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Thread: At what point is it “worth it” to have your own mill?

  1. #1

    At what point is it “worth it” to have your own mill?

    I recently acquired many (30+) full sized logs of olive, pear, Brazilian pepper and a few other species. I have used a chainsaw mill and/or my bandsaw to process my logs previously, but these are some huge (to me) logs. 7’ long and 20” around on average.

    There’s a guy with a mill that charges $100/hour if I bring the logs to him (50 miles each way) or $200/hour if he has to drive to me.

    im a one man show so moving these things is tricky without a tractor or forklift. If an answer is possible, my question is: How many board feet of lumber would someone have to mill annually to make a $3000 small mill a wise investment? At the rate I acquire raw wood like this, it might get used 3-4 times per year. I don’t intend to make this a business, but if anyone locally needed a mill, I’d be happy to help them out. Do you guys with mills get much business from word of mouth? As nice a guy as I am, () I wouldn't want to get swamped with “Hey, I heard you have a mill...” phone calls.....

    any guidance is appreciated!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Shenandoah Valley in Virginia
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    385
    You can get an efficient band mill for $1-2000 used if you shop carefully.... Or you could build one for less than $1000 probably...
    You will not really save any money.... BUT
    You will get the enjoyment of taking a project from log to finish... that is worth a lot !!!

    Sounds to me like you would enjoy doing that very much... ;

    When someone asks me to mill a log for them, I show them some very uneven boards and tell them I cannot do much better, then give them the names of two local Woodmizer owners to get them sawn... Problem solved...

    If you plan on woodworking a few years (as a hobby)...you would probably enjoy owning a small manual mill...

    If you get / build a mill, consider making a small (250 bd ft) Va Tech Solar Kiln.. cost is minimum and it is great to dry the lumber you saw...

  3. #3
    My reason to buy a mill is, I am a cheapskate, and hate paying a lot for wood. Hardly ever saw for someone else, and when I do for friends and family, they think 20$ for half a day of milling is adequate pay. But since '05 when buying the mill have not bought a single board for a project. And I build quite a bit of stuff, mostly for friends and family, and charge only what they choose to pay me. And all stuff for grandkids is free. My shop is not a money maker, but I enjoy it very much.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    E TN, near Knoxville
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    7,520
    To me, the real value of having a mill is being able to saw when I want to without the stress deciding when to hiring a mill and the stress of paying for something I'd rather do myself. Yes, it will cost something and you'd have to do the math to figure if it makes financial sense, but I rarely let that stop me unless I think a tool will only be used for a short time.

    I bought a Woodmizer LT-15 manual mill almost 15 years ago and it has certainly paid for itself just around the farm. (I think mine was about $7000) This will theoretically saw logs up to 28" diameter but they are HEAVY, and too much work. 20" logs are far easier. I do already have trailers to haul logs and a tractor to skid and load. I also have enough room for piles of logs and stickered stacks of wood. All that is a consideration.

    If you can get the log to right in front of the mill, you can in fact roll it up onto the bed with a cant hook or two, if the log is large. I like cant hooks with 5' handles. Lots of small expenses: Anchorseal, pry bars, skidding tongs, axe, chainsaw, metal detector, hearing/eye protection. You have to keep spare blades on hand.

    It is a LOT of work too - couch potatoes stay away! I've worn out people who come to help!

    I have no problem with people expecting me to saw things. I refuse to saw for pay since then it would be a business and there are liability and insurance considerations. If I don't want saw something I say no. If I do, I'll do it for shares - he delivers the log and helps and we split the wood 50/50. I do volunteer to cut big turning blanks for our woodturning club auctions.

    I'd say if your decision to get a mill was for the fun and personal use, go for it and don't look back. If you need to break even or make money, think long and carefully. The first board cost me $7000.

    JKJ


    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Balzonia View Post
    I recently acquired many (30+) full sized logs of olive, pear, Brazilian pepper and a few other species. I have used a chainsaw mill and/or my bandsaw to process my logs previously, but these are some huge (to me) logs. 7’ long and 20” around on average.

    There’s a guy with a mill that charges $100/hour if I bring the logs to him (50 miles each way) or $200/hour if he has to drive to me.

    im a one man show so moving these things is tricky without a tractor or forklift. If an answer is possible, my question is: How many board feet of lumber would someone have to mill annually to make a $3000 small mill a wise investment? At the rate I acquire raw wood like this, it might get used 3-4 times per year. I don’t intend to make this a business, but if anyone locally needed a mill, I’d be happy to help them out. Do you guys with mills get much business from word of mouth? As nice a guy as I am, () I wouldn't want to get swamped with “Hey, I heard you have a mill...” phone calls.....

    any guidance is appreciated!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    WNY
    Posts
    5,704
    Count me among those who are cheap. I started milling wood with a chainsaw and Alaskan Mill; milled several thousand BF with it. But that got old after a few years and so did I, so I built a rolling chainsaw mill. Before that I built a log dolly so I could transport logs behind my car. A chainsaw mill is a lot slower than a bandsaw mill, but I already had the chainsaw and didn't want to spend anymore money than necessary. Including the chainsaw, I have maybe $3500 into the dolly, mill, dehumidification kiln, and peripherals though I need to buy a metal detector because I've hit too many nails. Urban logs. By now I've milled over 6000 BF of lumber I think so the cost per BF is going down. I don't do it for anyone else and I don't sell any lumber. I give some away to friends, but mostly I use what I mill in the cabinets and furniture I make for myself and some that I sell.

    I have a sporadic source of logs through two arborist friends, and they always are free. If you have a free source of logs milling might make sense for you, too. As John said, it's hard work, made somewhat easier by using mechanical devices to move and roll logs. The dolly takes care of moving logs, and with parbuckling I have no trouble getting really large logs up onto my mill alone. Look it up, parbuckling. But you still have to run the mill and carry away and stack the lumber, and 2" slabs are too heavy to carry alone. And you have to clean up a lot of sawdust. A lot of sawdust.

    John

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    E TN, near Knoxville
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    Parbuckling

    Quote Originally Posted by John TenEyck View Post
    The dolly takes care of moving logs, and with parbuckling I have no trouble getting really large logs up onto my mill alone. Look it up, parbuckling. But you still have to run the mill and carry away and stack the lumber, and 2" slabs are too heavy to carry alone. And you have to clean up a lot of sawdust. A lot of sawdust.
    So that's what it's called. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldfTUZgLjAQ
    I use chains/cables a lot to load logs if I take a trailer but don't take the tractor with the forks (or the logs are too heavy for the tractor) - all I need to take is the chain and a couple of i-beams for ramps. But I've always used a different method since I didn't know the other way - I wrapped a single chain or cable around the log several times then rolled it up the ramps. It doesn't take much effort depending on the slope of the ramps - I've pulled with a small car, 4-wheeler, or a come-a-long. (Anyone handling logs - be real careful until you get a feel for how much weight is in a log.)

    A tractor with forks is a huge help on the mill. I use mine to place logs on the mille then when sawing I position the forks at the right height then slide boards and slabs onto the forks and stack them, ready to carry and sticker.

    For a metal detector I use the Lumber Wizard. I had the original for years, very reliable, but when it died (from an unfortunate incident with immersion in water!) I acquired a used model 4 and bought the newest one, model 5. It has automatic calibration and detects extremely well but they have substituted a laser line for the vibrator which I liked at the mill. The laser (and the beep) might be hard to see in the sun and hear when it's noisy. The model 4 still has the vibrator - maybe you can find it. If you lived close you could come try these and the "Little Wizard". The small one might work OK but it would take a lot longer to use - I haven't tried it at the mill.

    JKJ

  7. #7
    When people call me for a 2x4 or something else they can buy at Lowes I tell them no way... I only cut special and sell slabs or timbers. I don't play with the cheap stuff. There is no way I would make a 2x4 for $.99. Just ain't worth it unless it's for myself.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Toronto Ontario
    Posts
    9,212
    Hi Harold, I paid for my mill in 4 hours.

    I built a mill for about $750 dollars, and in 2 days milled about 1,000 board feet of red oak from free logs. Where I live, it's about $7 per board foot for 5/4 red oak.

    I've milled a lot more than that, and as others have said I get exactly what I want, half of the red oak was quarter sawn because I don't like flat sawn oak.

    I milled some 12/4 slabs out of spalted maple, beautiful stuff.

    I milled enough ash to make flooring for the living room and dining room.

    I milled a stack of wood with 2 friends when a golf course cut down a bunch of trees, they even provided a front end loader and operator.

    With a mill, you can get what you want, and you can often get free logs. I expect that the payback would be rapid...............Regards, Rod.

  9. #9
    I agree, a sawmill will pay for itself quick if you do any amount of woodworking at all. I would say that for certain, if you have any kind of dedicated wood shop at all, no matter how small, you can benefit from having your own sawmill. I would also add that sawing logs is not just fun, it's a blast. Forget about the money, it's a lot of fun, it's great exercise and it really saves a lot of time. I will say this though, you need either a good friend or kid that is able to help you or you will need a tractor with a loader to handle the logs. You will also want a solar kiln, which is also fun to build and use. I am into a lot of different hobby's.....if I had to give up one or all but one the last on the list would be my sawmill!!!!! Best of luck.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    Michigan
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    558
    So this year I used about 40 bf of construction lumber, 3 sheets of plywood etc, 80 bf of Mahogany, 1 bf of Ebony, 4 bf of Purpleheart, 12 bf of Oak and a smattering of Maple and Hickory.

    I might have trouble getting the math to work.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    E TN, near Knoxville
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    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Siebert View Post
    ...I would also add that sawing logs is not just fun, it's a blast. ...
    One thing I really like is discovering what is inside the log, layer by layer. Sometimes disappointment, sometimes treasure. Another thing I enjoy is figuring out how to saw to get the most best out of a log - there's more to it than some might imagine.

    Mine manual mill is just a hobby and for siding and such for around the farm. I do have a tractor and skid steer (bobcat) which make things easier but a day of turning logs and handling slabs and boards will wear out even the big guys.

    JKJ

  12. Quote Originally Posted by John K Jordan View Post
    One thing I really like is discovering what is inside the log, layer by layer. Sometimes disappointment, sometimes treasure. Another thing I enjoy is figuring out how to saw to get the most best out of a log - there's more to it than some might imagine.

    Mine manual mill is just a hobby and for siding and such for around the farm. I do have a tractor and skid steer (bobcat) which make things easier but a day of turning logs and handling slabs and boards will wear out even the big guys.

    JKJ
    Yes sir, buzzing thru a big log and lifting it apart to see that big pretty flame figure is one of the things that keeps me thinking about my favorite part....the next log!!!!! It is work, but it's good exercise and I expect most of us are like me and need it....
    My other favorite part is when some of my buddies stop by my shop and make comments like "it just aint fair...you always have all the good figured wood!!!" Kinda like how the butcher eats filet mignon every night!!!

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    New Hill, NC
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    2,223
    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Balzonia View Post
    I recently acquired many (30+) full sized logs of olive, pear, Brazilian pepper and a few other species. I have used a chainsaw mill and/or my bandsaw to process my logs previously, but these are some huge (to me) logs. 7’ long and 20” around on average.

    There’s a guy with a mill that charges $100/hour if I bring the logs to him (50 miles each way) or $200/hour if he has to drive to me.

    im a one man show so moving these things is tricky without a tractor or forklift. If an answer is possible, my question is: How many board feet of lumber would someone have to mill annually to make a $3000 small mill a wise investment? At the rate I acquire raw wood like this, it might get used 3-4 times per year. I don’t intend to make this a business, but if anyone locally needed a mill, I’d be happy to help them out. Do you guys with mills get much business from word of mouth? As nice a guy as I am, () I wouldn't want to get swamped with “Hey, I heard you have a mill...” phone calls.....

    any guidance is appreciated!
    I built my kiln 3 years before buying my first mill (I now have three mills).

    If it were me, I'd start by investing in a way to handle the logs, and continue to take them to your local miller. If you buy your own mill you're still going to need a way to handle the logs. FYI most 7' long, 20" diameter logs weigh around 1000 lbs. A stack of stickered lumber from a few of those logs will weigh in excess of 1000 lbs.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Bender View Post
    So this year I used about 40 bf of construction lumber, 3 sheets of plywood etc, 80 bf of Mahogany, 1 bf of Ebony, 4 bf of Purpleheart, 12 bf of Oak and a smattering of Maple and Hickory.

    I might have trouble getting the math to work.
    That's only because you don't have your mind right...let me help you:

    It looks like you used about $1000.00 worth of lumber last year...

    A decent manual mill with a little size to it will run right around $8500.00...

    The actual cash value of all the fun you will have per year of use is conservatively figured at right around $40,000.00....

    so: $40.000.00 minus $9500.00 equates to a savings of $30,500.00!!!

    As your friend, I cannot allow you to loose out like this and continue to go in the hole, dude, go get a sawmill!!!!! See, it all ,makes perfect sense when you look at it in the right light.......

  15. #15
    You better be looking for a tractor if your thinking about getting a mill...

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