Making money ofo of your personal sawmill? What you guys do.

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Forum topic by ErikF posted 09-12-2012 05:57 PM 5175 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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610 posts in 2208 days

09-12-2012 05:57 PM

I am in search of some advice and personal expeirences.

I am 2 years from finishing up my career with the United States Marine Corps. I am not retiring out of the service (I have done 6 years and am getting out at 8) so I am not getting any pension. I would like to take a career path that involves a lot of woodwork: I would like to build furniture, mill lumber to dimensional sizes and slabs, build a kiln, and do any custom work that comes along and I am able to handle. This is what I want to do but need to be able to make a living doing it. I have already started saving for a mill. I would start out doing as much as I could in my spare time because I plan to finish my college degree as well.

Does anybody out there make a living out of this type of work?



-- Power to the people.

12 replies so far

View Mainiac Matt 's profile (online now)

Mainiac Matt

7933 posts in 2292 days

#1 posted 09-12-2012 06:40 PM

I think you’ll find that in order to make a decent return on your investment in a saw mill, you’re going to have to push a lot of BF of lumber through it. And that may not leave you with time for any wood working.

Just crunch the numbers for return on investment… (where I work, an asset is expected to pay for itself in 2 years).

Rather than run a mill for hire, you may do better sourcing logs and then milling lumber for sale.

Hope you got a big yard :^)

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View Tennessee's profile


2860 posts in 2478 days

#2 posted 09-12-2012 07:45 PM

Here in the South, there is more than one mill that is struggling, mainly due to housing not being where it was. I would concentrate on providing mainly as exotic woods as you can, and stay away from the “oak/maple/cherry” train if possible. And figure a planer in your plans.
I can buy 4/4 red oak, number one, ten foot long planks, knot free, planed 2S, 11-12 inches wide, for $2.50 a bd. ft. down here all day long. I’m paying $5.50 a bd. ft. for 4/4 AA flame maple. But odd stuff is higher, like true exotics like zebrawood and paduak. Like ssnvet says, you gotta put a LOT of BF through a mill, kiln and planer to make a living on domestics.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View WDHLT15's profile


1730 posts in 2440 days

#3 posted 09-13-2012 02:35 AM

I have a sawmill and cut, dry, and sell lumber. I cut species and dimensions that you cannot readily find and charge a fair price for it to woodworkers. That said, I could not a living doing that alone, but there can be good supplemental income. Trying to make a living out of it can take the fun out of it as the commodity wood business is a dog-eat-dog affair.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Loren's profile


10252 posts in 3612 days

#4 posted 09-13-2012 04:03 AM

I don’t mill wood but I do know something about selling custom
made goods. The secret is to position your business as either
having skill or capacity beyond what your competitors offer. A
shop that can competently execute architect drawings in wood
and sheet goods can be a good money maker. There is a great
deal to learn and the machinery investment to do work to
the standard architects expect is more than what you need
to do fine wood furniture, but there’s good money in it if you
run an efficient shop and know which jobs to turn down
and which ones to pursue.

There are some 2 man shops that do nothing but run a
4 or 5 head moulder. I talked to one guy who said
his uncle sold all his cabinet machinery and invested
in a big Weinig moulder and stays busy running it…
in Alaska. I think the wood was cut local but mostly the
finished product was shipping down to the lower 48.

There are a lot of ways to make money processing wood,
but if you want to do it as a money-making endeavor,
you should look into manufacturing and/or packaging
components. This is what most custom shops actually
do – they fabricate the stuff they need custom and
can do efficiently with the equipment and labor in-house,
but stuff like doors and drawer boxes, delivery and installation
are often farmed out.

View ErikF's profile


610 posts in 2208 days

#5 posted 09-13-2012 12:51 PM

Thanks for the replies, LJ’s.

I have some new ideas to spend time on now. I think I will keep saving for the mill but I like you said WDHLT15 “trying to make a living out of it can take the fun out of it”. I like the idea of milling enough wood for myself and then selling it on the side as a source of extra money. I also like the idea of working with architects to supply a full mockup for their needs. Thanks again.

-- Power to the people.

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2228 days

#6 posted 09-13-2012 04:33 PM

Cutting wood is a tough business. If you’re not going to be in an area where you’ll have access to a lot of fine or “exotic” wood, it’s going to be tougher making enough money to make it your full time job with any of the smaller mill set ups (sub-$40K). If you added other services, that’s a different story though. Maybe cut trees down and then mill and sell that wood. Also, if you’re in an area that needs a lot of fencing, log homes, trailer floors, etc., that certainly helps.

The people I know that are getting by have either large circular saw mills running thousands of board feet a week or guys that just have machinery to take rough stock and mill it to other products (trim, tongue and groove, decking, paneling, etc.). Those set ups usually are in the $120-400K range.

I cut wood as a second or third income. Mainly it’s to support my furniture making as I like to have custom-sized lumber for the things I make.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View Post_Oakie's profile


84 posts in 2117 days

#7 posted 09-28-2012 10:13 PM

Milling is secondary income for me. I’ve got a niche market, cutting for a few custom woodworkers—including myself. Some of the low-end bandmills in the <$10,000 range work well for this. If you can cut something that people can’t find anywhere else, you can pretty much name your price; I love it when a woodworker looks at a nice walnut slab and says “I’ll take it… how much?” Some of my logs come from tree care services, though you have to learn to cut around the nails hidden in urban trees. There is also a limited market for people who with a portable sawmil and who can cut logs with sentimental value. Main thing is to not go into it with the idea that you’ll make money from day 1. It takes years to build up a good customer base. The best part is when I find an outstanding piece that I can set aside for myself.

-- Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

View WDHLT15's profile


1730 posts in 2440 days

#8 posted 09-29-2012 02:14 AM

Yes, it is the odd dimension/thickness stock from good species that you cannot find anywhere else that can set you apart. Still, very few can make a full time living without heavy support from a working spouse by running a portable bandmill.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Joseph Jossem's profile

Joseph Jossem

492 posts in 2232 days

#9 posted 09-29-2012 02:24 AM

wdhlt15 you are on it without my wife I would never survived I need to take every type of job possible also.Business is always up and down and with this type nothing is certain.
If you expect to make instant money not going to happen and it is back breaking work

View Loren's profile


10252 posts in 3612 days

#10 posted 09-29-2012 02:30 AM

If you want to make money with wood the site to read is

For sawmilling and timberframing type stuff you should check
out the various forestry forums.

You’ll find pithy commentary from shrewd and skilled people
in the trades on those sites.

When I mention architectural fabrication I really mean building
frameless cabinetry, veneering and doing some millwork,
mostly interior. Most architects are drawing frameless
these days.

View Monte Pittman's profile (online now)

Monte Pittman

28907 posts in 2302 days

#11 posted 09-29-2012 04:00 AM

Guess I am also trying to do exactly what you described. Been at it 3 years now. This may be my first year of showing a profit. I have a regular full time job to pay for everything while. I try to develop the woodworking business. I put in a lot of hours. The hope is to build it enough to be my retirement business. No way I could have tried to get all the equipment at once in the beginning. Adding tools as I go.

Good luck.

-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 2165 days

#12 posted 09-29-2012 05:52 PM

I think you would be better off sticking with doing custom built-ins, cabinets on a small scale,and craft show items to start with and work on getting a customer base which is never ending cause it is not like they will come back week after week wanting something else but it will let you build up a profolio of all your work and advertise.

See how you do there, Point is set up to do that right now and do not have to make a large investment only to find out it will take 3-6 years of hard work to maybe get it where you want it. Plus you need to set up contracts for your customers to sign and insurance, with all the trimmings to protect everyone involved. Have a lawyer set this up so you cover your butt with both hands and hopefully nothing still comes and bite you.

Be prepared to file liens against property for non payment and get nasty when you have to and do not let anybody slide cause it will haunt you. Trust me, Just over the past 3 years I have had over 80k go down the tube. Just from contractors, cabinet shops, you name it. It will put a bad taste in your mouth. Even being on a contract does not protect from getting burned….. You can’t bleed blood from a turnip, sound fimiliar….. So be prepared for this brutal venture. Not tryig to discourage you…. Just know it can and sadly some of what I mentioned will happen. Then you have the good customers who appreciate what you do and respect your craft. I can honestly say I had a Architect give me a $500 bonus for work I did. Kinda like golf, 50 bad shots but the one sweet hit makes you come back for more…..

What ever you do have enough saved up to float for several years and not be making any profit…. I truely wish you never experience any of these things I talk about but be informed, educated, prepared in case they do. Would I change what I do now for a living????? Hell no….. I knew it would not be easy and expected a royal flogging before I would get where I am now….... Sad you have to have this type of mind set to survive.

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

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