Choosing A Sawmill

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 Operation size | Circular versus band mills | Chainsaw mills | Portable versus stationary | New versus used | Other considerations | Links to sawmill websites
If you are looking for ways to add value to your timber, one way is to cut it into lumber. The first step is sawing, you can either pay someone to custom mill it or buy a sawmill and do it yourself. There are several things to consider when purchasing a sawmill for example: the size of your operation, sawmill type, what you are going to cut, production system and cost.

Operation Size

Choosing the right sawmill for your operation is key. The first step in choosing the right sawmill is to decide: How much are you going to use the mill? How big of an operation do you want. Do you want to buy a mill for hobby purposes, a part time or a full time business venture? The cost of a mill and its financial obligations for each of these endeavours are quite different. A general rule of thumb is - the less expensive the mill, the smaller the size of the operation.

If you want to buy a mill for personal or hobby use, invest in a simple sawmill that economically it won’t matter if you only use it a few times a year. The personal satisfaction, enjoyment and the challenge of turning logs into boards is the main driver behind this operation. It is not intended to be financially viable.

If you are looking at buying a mill for part time employment, there are some financial aspects to consider. Deductible expenses and depreciation of machinery are a few of the tax advantages that are possible from part time sawmilling. Tracking revenue and expenses are essential for success. You will need to purchase a more sophisticated sawmill then the kind used in a hobby operation. A few reasons to part time mill are seasonal work (sawmill in the winter and work on the farm during the summer), reduce the cost of building a house or other farm structures. You can also do custom sawmilling or sell the lumber from the operation.

A full-time sawmill business has numerous financial obligations. It is important for an operation of this nature to have a detailed business plan that includes the cost of production, time requirements, market outlooks, cash flow and a marketing strategy. Enlist the help of accredited professionals to assist with accounting and business planning.

Circular Versus Band Mills

Each of these mills have their own advantages. Before starting out, be very clear about your commitment and the type of production you want to do. The most important difference between band and circular sawmills is production and the "kerf". “Narrow Kerf” band mills have a thinner kerf of 3/32, while circular sawmills generally have about a 1/4 kerf. Because of the thinner kerf, band mills are able to convert up to 20 % more lumber out of each log, than that of a circular mill. On the other hand, circular mills can cut much more lumber in an 8-hour day.
You need to decide which is more important to you, kerf or production. There are many things to consider when choosing the right mill for you is: the cost of specific band or circular mills, band-saw blades, sharpening, whether your mill will make horizontal, vertical or angle cuts, size of log capability, and general safety features just to name a few.

Chainsaw Mills

This relatively inexpensive mill can sometimes serve all your needs. Some of the advantages of these mills are their low cost, and its extremely portable (which is important for working in remote areas). The length of the bar can be quickly and easily changed limiting the number of cuts. As result, this sawmill can cut wider and larger lumber than circular or band mills. A disadvantage is the relatively large kerf, however this should be weighted against cost, portability, log size capability and production needs.

Portable Versus Stationary

After harvesting you have to decide where to saw the logs – at the harvesting site or transporting the logs to a fixed sawmill. Portable or stationary sawmills have their own pros and cons.

Stationary mills are built on solid foundations usually under roof cover, which allows saw production to be done in almost all weather conditions. They are generally larger in size and have a higher production rate. The disadvantage of a stationary mill is the cost of log transportation to the mill.

Portable sawmills can be taken into logged regions, allowing sawing to done in remote areas. The cut lumber can also be stored where the wood is going to be dried. Being portable, you will need a vehicle for towing. The larger the sawmill, the more powerful your towing vehicle needs to be. It is also important to keep in mind setup and take down time.

New Versus Used

Like any machinery on your farm, you must decide between buying new or a used sawmill. The benefit of buying used is, of course you save money that can be used to purchase accessories. A disadvantage to used equipment is the lack of warranty and the unavailability of repair parts from the manufacturer.

When purchasing used, look for a sawmill that is work ready or requires minimal repair or rebuilding. Your level of knowledge will determine which one you choose. If you are not familiar with the condition of a used sawmill, find someone that can help you or ask the owner what kind of problems he may have experienced. The price of a used sawmill depends on the condition, mill features, or any extras that may be included, such as extended warranty.

New sawmills are more expensive than used ones. However, they come with warranty and the availability of repair parts should something go wrong. Keep in mind if you are entering into the sawmill business, cash flow is really important and every penny counts.

Other Considerations

Ask yourself about the following questions before investing in a sawmill:
  • Is there a ready market for the lumber you will produce?
  • Do you have valuable wood to cut?
  • How much wood waste will you produce and what will be cost to haul it to a dumping site or can it be used for chipping?
  • What other services can you offer other than sawmilling? Such as harvesting or kiln drying.
  • Cost of maintenance - how much time and cost will it take to maintain the sawmill?
  • What percentage of time will spend on sawmilling compared to harvesting or other woodlot responsibilities?
  • How much do you know about sawmilling?
  • Are there sawmill demonstrations you can attend to compare machines and see which one best suit your needs?
  • Where will you store and mill the logs?

Portable band sawmill

All of these considerations are important. In the end, you have to calculate how much money you can make from the lumber, if you are going to cut it for yourself and what sawmill fits you the best.
Links to Sawmill Websites
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Toso Bozic.
This document is maintained by Brenda McLellan.
This information published to the web on June 15, 2004.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 21, 2019.