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Published: 1995-10-19

In some parts of the world lumber is most expensive where trees are most abundant-in remote forested sites. Since these remote locations do not have processing equipment, logs are hauled away and lumber is hauled back.

For twelve years the WoodMizer Sawmill Company has helped missionaries and organized local Christian ministries who need wood for building schools and churches by donating half of the cost of a portable sawmill. They also like to see the local people reap more of the benefits from their own trees. One example is Pacific Island Ministries in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This mission, which has a school in a remote area, intends to establish a sawmill in each nearby village so they can produce their own lumber. These small sawmills can produce 500800 board feet per day. The mission will buy some lumber from them for school construction, and the communities will market the rest.

The project began when the mission learned that Japanese businessmen had met with the community leaders. The missionary realized that if each community had a sawmill, it could easily make 10 times what the foreign companies were offering. And since the local people cherish their forest, they want to cut on a selected basis rather than clear-cut.

In another PNG community, Beechwood Ltd. bought logs as cheaply as 5¢ per board foot for sale within the country. They still went out of business because of the high cost of transporting logs out of the remote area. With a portable sawmill, people do not move the sawdust, water and slabs, but only dried lumber. Wood has two kinds of water, free and bound. Free water between the wood cells is 80 - 90% removed by a week or two of air drying. (A typical rainforest tree is 60 - 80% water, but the water content of air-dried boards is about 20%.) Bound or intracellular water is harder to remove, but this extra drying step, accomplished with solar kilns or other methods, can significantly increase the value of the lumber.

“Value added” is the key concept. The sawmills enable people to sell boards rather than rough logs, and well-dried boards bring an even better price. For this reason, solar kilns are also part of WoodMizer’s donations program where appropriate (two 1500-board-ft kilns may be needed with each sawmill). For example, the cheapest sawn lumber might be worth 80¢ - $1 per (airdried) board foot when sold in country. Exotic species roughly sawn (not dried) might only bring 25¢, but may sell for at least $24.00 per board foot after solar kiln drying. At these prices, solar kiln-dried exotic species could even be profitably flown out of the area for export.

There are other situations where a lumber project could fit the goals of a development organization. Darryl Mortensen in Mexico wrote us this summer that a field survey by AMEXTRA, a Mexican development organization, turned up some incredible statistics. He writes, “200,000 trees have been ordered for the reforestation program in Chiapas. Many trees have been cut down … to clear land for planting. A recent survey showed that there is salable lumber in logs that are just lying on farmland which farmers want to clear for crops. AMEXTRA is looking into ways to market this lumber rather than burning it, as there is sometimes more than $500 worth of lumber on a single farm which would be more income for the farmer than 23 years of planting corn.”

Envision the following scene. Fell a tall tree. After removing the branches, cut the tree into logs of the desired length, so the cut logs remain end-to-end. Carry the sawmill to the site and set up beside the first log. This 10minute setup involves fastening the mill to skids 1012 feet (33.6 meters) long to give it stability. Two to three people roll the first log onto the mill with cant hooks. As soon as this log is sawn into lumber, slide the mill along the length of the tree to the second log. Repeat the process until the entire tree is sawn. If the log is on a hillside, place blocks under the mill to make it level before sawing. Stack the boards crisscrossed (X) against a strong tree for 10 - 12 days to air dry before carrying them out of the area, perhaps to the site of the solar kiln. How portable is the sawmill? WoodMizer makes many models of portable sawmills, any of which can be transported where there is a road. For really difficult sites, they recommend the LT20 (see photo), a model that is no longer produced, but which the company occasionally takes in on trades. It can be dismantled and put in the back of a truck in 10 minutes. The heaviest piece is 67 pounds. Twelve people can carry the sawmill and accessories into off-road sites; some have been carried as far as 15 miles. “One of our questions before giving a sawmill is whether they know the local Forestry Department people. We require that recipients replant trees at a ratio of 100:1. Any WoodMizer sawmill and future parts and supplies are available at a 50% discount. Any nonprofit organization actively involved in meeting human need may apply. Christian missions in developing countries are given priority. Decisive factors are the organization’s goals and prospects for longterm use.” The first step is to write WoodMizer to explain your program and how the sawmill would fit into it. If this meets the company’s criteria, you will be sent a formal application. It could be three months to four years before you get the mill, depending on the waiting list. Even if you do not meet their donation criteria, any licensed, accredited educational institution can receive a 25% discount.

More information online at http://woodmizer.com/us/Making-a-Difference

Cite as:

ECHO Staff 1995. The Woodmizer Company Helps Christian Missions and Schools With Portable Sawmills. ECHO Development Notes no. 50