Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Forest Thinning made Profitable with a Wood-Mizer Portable Sawmill

Forest thinning increases overall forest health.

According to the USDA Forest Service, at least 40 million plus acres of southern and western forests in the United States are at high risk of catastrophic fire, insect infestation, or disease epidemics because of poor ecosystem health.  One reason has been lack of forest maintenance.  To bring the forests back to health, it is necessary to thin them by removing offending undergrowth and reduce overpopulations of smaller trees. Thinning not only has the potential to improve the overall health of the forests, it can also be a source of income for landowners and portable sawmill owners alike.  

Ken South of Jordan, Montana, is owner of K & K Sawing.  He works in private forests, harvesting small timber and converting it to lumber with his Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic sawmill.  His operation can serve as a model of how thinning forests can be done at a profit without harvesting old growth timber.
Portable sawmills become key to profitable forest thinning

“I’d lost my job on a ranch when it went under… and needed something to do,” Ken explains.  “I’d operated a Wood-Mizer portable mill on the ranch and thought I saw something with a lot of potential.  We started custom sawing lumber to see if we could make a go of it and haven’t stopped since.”  

Fortunately for K & K Sawing, logging cutbacks on Federal lands have left some manufacturers scrambling for reliable supplies of quality fiber. Also, more and more private land owners are begining to treat their own forests for improved health and reduced fire threat.  The two needs, Ken points out, can be simultaneously fulfilled through thinning programs.

Often, hundreds of miles can separate the forests needing treatment from the nearest sawmill of any size.  That means transportation costs are high.  Ken South’s portable sawmill has proven to be the key in bringing supply and demand in a way that works. The Wood-Mizer, Ken points out, allows him to mill small timber into value added products only a few feet from where it is harvested, a vital factor in making the whole process economical when the timber is small and potential customers remote.  

Ken South's Wood-Mizer goes to the forest.

In a traditional harvest, costs are added at each stage of the process of logging.  And a thinning harvest often results in large quantities of small material which do not provide enough yield to make the whole process profitable.

With his Wood-Mizer portable mill, Ken South is able to avoid the production steps that add much of the cost between stump and secondary processor in a more traditional operation.  Since the cost of shipping a raw finished product from the woods is basically the same as transporting raw logs, shipment costs are reduced because only finished product, ready for secondary processing, leaves the woods. 

Ken and a contractor friend with logging equipment have worked out a split on the wood that allows each to operate a profitable business.  The contractor harvests the trees and delivers them to a central point at the saw.  The “landing” is changed periodically both to avoid ground damage and to reduce the amount of time and labor involved in harvesting the wood.
Trucking costs are greatly reduced. 

At the landing Ken, his son, and sometimes a third employee, prepare logs for sawing based on orders from buyers and saw to customer requests.  Cants are shipped to the buyer for reprocessing, lumber is sold to a variety of customers including local farmers and ranchers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, while slabs are used mostly for firewood.  Virtually everything goes into some kind of product.  Lumber destined for the primary customer is loaded onto a semi-trailer which is left at the site to be filled then picked up by a local trucker who delivers it to the customer’s mill in South Dakota, nearly 200 miles away.

The impacts on the forests are dramatic enough in terms of health and quality enhancements that neighboring ranchers have already asked Ken to work their forests when he’s done with his current project/location.  According to Ken, future work is already lined up, and he plans to continue making a good living improving both the economic and environmental health of the area near his home. 

Check out the Video Center at to see more ways Wood-Mizer sawmill owners are using their sawmills to make a living. For more information on managing your private forest with a portable sawmill, visit: