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BEFORE YOU BUY A PORTABLE SAWMILL

Here are bits and pieces of information told to us by owners of portable sawmills.  This information will make your buying of a sawmill much easier.   This is not an across-the-board list, as everyone has their own needs that should be considered before buying a portable sawmill.

Why own a portable sawmill?

Portable sawmills are becoming more popular with people who own their own timberland and who want to manufacture their own lumber products for personal use or as a source of income.  They are also becoming popular with other people who want to saw commercially. What you want to accomplish with the mill will determine how much you will need to spend.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Band vs. Circular: Probably the most important difference between band and circular sawmills is production and "kerf" (loss of wood to sawdust with each pass). Band mills will generally have a 3/32" kerf (which is why they are called "narrow kerf"), while circular sawmills generally have about 1/4" kerf.  As a general rule, a band mill will provide you an average of 20% more lumber out of each log. On the other hand, circular mills cut much more lumber in an 8-hour day than band mills. You need to decide which is more important to you, kerf or production.

We have grouped portable band sawmills into four categories:

  • Manual: The least expensive. They have no labor-saving hydraulic features which increases the amount of work you must do. New models with a trailer package generally cost between $4,000.00 and $9,000.00
  • Power Feed: The blade is mechanically powered into the cut, but you must load and turn the logs manually. New models with a trailer package generally cost between $9,000.00 to $14,000.00
  • Fully Hydraulic: This category of portable sawmills features the most labor-saving devices that minimize the workload and maximize production. The more expensive models normally have larger power units and other accessories designed for higher daily production. New models with a trailer package generally cost between $16,000.00 and $32,000.00.
  • High Production: These mills are designed for professionals and normally require a higher level of expertise. They offer specialized features designed for higher production sawing, such as high powered engines, wider bands, and more productive log and lumber handling equipment. New models with a trailer package generally cost between $35,000.00 to over $100,000.00.

We have grouped circular sawmills into two categories:

  • Portable: Transportable by single axle or dual axle trailer. Some break down to fit in the bed of a pickup truck. Generally, 15 minute to 4 hour setup time required.
  • Transportable: Larger, more production oriented. Requires heavy-load capable vehicles or even multiple vehicles. Generally, 1/2 day or more setup time.

2. Income: Will you use the mill full-time or part-time?  Do you want the mill to provide all or part of your income? Or, do you care if the mill provides none of your income?  If you are considering sawing commercially, please remember sawmilling is very physically demanding.  Also, circumstances beyond your control may keep you away from the sawmill at times: bad weather, business issues (marketing, collections, irritated customers), maintenance and repairs, customers that didn’t bring the logs into an open area like they said they would, and more.

3. Production: What is the minimum amount of daily production you must produce to meet your income needs and/or production goals?  Before you purchase a portable sawmill, we recommend that you check with some owners of the make and model you are considering to make sure you can reach your production goals.  Many portable sawmill manufacturers are quite frank about the production realities of their mills.  Some manufacturers will give you the names of some of their customers for you to talk with. Generally, the less expensive the mill, the lower the production.  New portable sawmills range in price from less than $4,000.00 to over $80,000.00, depending on the amount of production you need.

4. Hydraulics: Hydraulics on sawmills are designed to making sawing easier and faster.  They can add as much as $5,000.00 to $8,000.00 to the cost of a sawmill.  To some people, hydraulics are absolutely necessary because they minimize log handling time which increases production, and they also take the back-breaking work out of sawing.  Hydraulic loading arms load the log onto the carriage of the sawmill for you.  Will the loading arms support the weight of the logs you plan to saw? If you plan to saw commercially, it is usually much easier and cheaper to have a sawmill with a hydraulic loader than to haul the sawmill and a front-end loader to the job site.  Hydraulic turners turn the log for you as you square the log and search for the best face to saw.  Some people use cant hooks, and others enjoy the convenience of the hydraulics.  Hydraulic or motorized feedworks automatically push the saw through the log.  Do you care if you need to manually push the saw though the log or are motorized or automatic feedworks worth the extra expense?  Other hydraulics include the dogs that hold the log in place and toe boards that raise and lower the log to accommodate for taper.

5. Length and Width: What diameter and length of logs do you need to saw?  Is the sawmill you are interested in capable of cutting these logs?

6. Accessories: Very rarely will you see a portable sawmill without accessories, which include the trailer package, extra bands or bits and shanks, sharpening system, sawyer's seat, etc.  These accessories can add as much as $5,000.00 to the cost of the sawmill.  For example, automatic sharpener/setter systems for band blades normally cost between $1,500.00 and $2,000.00.  Some sawyers find that sharpening their own blades is the most cost effective way to operate, some send their blades to a sharpening service (roughly $6.00-$8.00 per blade including shipping costs), and some people simply dispose of their blades after 4 or 5 hours of usage.  Your production requirements will determine which of the three options is the best for you.

7. Other major components: Sawmill system components include edgers, planers, and dry kilns, etc. Edgers can greatly increase your production.  Planers are just about required if you are using a circular sawmill and rough cut lumber is not an option.  Kiln dried lumber sells for a significantly higher price than "green" lumber.  Your choice of major components depends mainly on your production requirements, income requirements and budget.

8. Which portable sawmill is the best?  We are asked this question daily.  The best answer we can give is: The best sawmill is the one that best fits your individual sawing needs.  We recommend you consider the above features when asking yourself what the "best" sawmill is for you.  The bottom line is production.  It all gets down to how much production you need and how much money you are willing to spend.  If you want a lesser priced mill, you will normally sacrifice production.

9. Sawing commercially:  How much do you need to spend?  Here is a useful "rule of thumb".  For every $10,000.00 you spend in new cost of a band sawmill, plan on a long-term average of 500 board feet (bf) daily if sawing alone, or 1,000 board bf with a partner.  This rule considers the time you spend away from the sawmill for bad weather, marketing, logs not at the sawing site as promised, etc.  Also, your production will increase or decrease depending on your skill level as a sawyer, your choice of blades and accessories, etc.  So, to figure how much to spend: First, determine how much you want to earn daily. Next, estimate how much you will charge per 1,000 bf.  Then, estimate how much production you need to meet your financial goals.  Finally, estimate how much you will need to spend on a sawmill.  For example, if you want to average $250.00 daily and charge $180.00 per 1000, you’ll need to average 1,400 bf daily (250/180), and budget for $28,000.00 if sawing alone or $14,000.00 with a partner.

10. Ask the owners! One should never buy a portable sawmill without first conferring with owners.  They are your absolute best source for factual, honest information on how you can expect a brand and model of a certain make of portable sawmill to perform.

11. The bottom line: It all gets down to how much production you need and how much money you are willing to spend.  If you want a lesser-priced mill, you will normally sacrifice production.  Most importantly, talk to the owners.



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