Specialty Service

“Sorry, we don’t carry that here”

Have you ever heard that phrase when searching for something unique at the lumber yard or hardwood dealer?

One of the most profitable uses of a portable sawmill is in the production of specialty products. Many sawmill operators have found success producing odd-sized turning blanks and unique dimensions from highly sought after hardwoods that woodworkers just can’t fine elsewhere. In the Southeast, owners produce rough cut lumber from specific tree species such as oak, pine, maple, cherry, walnut, and cedar, which are often prized by furniture makers. These are two examples of high-value products that are often unavailable in the marketplace.



 Due Diligence

The short answer to the big question is, you will get out of it what you put into it. Most successful sawmill operators start with a well thought out business plan. This a critical factor if considering a portable sawmill service. If you are starting from scratch, don’t give up your day job. Operating a portable sawmill service is hard work and not a good idea for those seeking a quick and easy source of income.

Keep in mind that becoming a proficient Sawyer has a learning curve that can not be taken for granted. As the saying goes; “You can learn to operate a sawmill in one day, but it takes years to become a good Sawyer.” As for myself, starting in 1995, it took me five years of working as a carpenter to pay off my mill, and during this time I butchered many nice logs learning how to be good at what I do. Recently on one of my jobs, I saw first hand how an inexperienced mill operator spent a full week milling what I was able mill in one day, and the waste pile he left amounted to a significant loss to the log owner.

Full Time or Part Time?

When it comes to income generation, almost half of portable sawmill operators surveyed reported less than 25 percent of their household income from products produced from a sawmill. Another 10 percent earned 26 to 100 percent of their income from a sawmill. The remaining 40 percent of owners indicated that they earned no money from portable sawmilling. However, many of those owners appear to have earned some money from sawmilling, but considered it a hobby and not a part of their household income. Typically, operators charged by the board foot or by the hour. Most portable sawmill owners noted an average cost of $.15 or less per board foot to process lumber and charged their customers an average $.20 to $.30 per board foot. Hourly rates averaged $55/hour. Pricing varied based on the tree species, location, and other factors. Customers were typically charged an average of $.02 to $.40 more per board foot for hardwood lumber. NOTE: the above price quotes are from Alabama in 2019.

It is important to remember that higher-value woods and unique products tend to bring a premium. Portable sawmills will produce higher returns when the product meets the needs of a niche market, rather than when it competes within the larger commercial market. Lumber production for a niche market might call for specific timber species instead of a species such as loblolly pine that is readily available in retail stores.

One-third of sawmill owners surveyed stated that they never keep itemized expenses for their sawmill operation, preventing them from knowing if they are profitable or what they might do to become profitable. Adequate bookkeeping, including budgeting expenses and keeping accurate records, is a vital part of a successful small business and should be part of any business plan, no matter how small the operation. 

Some excerpts credited to Alabama A&M & Auburn Universities


  • Portable Sawmill Service: A Comprehensive Business Guide – Sawmill Finder

    […] Before starting a portable sawmill service, it is crucial to understand your customer base. Potential customers for this service include homeowners, farmers, contractors, and woodworkers. Homeowners may need lumber to build outdoor furniture, decks, or sheds. Farmers may require lumber for barns and other structures. Contractors may need lumber for construction and renovation projects, and woodworkers may need custom-sized lumber for their woodworking projects. Learn more about this. […]

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