ask if it’s possible to make 1,000,000 per year in the sawmill business. It’s true that owning a sawmill can be a very lucrative business venture, and in the right circumstances it is not only possible but very likely to earn you a significant profit on a regular basis.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that building a business with only profit in mind is not sustainable in the long term. There will be highs and lows in any business, and if profit is the only objective then owners will be unable to be satisfied with their work during those low moments. Owning a sawmill can be a big earner, but it takes a lot of work to operate to its fullest capacity. For many, getting into the sawmill and woodworking business is a labor of love, and those are the people who are most likely to make a significant amount of money because the enjoyment of the work will be there, which prevents burnout and allows them to develop the business to its full potential.
Tricks of the Trade
Earning 1,000,000 per year in the sawmill business is more than just a matter of enjoying the work. To succeed in any business, you need to go into it with the right plan and objectives. Take a look at the following tips to ensure that you give yourself the best chance of success before you jump headfirst into the woodworking and sawmill business.
The Value of your Tools
As anyone who works with wood will tell you, one of the most important things to invest in is your tools. When it comes to sawmills, there are several high-quality options available, but many experts agree that the gold standard of milling lumber is Woodmizer. Woodmizer makes some of the most popular sawmills out there, and for good reason. These mills are some of the best products on the market and they require relatively little maintenance as long as you take care of them along the way, similar to any other tool or machine.
Cost vs Production
Sawmills can be expensive, but there are ways to help offset the costs that can help your sawmill business become profitable sooner than it would be otherwise. Just like buying a vehicle, you can save a reasonable amount of money by purchasing a quality sawmill used instead of brand new. Unlike vehicles, however, which only depreciate in value the moment you purchase one, a sawmill is a tool at its core and will make you money in the short and long term. A brand new, high-quality mill can cost anywhere from 20,000 – 50,000, whereas a used sawmill can be significantly lower, often from 15,000 – 20,000.
If you purchased your sawmill brand new, it is worth setting aside anywhere from 1000 – 1500 just for maintenance costs annually, though you should budget about double that amount if you purchased used. If the sawmill was taken care of properly, you may not need that entire amount for maintenance, but it is worth factoring those costs into your overall price to ensure you budget properly for success while determining the needs of your particular machine.
Separate from the maintenance costs, you should also budget the cost of your blades. The most common type of mill uses a bandsaw blade, which costs approximately 20 – 30 per blade. If you don’t run into nails, staples, or other metal obstructions in the wood, and you manage your lubrication and feed speeds properly, you should be able to realistically cut around 400 – 500 board feet per blade.
While the cost of blades is not the most significant cost associated with owning a sawmill, it is vital to keep it in mind as you develop your business. Try to estimate how many board feet you are trying to put out on a monthly basis, divide that number by 400 – 500, and you will work out your rough cost of blades on a monthly or annual basis.
The last important element to remember for this rule is the cost of kiln drying your lumber. While the individual costs of drying wood can be as low as 0.15 per board foot, it is more likely to be around 0.50 per board foot, and although that may seem low, it adds up quickly if you are turning a large amount of lumber on a regular basis.
Out of all the costs associated with owning a sawmill, acquiring logs is easily one of the most variable ones. Not only does the price of individual types of wood vary wildly, but the quality of the logs you get will also be all over the place. If you are fortunate, you may be able to get a fresh log from someone who has just taken it down, but in many cases people hold onto their products for far too long, letting the elements affect them adversely and significantly damaging their potential.
Remember that haggling is a very viable option, especially when it comes to buying logs. There are very few set in stone when it comes to buying and selling logs, so train your eyes to look for quality, and only buy lumber that is going to be worth your time to mill. After all, with the costs of blades and maintenance listed above, you want to avoid milling any lumber that you won’t be able to turn around and sell afterward.
How to Make your Money
The sawmill business is not that different from other businesses when you break it down. The largest difference is simply the amount of labor involved. If you have a one-man operation, even if you have the best machinery in the world, you will only be able to turn a certain amount of product per year, and once you subtract all your costs from the potential profit you might earn it will likely fall short of the 1,000,000 per year mentioned above.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t scale it to that level. Every business in the world requires investment, assessment, and refinement. You will likely be able to make your sawmill business profitable quickly as long as you factor in the aspects discussed in this article, and as you develop your business you will find ways to increase your profit and decrease your operating costs.
Remember that you will need to reinvest a large portion of your profits back into the business. You will want to maintain a revolving door of purchasing logs and selling lumber constantly. Fortunately, the cost of actually operating a sawmill is reasonably cheap. It only takes around five gallons of gas to run a sawmill for an entire day, and most of the costs are in the upfront purchase and replacement blades.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, if you are just starting out your sawmill business, you will not be making 1,000,000 per year. However, if you are passionate about your work, if you are willing to bargain where you can, and if you aren’t afraid of physical labor, you will undoubtedly be able to make a profitable sawmill business for yourself, and with time and dedication, you can certainly scale it up to that goal.
A million-dollar sawmill business requires people, and if you invest in the people you hire as much as you invest in your machinery and materials, you will be able to develop the necessary components to get yourself there. There are no instantaneous ways to get there, so remember to be patient, be Smart, and be ready for any and all opportunities that come your way.
How to Build a Backyard Sawmill
“My family comes from a proud tradition of loggers and woodworkers. My great-grandfather left his home in Norway and emigrated to Washington to work as a logger. My grandfather followed in his footsteps to work in the lumber industry, and my father has worked with wood for as long as I can remember. When my wife asked me to make some raised garden beds with her, I saw this as an opportunity to tap into my roots, expand my DIY skillset, and explore milling my own lumber with my chainsaw. If you have your own saw and a few standard tools, you can get started for a few hundred bucks.”
What’s the difference between a Logosol Timberjig and an Alaskan style mill?
There are a few different styles of chainsaw mills, the most popular being the Alaskan Mill by Granberg. It’s a great tool for slabbing up logs for furniture and getting the most yield out of the first stage of milling, and it’s a product I’d really like to try someday. I’m using a product called the Timberjig, from a company called Logosol. It’s designed more for turning the logs into boards rather than slabs, and I chose this product because of what I’m planning to do with the wood. They also offer a lot more options for more sophisticated systems you can upgrade to overtime.
You’ll need a few tools to get started:
Chainsaw mill from Timberjig (or another brand) Chainsaw: Ideally it should be 70cc or more, but I’m using my 455 Rancher with a 20” bar. This lets me do logs about 14” wide, including the depth taken up by the mill and any sweep or crook in the log. Ripping chain: Same as regular chain but makes a cleaner cut for milling. It’s filed to 10 degrees as opposed to 30 degrees, which is common for cross-cutting. Jig and rails: Timberjig comes with a basic plan and brackets, but you’ll have to supply your own lumber. I added a few extra supports to mine to prevent the wood from flexing. I also use ground supports to keep my cuts as straight as possible. You can make your cuts as long as your rail is. Measuring tape Pencil or marker Level Drill: This is used to attach the jig to the log. Screws and washers: Since you’ll be fastening these a lot, I’d recommend a star drive so they don’t strip. Extra fuel: You’ll use a lot more than you do for cross-cutting. My saw’s tank is usually drained after one or two cuts. Bar oil: The same applies here. Chainsaw file Wedges: These will help keep your cuts straighter by keeping the pressure off your bar. Personal protection equipment
PICKING YOUR LOG
Any log will work, but you’ll get the most yield from a straight log with no crooks or sweep.
You can choose to fell a tree or use one that’s already on the ground. Cutting wood that’s green, especially softwoods, will take the least amount of time. You can’t always judge the quality of the log from the outside; even wood that has defects on the outside can have totally usable heartwood. Just do a test cut to check for rot or other defects. Logs that have been lying outside for a while, particularly hardwood, will take longer and require more fuel and more frequent sharpening. I’m cutting mostly oak and ash, and I’m refueling after every cut on logs that are 10’ x 14” and sharpening after every third cut. The mill itself will reduce the maximum cutting capacity, so you won’t be able to mill logs that are the same as your maximum bar length. Whether it’s green wood or a log that’s been sitting around, before you do your cuts, I’d recommend sealing the ends with latex paint or wood sealer to prevent cracking.
Setting up your first cut
The first thing to do is to get your log off the ground. The easiest way is with a cant hook, but if you don’t have one, you can use a large tree branch and some smaller support logs. I usually cut a few smaller logs with notches in them. Cut them long enough to provide stability, but short enough that they don’t bog down your saw when you’re cutting at an angle.
When you’re prepping your log to be milled, try to cut it right after any crooks or crotches, or in the middle of sweeps. This will help you get the most yield out of your wood. Make sure that both ends are nice and square so that your jig hooks up to it nicely. I like to cut off the side with the most defects first, so the rest of the work is easier.
You’ll want to make sure your measurements are based on the thinner end of the log. I use a level and speed square to define the inner rectangular part of the log I’ll be milling and do this on both sides.
Cut each board longer, wider, and thicker than your desired final dimensions, so you have some wiggle room to do any additional finishing to them. Remember that the kerf itself can take as much as a quarter-inch off each cut. I set it up perpendicular to the ground and then rotate the log to 45 degrees. This keeps the mill seated securely in the jig, takes the pressure off the bar, and allows the board to slide off at the end of the cut.
Making your first cut
Once you get the saw on your rail, lean into the saw with your body weight, holding the handle with your dominant hand and the trigger with your other hand. To keep your cuts straight, pay attention to how much downward pressure you’re putting on the powerhead of the saw: you don’t want it to come up off the rail, which will create a downward angle on the bar. You’ll also want to use a wedge or two in the kerf to keep pressure off the bar. Take your time, and don’t let your saw get bogged down.
Make sure you stack and sticker your boards, so they can dry properly. Any boards you cut that aren’t perfectly flat can easily be fixed by using a router sled and going over the top of the wood. There are tons of resources online that go into a lot more detail about all this stuff. Get outside, make some lumber, and have fun!
How to Mill Your Own Lumber: A Step-By-Step Guide
Milling your own lumber is a labor of love. But for a craftsman, a DIY sawmill setup can be a great way to get unique wood material and reduce the total cost along the way. What are your key options, tools, and considerations? Get started with this step-by-step guide.
Let’s say you need some wood for your next woodworking project—a piece of furniture, a bar, a barn, whatever you’re envisioning. You could just go to your local lumber yard and buy the wood you need.
But if you’re a hobbyist, or novice woodworker, the price tag for wood has been making you think twice about that lately, here’s an idea. Have you considered milling your own lumber?
DIY sawmilling isn’t the simplest woodworking challenge for your workshop or garage, but it has many advantages. Given recent lumber price spikes, the potential cost savings over time is a big one. The logs you’re starting with will be free, or at least dirt cheap.
Plus, milling your own lumber can be much more satisfying for a craftsman. It lets you decide the types of cuts, sizes, species and desired grain. You’re not limited by the only-what’s-most-popular selection at the lumber yard. And if you have a big property with a lot of trees that you need to clear? Milling the lumber yourself is faster and cheaper for an enthusiastic hobbyist. You’ll make better use of your own resources in the process.
So, what does it take to start milling your own lumber? Let’s walk through the key considerations at a high level in this step-by-step guide.
The Right Tools for the Job
First, make sure you have the right space for your sawmill setup.
One of the best things about DIY sawmilling? You can store your wood for drying right by your shop for easy, anytime access. But you do need a good amount of room to do that!
You’ll also need to make sure you have all the components to turn usable logs into timber, including:
Handling equipment – How will you get the logs? How will you load them onto your sawmill? A good skid loader, a heavy-duty trailer, winch, and cant hooks are among the essentials.
Bucking tools – A good chainsaw with both a ripping chain and regular chain is a key tool for trimming your logs to lengths for milling.
Fuel and/or power supply – Make sure you can get the power you need, whether it’s with a gas-powered saw or an electric mill. If the latter, you’ll need to decide whether to use a single-phase or three-phase saw. You’ll also need to ensure you have the power to accommodate it. on that later.
Protective equipment – Not just guards on the machine, but all due safety measures to protect your eyes, ears and appendages. Milling involves powerful, dangerous machines that warrant caution.
Finishing tools – As I’m sure you’re aware you won’t be able to lay your new flooring from a fresh rough board. You’ll need finishing tools to get useable boards. Some of these tools include a jointer and planer to make smooth unique cuts of wood with good symmetry
The mill itself – That brings us to step 1 below …
Step 1. Building a Sawmill
Your first consideration in building a sawmill is what type of saw you’re going to use: a chainsaw or a bandsaw. It comes down to how you’ll be using it.
Will you be cutting smaller-diameter logs of softwoods (evergreens such as firs, spruces, and cedars)? A chainsaw mill is a way to go. It’s less costly and more portable.
Or will you be cutting bigger logs and more hardwoods, from deciduous trees such as oak, poplar, cherry, and maple? A bandsaw mill is going to cut more hardwood more efficiently. It’s a thinner blade, which means less kerf (material lost during cutting due to blade thickness).
The second big item for your sawmill is the frame. You can find hundreds of various choices of plans and instructions online. Consider the effort required and the price of raw material when looking at simple structures like this wooden setup. Or more elaborate welded steel systems incorporating hydraulics.
This part of the process is likely to be your most time and labor-intensive.
If you have a bit more budget, you could buy a turnkey, portable sawmill with the frame already included. Be prepared to spend thousands of dollars. But you will save untold time and get to milling your own timber faster!
Besides the mill, you’ll need auxiliary equipment, including bucking, loading, unloading, and holding apparatus to protect the builder.
Bucking is the vital step of cutting logs into usable milling lengths. This task is particularly important for a smaller, home-based sawmill operation. A good bucking setup means you only need the capacity to mill, say, an 8-foot board instead of a 20-footer.
Although you can go basic with bucking and cut your logs on the ground, that requires more advanced skill. It also risks damage to the blade (or you). Instead, you can build a classic sawbuck, an X-shaped sawhorse frame that holds the log up off the ground.
For handling (loading, unloading and holding), a good winch paired with a ramp is ideal. If you’re more mechanically inclined, you could incorporate a hydraulic handling system like this.
Step 2. Finding and Picking Logs
The real fun begins once you’ve built or bought your sawmill and it’s time to try putting it to use. Where will you find your wood?
If you have a large property with a lot of trees, that’s an obvious place to start looking for useable lumber. Yes, you can mill dead trees, for the most part, just be sure to inspect the log for the important aspects of timber that is healthy and useable. This is especially true if you get to them quickly, which you should be able to if they’re on your property. You’ll need to be on the lookout for rot, and pests in each specific log. You want a healthy log that hasn’t been lying on wet ground for a year to get the best yield.
Even so, a sawmiller or carpenter may find lots of high-grade lumber in dead trees. And even if it turns out to be better suited for firewood, you learn a little more along the way.
Many DIY sawmill operators and hobbyists also find success partnering with tree services and reliable supply sources for the best trees. Connecting with land-clearing construction contractors is another fertile approach. And there’s always Craigslist or Post your “wanted” ads, and watch for homeowners trying to get rid of felled trees. Careful: trees from residential areas often contain metal (staples, screws, etc.). This may cause you to take a much more active role in the inspection of the log before you have useable timber. Metal and sawmill cutting don’t mix well!
What species should you look for? That’s up to you. Whether you’re dealing with pine, walnut, ash, or cedar, it helps to be familiar with the type of tree and its attributes.
Step 3. Prepping the Logs for Milling
Here’s where that bucking stand you built, as well as your handling equipment, is crucial. It’s time to get that log into a good condition before attempting to make your first cut.
Be sure to cut your sawlogs longer than what you want for the final lumber product. Most experts recommend a 4- to 6-inch trim allowance.
Meanwhile, examine the whole log. Look for any catch points or defects in the bark that could cause problems in handling while on the sawmill. Take a look at the ends to see if you need to remove any wood checks or roughness from initial chainsaw cuts.
It’s also a good time to seal both ends of the logs, which reduces cracks and promotes even drying of the lumber.
Step 4. Using the Sawmill
With your log prepped, you need to get it into position. Using your winch or hydraulics, get the log onto the frame. Try to position it evenly relative to the saw blade. You may need to account for taper in the log by raising the smaller side so that the pith stays level with the log.
At the same time, you need to decide how you want to orient the log for cutting and getting the best character in the cuts. A good craftsman is always looking for wood with character. So be sure to position your wood to show off knots and other features.
Then clamp down the log tight on the log rests/frame. You don’t want your log rolling due to vibrations from the blade’s power.
You have several options for the types of grain pattern on your rough boards or planks. Your choice will determine whether and when you rotate the log during milling. The three typical grain patterns include:
- Plain – Sawing right through the center of the log all the way down.
- Quarter – Sawing the log into quarters at a radial angle, then plain sawing the quarters from there.
- Rift – Sawing and turning many times to produce more high-quality logs (but also more waste).
The final act of using your sawmill is a long but crucial one: final drying of the harvested timber to prevent warp.
If you plan to air-dry instead of building a kiln, you need good air circulation, a level storage location to build your pile of lumber, and shelter from the elements. After that, the drying process can take up to several months until the moisture content equals the humidity of your local environment.
You may also be willing to build one of the various types of kilns to speed up the process, but this will increase the overall cost of the project, which may not be something that a home hobbyist is willing to do.
But congratulations! You can admire your work in the meantime, and after that, you’ll have good quality wood that you know was made by a real craftsman.
The Importance of 3 Phase Converters in a Sawmill
Don’t forget about power considerations for your awesome new sawmill setup. Gas-powered systems remain common. But if you want to cut the exhaust fumes and reduce noise in a small shop, consider an electric-driven sawmill.
Single-phase electric sawmill blades are available. But sawmilling takes rugged power. For greater workloads and efficiency, a three-phase-powered sawmill might be a better option.
But if you have a shop in a residential or rural area, you may have a single-phase electric utility service. That’s where a three-phase converter comes in handy. It converts your single-phase electricity to smooth three-phase power for your sawmill.
Plus, with proper sizing, you can run your entire shop off a single rotary phase converter. Saws. Dust collectors. Drills. Sanders. You can run it all with the smooth startup and balanced output of American Rotary phase converters.
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Woodworker’s Guide To Sawmills
Light, portable sawmills create a new perspective on lumber for furniture-making projects. Skip the lumberyard and mill the wood yourself.
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The TRUTH about buying from a SAWMILL
In 2007 I got a call that changed my whole perspective on lumber. I’d been designing and building furniture for five years, buying wood from a great lumberyard. Then my pal from grade school called me. He had a healthy red oak that needed to come down and was wondering if I could use the wood for furniture.
Before then, I hadn’t thought of milling my own lumber from a tree. I had another friend who owned a small chainsaw sawmill, a one-person milling device he was happy to lend me for a week. I’d never used a sawmill before myself. But after a 30-minute introduction to the basics of its operation, I was ready to go. I’ll admit, the process was labor-intensive and exhausting. But each slice of the sawmill was like opening a birthday present.
What Is a Sawmill?
For most people, the term “sawmill” likely conjures images of a large factory that mass-produces lumber. In this case, a “sawmill” is a one- or two-person device for milling lumber, i.e. cutting timber into construction-quality wood.
These sawmills can be set up permanently, stowed in a car or towed behind a vehicle on a trailer. The smallest are barely larger than a chainsaw, and the largest sit on 24-foot-long trailers!
What is a Sawmill Used For?
A sawmill lets a furniture maker accurately slice a log into slabs or planks of wood. This article discusses portable sawmills, but you’ll see some are more portable than others.
How Does a Sawmill Work?
Sawmills feature a cutting blade, a mechanism for cutting accurate thicknesses, and a track for the blade to travel. Some have welded tables as a flat reference point; others use an extension ladder to register the first flat cut.
Operators roll or lift the log into a stable position and lock it in place with wedges. Then the user sets the blade for an initial cut on the front end to define a top, flat surface. The saw blade travels along the track the length of the log and slices a flat surface. The top piece, often waste, is removed, revealing a flat datum from which all other cuts will be aligned.
After each cut, the blade slides back to the front and is lowered to the correct height. The user must take into account the thickness of the blade when measuring. Depending on the size of the log and desired yield, the log may be cut into flat slabs or rotated if certain types of lumber are desired.
Types of Sawmills
As the name implies, this type employs an oil/gas chainsaw. These mills are designed for rough use but still require hourly maintenance. Bar lubricant must be topped off, and the proper oil/gas mix is essential for trustworthy cutting.
Chainsaw blades dull quickly. They must be sharpened every hour or replaced and sharpened professionally. When sawing lumber (as opposed to cutting down trees), a thinner ripping bar with a ripping chain is recommended, which still takes a hefty 3/16-in. kerf of wood.
Big chainsaws like the Husqvarna 395 XP and the STIHL 661 excel at powerful and efficient milling. Aftermarket bars as long as 42-in. can be mounted for larger capacity. Always be sure to use a chainsaw safely.
Alaskan style sawmill
Designed by Elof Granberg in the 1960s, this style features a chainsaw attached to a lightweight aluminum frame. Users place it atop a log laying on the ground. Granberg makes a range of sizes, from 24-in. and all the way up to 84-in.
Sawmill Savvy Minute. Scales are Calibrated Kerf-In
The Alaskan-style mill is among the least expensive ways to cut logs into planks, especially if you already own a large chainsaw. Alaskan mills can be loaded into the trunk of a car and brought deep into the woods to cut specific downed trees.
While not the most efficient, the Alaskan mill is the epitome of bringing the tool to the job and can mill the largest trees. One downside: You must always work on the ground. Milling an 18-in.-dia. tree usually requires the user to be on their knees or hunched over throughout.
Chainsaw mill with frame
A more sophisticated take on the chainsaw mill, these models lift the chainsaw to waist height. Logosol F2 (1,900), made in Sweden, features a large, lightweight aluminum support frame with super strong log-lifters. The Logosol lifts the log up to 24-in., so most of the cutting happens at waist height or above.
Another option: The North American-built PortaMill PM14 (1,400), with a household aluminum extension ladder guiding the saw.
While the milling is more comfortable with these framed chainsaw mills, raising logs requires some real muscle! Logs can be rolled up ramps or stacked timbers, or ideally lifted by a tractor or skid steer. Cant hooks and other tools can assist in moving the logs to height. These models disassemble in about one hour and are easily transported.
Bandsaws drive a wide blade with coarse teeth that spins between two large wheels. Mounted horizontally, the blade slices a 1/8-in. kerf through the wood as it cuts. The blade must be properly tensioned and dulls instantly when it comes in contact with dirt, sand or any embedded fastener. Most are gas-powered.
Numerous reputable brands sell bandsaw mills in various sizes with features that can jack up the price. Embellishments include water-cooled blades, de-barking blades or pneumatic log lifting mechanisms.
Super-simple versions with a flat table like the LumberMan MN27 from Norwood (5,000) can handle a 12-foot-long log with a 23-inch cut capacity. This saw is nice because it sits low to the ground, but care must be taken to level the table for accurate cuts.
On the more expensive end, the Woodmizer LT50 Hydraulic Portable Sawmill (49,000) sits on a heavy-duty trailer and can handle a 36-in.-dia. log up to 21 feet log. A log this size weighs upwards of three tons, so this saw comes with pneumatic arms that lift the log onto the sawmill bed.
Mid-size saws like the TimberKing 1220CRZ (14,000) also sit on a trailer. It can handle a 33-in.-dia. log 17-ft. long. Instead of pneumatics, it features a winch system welded to the frame that helps get logs onto the bed of the saw.
One Last Thing
Logs are heavy! Utilizing an online log calculator, an eight-foot-long, 24-in.-dia. white oak log weighs in at more than 1,500 lbs.! Moving pieces this big requires muscle, lots of friends, or heavy machinery like a tractor or skid steer. Don’t underestimate the labor of moving logs around.
Where to Buy
You can purchase various types of sawmills through Saffords, Fox Forestry or Bailey’s.