One of the most common issues for sawyers is what to do with all the waste. While band sawmills produce less than half the sawdust of circular sawmills, it still adds up, as do the slabs. To most sawyers, sawdust and slabs are a nuisance—but they can be an opportunity for a little extra income.
Uses for Waste from a Portable Sawmill
The first consideration is how to minimize the handling of your mill residues. Strapping bundles of slabs together so that you can use a loader to set them on a trailer or back of a pickup truck can save you hours of handling—time you can spend milling lumber. Sawdust tends to be more time consuming, but a simple chute and bucket collection system saves time with a shovel later. You can keep a trailer or a sawdust bin nearby that you can pick up with a front end loader whenever it is full. From there, it can go to a pelletizer, charcoal kiln, or compost pile—a five-minute job at the end of the day.
Build Your Own Furniture
Slab firewood is one option, but at almost a give-away price by the time you figure your time. Why not set aside some of your better slabs—those that could be turned into slab furniture—and sell them to local woodworkers? You might even try your hand at building some benches and tables to sell.
One of the most common uses for sawdust is animal bedding. Unfortunately, the sawdust from band sawmills is too fine for most animal bedding, and walnut is toxic to horses. There are, however, other options. Although this won’t come close to matching the sawdust output, I keep a bucket of sawdust in the shop to absorb oil spills, and even pre-clean my hands by rubbing them in the sawdust whenever they’re covered in oil. It is amazing how much sawdust will absorb. It makes decent kitty litter, too. Maybe not as convenient as the store-bought variety, but certainly plentiful around our place.
Making Pellets from Sawdust
Sawdust burners are pretty simple to build, and there are a number of plans for them on the internet. A burner built out of a 55-gallon drum can burn up to eight hours without attention. It might be just what you need to keep that solar kiln running when you’ve got a week of rainy weather. Wood pellets may be another option. Pellet stoves are gaining popularity in the U.S. and newer models burn cleanly and efficiently without attention for up to 24 hours. Small-scale pelletizers that produce around 250 pounds per hour are available for around $3,000. Current retail price is around $140 per ton bulk rate, or $250/ton in 40-pound bags. You may even find it feasible to pelletize sawdust from other local sawmills.
Making Lump Charcoal from Sawmill Edgings
Charcoal probably brings up thoughts of outdoor barbecues, but its use for filters and a soil amendment known as “biochar” give it a far greater market potential. Edgings too small for firewood are ideal for lump charcoal. If you can bag it and sell it locally, you may just find yourself a cash commodity. Specialty packaging, such as including hickory chips for smoking can give you an edge in sales. Powdered charcoal from sawdust can go for briquettes or biochar. Charcoal production does require an investment in time and resources. You can start with a simple 55-gallon drum charcoal kiln and go from there as you develop the market. A ton of dry sawdust converts to about 200 pounds of charcoal. Retail price ranges from $.50 to $1.00 per pound.
Making Compost from Sawdust
Compost may be the simplest way to deal with sawdust. If you have enough land to set up a composting area, you will find yourself very popular with local gardeners. A common mix is 50% sawdust, 50% manure mixed together and aged for at least two years, so you won’t get rid of your sawdust right away. The good news is that many livestock operations have the same problem with manure that you do with sawdust and will load it into your trailer either free or for a very low fee. You can get a premium for your compost it you can certify it as “organic”, but that requires extra effort on your part to find manure that does not contain antibiotics or hormones. Horse barns are a great source. Mix in some biochar, bag it, and you will have a ready market. As with charcoal, you can get much better prices if you can bag it up, but it also sells in bulk by the cubic yard. A cubic yard sells for around $25, but the same amount of compost in a bag sells for about five times that. Convenience sells!
You can turn your waste wood into a valuable commodity. It is all part of the mix of making your sawmill profitable. Take a second look at everything you throw away and determine whether there is a way to convert it into a usable commodity. Once you’ve done that, you may even find other local sawmills that will actually pay you to take their “waste”!
Disclaimer: this article is meant to present ideas for turning waste into a valuable commodity. It is up to you to learn the details of each option and determine whether they will work for you.