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Author Topic: Big Slabs: Sales and handling  (Read 5910 times)

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Offline YellowHammer

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #20 on: June 29, 2017, 02:45:35 pm »
I thought I'd post a few more specifics, as many of the replies were exactly dead on with what we see, based on our experience using conventional techniques, producing high quality live edge slabs is a profitable but difficult part of our business.  Its far from foolproof, and I have ruined my fair share, and many years ago even threw one whack into the burn pit I was so upset at how they turned out. 

A slabs value will increase the further it gets away the log.  Thick green slabs are not worth much, if any, more than the same piece of 4/4.  The value of a slab is how dry it gets and how defect free it remains.  The crude rule of thumb I use is that the finished defect rate basically squares as the wood gets thicker.  So a 2 inch piece of wood will have 4 times the end product defects as a 1 inch piece.  A 3 inch piece will have 9 times the defects.  This is also based on that a thicker piece of wood will have more internal defects and grain pattern changes so will move more as it dries.  So the only way to see how the slabs behave is to expend the time, space and expense to dry them, and the ones that show the best behavior will look great and be worth more money, considering that the ones that dried poorly will be cracked firewood. 

So we typically air dry most hardwood slabs for at least a year, then we put them in the kiln, finish and then sterilize them.  Then we sometimes have to put them back on the mill to skim them flat again, then we slice and dice out the ugly parts, and finally plane and sell.  Its a lot of work, and so we accordingly charge for it.

The problem with big slabs, and the reason their price goes up as they get closer to an end state, is that most people don't have the time, space or equipment to handle  and process them, so won't buy them until they are processed.  For example, very few furniture makers, let alone individuals, have the ability to plane a 50 inch slab, 20 feet long and make it come out executive table furniture quallity.  So to them, it may be a great piece of wood, but impossible for them to deal with.  So they won't buy it.  If I can't plane and straighten it with my machines to make it look good, how could I expect them?   So there are realistic tooling limits on live edge slab size that to be commercially marketable, except for the folks who take the wood all the way to finished product, who have invested in very specialized tools, and they can make really good money.  Also, most folks only want on live edge on one side of the board, and the other straight lined to go up against a wall, or to join to together more pieces of wood, such as a book match.  Its pretty hard to get a joint quality glue line 20 feet long, much less 8 tor 10 feet. We have invested many dollars to get the equipment required to do this.

The wood must be dried in a manner not to exceed the species maximum drying rate, and for red oak its 3.8% per day, white oak about half that.  I personally like to stay at about 2% per day red oak and about 1% for 4/4 white oak.  For 2 inch wood, half that number and the max rate I would be comfortable with on red oak would be 1% per day.  Unfortunately, outside air in Alabama usually dries the wood faster and it cracks, so techniques must be used to actually slow the air drying process down, which is what a kiln would do.  With a kiln, an acceptable drying rate can be maintained, and with thick wood, it is actually slower than air drying.  Of course, sometimes its faster, depending on species. The trick is to know how to dial in kiln time to maximize output. 

The value of a nearly perfect 60 inch slab is very dependent on the customer, and could be worth a lot of money.  However, retail folks rarely can handle a piece that big.  So you would have to find a specialty market.  Most of the slabs we sell are less than 25 inches wide, very high grade, planed both sides, table quality flat, 3 inches or less thick, and 8 to 12 feet long.  That covers 90% of the retail demand in this area.  We do have occasionally have thicker stuff but it will all have cracks and significant drying defects and typically will requires us to post process them to bring them to a customer's specifications.

There is a lot of information in the Drying and Processing section on this Forum.
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Offline woodworker9

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #21 on: June 30, 2017, 11:35:34 am »
Yellowhammer

That is an excellent, well written post, that describes, to a T, exactly what I go through.  I'm a guy who cuts my own, dries my own, and takes it to the finished product....making tables, benches, etc.....

I live 60 miles NW of Chicagoland, and the market for trendy furniture and cabinetry is always high, if you know what you're doing.  Many $2M plus homes around here, and the people who own them seem to always want to keep up with the Jones'es.  The simple fact is that live edge slab and farm tables are all the rage, and the more I can make, the more I can sell. 

There are over 100 post on Craigslist in my area alone trying to sell slabs.  I have taken the time to visit some of these sellers, and most of it is mishandled junk.  They've ignored almost all the important details that you hit on with your excellent post.

We have a lot of guys around here who think that they can take a chainsaw mill to a yard tree, slab it up, and next week sell the slabs for $800 to $1000 apiece.  Reality is dictating that these guys are making a lot of expensive firewood.  I brought my moisture meter, a very good Lignomat, to a guys place who was advertising "dried slabs" about a month ago.  My moisture meter had flickering lights between 18% and 20%.   Dried, huh.........yeah, right!  He asked me to leave.

On the other hand, a local retailer is asking, and getting, $1200 to $2000 apiece for 14/4 (yep....3 1/2" thick) walnut and cherry slabs from 20" to 40" wide.  He's got a sign up in his showroom explaining, with pictures, his new dehumidification kiln.  More than half his slabs had "SOLD" written in lumber crayon on them, with receipts stapled on, waiting for pick up.

I can tell you that for my own little furniture operation here, cutting and moving big, heavy slabs is a ton of extra work for me.  I have help from my 27 year old son some of the time, but most of the time, I'm cutting and moving them by myself.  I have a skidloader for moving logs, and then loading slabs, but it will not fit inside my current drying shed (19' X 25' with a doorway that is too small, with no room to turn the skidloader inside anyway, as it's almost full.)  I use a combination of pallet jack and appliance dolly to move them from the doorway to a sticker-stack.  I've got about 50, or so, 8/4, 10/4 and 12/4 slabs that have been air drying for up to 2 years now, all waiting for me to finish building my solar kiln.   There is a kiln service a couple of hours away, and I may just look into that.  I truly HATE the idea of losing control of the process, because if they ruin all this hard work I've put in to get this far, I think I'd probably lose it......

Anyway, thanks for a great post detailing several of the pitfalls of the slab business.  Bottom line is that I think a person can generate a lot of gross income cutting and selling slabs.  Whether or not that person actually makes any profit will be determined by how quickly they learn the lessons you describe above.
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Offline rjwoelk

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #22 on: June 30, 2017, 10:04:01 pm »
If you decide to dry these slabs, you need to dry a lot of wood you can aford to lose first. then i would slab some aford to lose wood and try that out. then when you feel confident go for it. Take a drying course and see if it is someing you want to do . Search for some one with a dryer to do it. See what his sucesss is first.
Just my 2 cents. 8)
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Offline grouch

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #23 on: June 30, 2017, 11:17:10 pm »
[snip]

If you're slabs dried and didn't twist and get all funky but remained fairly flat, you can then go to work with a 4x24 belt sander and smooth them out. 

[snip]

Couldn't you do this faster (with less dust!) with a router in a sled and frame?

[Edit to add photos:]

I've only done this on a small scale, but could it be scaled up to the size slabs y'all have been talking about?








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Offline Ianab

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #24 on: July 01, 2017, 02:45:21 am »
Assume a big slab of wood is going to move somewhat, and for a table or bar top, you want a perfectly flat surface, not a slightly cupped one. Once you get it all smooth and varnished, any cup etc is going to be obvious by looking at reflections of windows etc in the surface.

The router bridge that Grouch shows will work, but it's not really a production tool. But it's cheap and would get you started with some slabs to sell and gauge your market. If you are making furniture, then smoothing down a couple of  table tops is certainly practical.

I use a similar method, with my router mounted on my old mill frame. Router rolls up and down the slab on the mill carriage and I can slide it across the slab each pass. Works well. You don't get a "finished" slab, there will be some "swirly" machine marks, but it's perfectly flat, and ready to start sanding  with maybe an 80 grit?

If you get serious, there is a planer attachment for most swingblade mills. Replace the circle blade with a round cutter head with carbide cutters mounted in it. Ready to go with a ~20 hp router.  ;D
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Offline WDH

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #25 on: July 01, 2017, 07:32:22 am »
Most of the slabs we sell are less than 25 inches wide, very high grade, planed both sides, table quality flat, 3 inches or less thick, and 8 to 12 feet long.  That covers 90% of the retail demand in this area.

This is exactly my strategy too.  I like to keep my slabs less than 24" wide, sawn 9/4 which is 2 3/8" thick off the mill, air dry them a minimum of 8 - 9 month, usually longer (I shoot for 20% moisture content or less going into the kiln), kiln dry them to below 10%, sterilize them, flatten them (usually with a skim cut on the sawmill if necessary or with a planer sled), then finish plane them.  I am not interested in fooling with slabs over 24" wide or over 10' long.  Anything larger than that I cannot handle by myself anyway.  My slabs sell extremely well, and I am always short of supply.  I generally price the slabs per bf at 1.5 times the 4/4 bf price for that species.  I have decided to raise the price on my live edge walnut 9/4 slabs and price them closer to 2x 4/4 price.   
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Offline Chop Shop

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #26 on: July 03, 2017, 03:13:11 pm »
I read and enjoy lots of advice posted here on this and other forums but,,,,,


Does anyone feel that the more info floating around promotes more "millers" to get started up with a great money making bizz?

Its great for the sawmill production bizz and support tools industry but every person that you take their hand and lead step by step now becomes potential competition.


Pretty soon there are thousands of "millers" and way to much product on the market and then WE ALL get a pay cut.

Just my .02


Im not trying to be rude but ya dont see other bizzes teaching the competition how to compete/prosper.

Offline YellowHammer

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #27 on: July 03, 2017, 05:40:59 pm »
I read and enjoy lots of advice posted here on this and other forums but,,,,,
Pretty soon there are thousands of "millers" and way to much product on the market and then WE ALL get a pay cut.
Im not trying to be rude but ya dont see other bizzes teaching the competition how to compete/prosper.

This is a question I've considered for many years and many times.  Its not a theoretical question, it has actually happened to me twice, and in the end, all it did both times was make my business stronger.  So I may have a different opinion than others.  I'm a Pro Sawyer with WoodMizer and give sawmill demos.  I have sold several mills, some in my local area which seems dumb as I also used to custom saw for the public.  Two different people I did a demo for said they wanted to start a business "just like mine."  I smiled and said, sure go ahead, invest many, many hundred grand, start working 12 to 14 hour days, every day, every week, for years, then get ready to move 1.14 million pounds of wood every year, (our 2014 number, we have since grown) and have at it. 

Both businesses failed with the first year.  I asked each of them why, and the answers were basically "its a LOT of work" and "dealing with the public is tougher than it looks."  They both summarized with "You have to be crazy to do this."

I agree, it takes a certain amount of "crazy" to do this, but I have always had a certain amount of "crazy", otherwise known as passion, my whole life. 

There is certainly a possibility that someone else with as much passion and resources as I have will set up shop next door, and try to cut me off.  More power to them, I played competitive sports at the college level, I enjoy a good ball game. 

There are at least two mega mills next to me, each does what I do, more or less, on a much larger scale, a many million dollar level.  One just put in a million square feet of kilns, but their business is just a little different than mine, so no problem.  They were both very reluctant to talk to me in the beginning, but I eventually developed business relationships with both places, and now we are complimentary to each other, not competitive. 

I am always open to answering good questions as they appear on this Forum, they deserve to be answered.  Its no different than somebody asking what kind of lure the fish as biting on, or what I caught last week.  In many ways, fishing is an art, and some things just don't translate.  If they did, we would all be professional fisherman just by reading magazines, watching TV shows, and visiting tournament venues.  It just isn't going to happen.  But that doesn't mean there's no reason not to help someone catch more fish. 

In many ways, it is the same thing in the sawing and drying industry.  Some things just don't translate, and some things comes from years of experience and intuition, and its really impossible to transmit that info, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't help someone mill better wood, or otherwise help them enjoy doing something they like.

That being said, there are some folks on the Forum who have the same type of business I have, and I say more power to them, "good job" because it isn't easy, and I consider them my friends not my competitors, mainly because, as far as I can tell, they are as "crazy" as I am.  I say that as an utmost compliment.
 
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Offline terrifictimbersllc

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #28 on: July 03, 2017, 05:43:41 pm »
To quote one of my customers,  "every one else's gig looks great until you try to do it yourself".
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Offline grouch

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #29 on: July 03, 2017, 05:47:36 pm »
I read and enjoy lots of advice posted here on this and other forums but,,,,,


Does anyone feel that the more info floating around promotes more "millers" to get started up with a great money making bizz?

Its great for the sawmill production bizz and support tools industry but every person that you take their hand and lead step by step now becomes potential competition.


Pretty soon there are thousands of "millers" and way to much product on the market and then WE ALL get a pay cut.

Just my .02


Im not trying to be rude but ya dont see other bizzes teaching the competition how to compete/prosper.

Actually, yes, I do see others teaching their trades to newbies and each other, all over the Internet.

"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Not everybody is willing to take the time to learn how to saw and process wood and even fewer are willing to do the hard work that it requires. Greed and selfishness are not needed to maintain prices and they don't add a bit of value to the product.

You might want to look up a post or two by Magicman and take note of his "sig".
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Offline 4x4American

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #30 on: July 03, 2017, 07:05:40 pm »
I wouldn't be where I'm at today if it weren't for the help of great forum members (not saying that I'm in some special place lol).  It would be wrong in my eyes if I didn't pass on what I've learned.  And I believe that you never stop learning.  But in terms of competition, as mentioned above, it's hard work and not everyone has the willpower/passion to keep going.  Besides with all the free govt handouts nowadays seems as though most people would rather be broke sitting at home than go broke busting their chops running a sawmill lol
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Offline Bruno of NH

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #31 on: July 03, 2017, 07:46:33 pm »
When I first started my contracting business in 1984 no one helped me out I learned by making lots of mistakes and bad choices on some things. I learned things the hard way I have outlasted many that said I couldn't do it .
I have helped many that worked for me start their own business .
Working for your self is not for everyone it's a lot of work. I like to work .
People on this FF have helped me out with my milling endeavor more than they know .
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Offline tule peak timber

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #32 on: July 03, 2017, 08:41:40 pm »
I see things changing here over the last year, and it is concerning to say the least. lots of "competition'. Which way does a smart man go ???

  

 
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Offline Ianab

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #33 on: July 03, 2017, 08:55:23 pm »
Another way of looking at it is we are encouraging the small scale timber industry as a whole. Not everyone is going to be relying on the retail sale of wood, or operating a sawmill etc. Land owners want markets for their trees. Loggers and truckers want the work harvesting those trees. Milling, drying, machining, through to making end products, there are lots of niches in the chain.

Now if you try and work in a vacuum keeping your operation "top secret", where to the supply and market end come from? If the whole concept that you can buy locally produced lumber or furniture is unknown to the general public, who's going to buy your product?

From that point of view it's arguably better to encourage the industry as a whole, and then sort out which niche(s) of it you can slot into. Some folks run tree farms, others furniture shops, and all the steps in between.

Other option is to give up and just have everyone buy all their stuff from China...
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Offline tule peak timber

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #34 on: July 03, 2017, 09:04:11 pm »
 

  I can guarantee the nose on this fish will always point in the right direction to make business decisions.
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Offline petefrom bearswamp

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #35 on: July 04, 2017, 08:51:47 am »
Dang! I just was typing a pretty long response here and my computer bailed out on me losing the whole thing tooo frustrating.
This has happened to me several times.
I'll try again when I cool off
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Offline Chop Shop

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #36 on: July 04, 2017, 12:43:32 pm »

 Its no different than somebody asking what kind of lure the fish as biting on, or what I caught last week.  In many ways, fishing is an art, and some things just don't translate.  If they did, we would all be professional fisherman just by reading magazines, watching TV shows, and visiting tournament venues.  It just isn't going to happen.  But that doesn't mean there's no reason not to help someone catch more fish. 

   Even if they cant catch fish, your still rubbing elbows with 5000 people on every lake or river out here.

I get what your all saying, but Ive never seen a successful prospector give advice. 

There used to be a term used before the internet, "Trade secrets".

Offline jemmy

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #37 on: July 04, 2017, 05:53:32 pm »

   Even if they cant catch fish, your still rubbing elbows with 5000 people on every lake or river out here.

I get what your all saying, but Ive never seen a successful prospector give advice. 

There used to be a term used before the internet, "Trade secrets".

I understand your concerns and your points have validity. However, do to the complexity, labor intensity, risk, and over all investment (financial, emotional, physical, etc) this stuff is not for everyone. As you probably already know this line of work is not for the vast majority of people. However, there is that sliver of people that are crazy, smart, and courageous enough to take on this field of work. I love this stuff so far! This stuff keeps me on my toes and I find the challenge exciting and energizing so I really think this stuff is for me.

Now trade secrets are very important, however, if you could save someone a butt load of money would you not do it? Especially if they are not stepping on your toes? I feel like this business does better when networks are developed. I got to talk with Yellow Hammer for an hour and half and one big thing that I took home was that its beneficial all around when you can make others successful. Also another thing I have realized is that most people have varying opinions and its up to the audience to choose the right path. I have a plan from this thread of what I'm going to do with my slabs, but I could easily go belly up and lose my shirt. That's business, and why its not for everyone.

Side note I picked up a used 090. I am hopeful that this saw will be in decent condition, I will let you guys know when it gets here on the 11th! I will have pics and video as soon as its available.
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Offline tule peak timber

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #38 on: July 04, 2017, 07:17:25 pm »

 Its no different than somebody asking what kind of lure the fish as biting on, or what I caught last week.  In many ways, fishing is an art, and some things just don't translate.  If they did, we would all be professional fisherman just by reading magazines, watching TV shows, and visiting tournament venues.  It just isn't going to happen.  But that doesn't mean there's no reason not to help someone catch more fish. 

   Even if they cant catch fish, your still rubbing elbows with 5000 people on every lake or river out here.

I get what your all saying, but Ive never seen a successful prospector give advice. 

There used to be a term used before the internet, "Trade secrets".
An interesting analogy between fishing and big slabs, as I fished for a living for years. The first 6 years was horrible but eventually I was able to attract and keep good crew with dollars rolling in.Knowledge was very hard fought and no one was giving anything away. As a wood worker I sell my time and my knowledge. Rob
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Offline Ricker

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Re: Big Slabs: Sales and handling
« Reply #39 on: July 04, 2017, 11:21:00 pm »
I try to help people whenever I can, be it work life or personal life. I figure I will need a hand sometime and hopefully it will comeback to me and usually it does. As far as sawing or drying advice I think every new sawyer has benefited from someone explaining at least the basics to them.