Run a Small-Scale Sawmill – Part 2 -Pricing for Profit
Shared From MOTHER EARTH NEWS Written By: James Fairfield and the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
SAWMILL PROFIT POTENTIAL
Once you’ve narrowed your scope and settled on sawing and selling as your activities in the timber trade, you’ll still likely have to work away at it for at least a year before you begin to show any significant profit. Running a sawmill is not a get-rich-quick venture. However, if you’re willing to be patient, develop your ability, and employ the discipline necessary to put in a full day’s work, you could eventually earn as much as $30,000 annually.
You probably won’t be able to sell (or saw) boards year round. During the coldest weather there simply isn’t as much demand for lumber as there is from spring through fall. You might utilize the “off ‘ time to clean up your woodlot, though. By the time winter rolls around, your work site should be littered with slabwood scraps and sawdust . . . and those slabs can be sold by the pickup load for firewood, while the sawdust can likely be marketed for use as bedding and insulation around plants.
Then, if you just can’t stay away from “cutting up”, you might want to purchase a chain saw and start up a stovewood business to carry you through till you can start your mill up again in the spring.
SAWMILL LUMBER PRICING
In general, lumber (even when it’s still in log form) is bought and sold by the board foot, a unit of measure equal to a board that’s one foot square and one inch thick. In order to figure the worth of a log, then, you must learn to estimate how many board feet you can get from the timber. (Once you’ve cut up the log, of course, you can simply measure the planks.)
Naturally, the price that you’ll be able to ask for your lumber will depend upon the market and upon the varieties of wood available to you. As an example, though . . . Jim B., who buys mostly in the Southeast, says that he can purchase white pine logs for $150 to $170 per 1,000 board feet and—once they’re cut—sell them for about $300 per 1,000. White oak, which is a hardwood and therefore more difficult to cut, can be bought for about the same price as the pine but sells for around $350.
For starters, you can check lumber prices at other mills to get an idea of what you should charge for your wood. And remember . . . if you can undercut someone else’s rates and still turn a satisfactory profit, by all means do so!
In the end, after you’ve weighed all the ideas in this article (and beefed that information up with data from other sources), only you can decide whether or not the challenge of starting up your own mill appeals to you. Certainly, a sawyer’s life is a strenuous and often uncertain one (see the sidebar accompanying this article) . . . but at the same time, it can be a godsend for an individual who’s willing to use both brain and brawn to wrestle a big old log and turn it into an income!
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