How Much is Your Log Worth?

How much is your log worth? The short answer is probably not as much as you had hoped, but you’re not here for the short answer, so I’ll give you the long one.

First off, you need a bit of background of where I come from on this subject. I mill, sell and work with lumber from mostly suburban settings with lots of yard trees salvaged from tree services and a decent number of logs from wooded settings, usually where a building is about to be erected. This means my log supply can range from barely usable to awesomely perfect and all with lots of wacky and wild in between. I normally pay nothing for my logs and only buy a couple of logs per year, which I just can’t live without. I mostly don’t pay for logs because I mostly don’t have to. There are lots of logs available to me, especially if I am willing to pick them up.

Since I work in an area with a large population (St. Louis and St. Charles, MO), I often get requests from homeowners looking to make money from their logs, especially after hearing age-old stories of walnut logs selling for thousands and thousands of dollars. These consistent requests and a recent article in the Missouri Conservationist magazine (click here to read the article) about Missouri hardwoods prompted me to put into writing what I have repeated probably hundreds of times.

  1. A log is worth as much as someone is willing to pay. This sounds like a smartass answer, but it isn’t. If you don’t know where to sell your logs or you can’t find someone in your area willing to pay, they aren’t worth much. And, if you can’t get your logs to the buyer they are worth even less. Especially, if you only have one tree, expect no excitement from someone who normally purchases logs. You won’t get a larger purchaser, like a big sawmill, to come out for less than a truckload.
  2. Your log probably isn’t as great as you think it is. You would be amazed by how many people call me and tell me about a walnut tree in their yard that is at least 40 years old or about the tree which has its first branch at 5′ from the ground. A walnut tree is a baby at 40 years old and is obviously a short, branchy yard tree with not much of a log if there are branches 5′ from the ground. A good tree, one worth really talking about, will have at least 10′ of branchless trunk, if not 14′ or 16′ or more. Just because it is a walnut tree, doesn’t mean it is a good walnut tree.

    This walnut tree was about 90 years old and produced a very nice stem. The bottom log has about 250 bf. in it and would fetch about $500 dollars delivered to a sawmill. The top log in the pile and the second log up in the tree has about 200 bf. in it and would be worth about $175.

     

  3. Most high-dollar logs are veneer-quality logs. Almost all of the stories of logs selling for high prices are for veneer-quality logs. And, almost all of the logs out there are not veneer-quality logs. Veneer logs look like they came from the “log factory” and are perfect in every way; no signs of knots, straight, round, good color, good growth ring spacing, centered pith, no bird peck, no shake, no metal, fresh, and hopefully, big. I only get a few veneer quality trees out of hundreds per year and they almost never come out of yards. They are usually hidden somewhere in the woods.

    White oak logs don’t get much better than this 16′ long x 30″ diameter example. Yet, the veneer buyer wasn’t interested in purchasing it because the color was not good.

     

  4. Yard trees have metal in them. This is no myth. Whether you remember doing it or not, there is a good chance your yard tree has metal in it. Metal, like nails, hooks, wires and chains mess up saw blades and make a mess by staining the wood. I expect trees I pick up to have metal in them, and I will work around it, but remember, I don’t pay for trees. Larger operations have no reason to buy logs with metal in them, especially if the next log truck in the gate is full of logs without metal.

    Bottom logs have the most valuable wood and the most metal, like this electrical conduit with wires.

     

  5. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you are reading this, it is most likely because you don’t sell logs on a regular basis (or, you just want to see if I know what I am talking about). Without doing this consistently, you can’t know enough about your logs to properly sell them. You can’t get it in front of the right people at the right time and present them with something they can’t live without, and you definitely can’t defend your product. You will be at the mercy of the buyer. They will know after the first thing out of your mouth that you do not know what you are doing, and even if they are fair, they will never overpay.

This is a good-looking walnut log, but it has a lot of sapwood (white ring on outside), which will make it less valuable. If you don’t sell logs regularly, there is no way you would know that this could be an issue for some buyers.

 

You can tell from most of these points that I am pretty sure you aren’t going to get rich from your single tree or a couple of logs (especially from me) and you shouldn’t expect to. With that point made, you should know that some do have value if you have a place to sell them and you have a way to get them to a buyer. So, if I haven’t completely dissuaded you from selling your logs, below are some pricing examples that you can expect if you were to sell your logs to a larger operation in the midwest:

Average price, based on 20″ diameter inside the bark on the skinny end x 10′ long = 160 bf.

Red oak $.70 per bf. clear saw log = $112, $1.00 per bf. veneer log= $160

White oak $.85 per bf. clear saw log = $136, $1.50 per bf. veneer log= $240

Walnut $1.70 per bf. clear saw log = $272, $3.50 per bf. veneer log= $560

Cherry $.90 per bf. clear saw log = $144, $1.40 per bf. veneer log= $224

Hard Maple $.75 per bf. clear saw log = $120, $1.25 per bf. veneer log= $200

 

This mix of 10′ x 20″ black oak, white oak and post oak trees from a homebuilding site would sell for about $75-$100 each, delivered to a local sawmill.

Now, obviously prices will range from mill to mill, based on what wood is available in the area, what is selling well and if the mill specializes in any products or species. The above prices should just serve as a guidepost in determining if bothering to sell your logs is worthwhile. Most of the logs in the pricing example above would not cover the price of trucking on their own, so marketing one log most likely doesn’t make sense, unless you can haul it yourself.

However, you can see that if a landowner were to have a large number of trees, the money could start to add up. $112 for a red oak log doesn’t sound like much, but it starts to sound like something when there is a semi truckload of $112 logs. This is what most large timber sales are based on; a large number of logs sold at a fair price and not necessarily getting rich on one tree.

Usually, the phone calls I answer are about a single “big” walnut tree which will cost a homeowner lots of money to remove because it is large and right up against the house. They see a big log worth big money. However, the removal costs also jump up with the increase in tree size, negating any benefit of a larger tree. Their hope is that I will be excited enough about their tree to cut it down (safely, I presume) in trade for the wood, but the math doesn’t work out. A tree which costs $3,000 to remove probably won’t have $3,000 worth of logs in it, no matter if it is walnut or not.

Remember, the bottom line is that logs do have some value, but if you can’t do all of the work like cutting, hauling and selling yourself there is almost no way to make money on a single tree. Unless, of course, you just happen to have a tree like the ones below that I couldn’t live without.

This 11′ x 42″ diameter walnut took two forklifts to move and was one of only two trees which I purchased last year. I paid $950 for this log and it is the largest walnut I have personally processed. This log is potentially worth more money, but it had several obvious signs of metal, so larger mills weren’t interested.

 

This 15′ x 38″ diameter walnut was the second of only two trees which I purchased within the last year. I paid $700 for the tree and it is the second largest walnut I have ever cut. This tree also had metal in it, which kept the price down.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

34 responses to “How Much is Your Log Worth?”

  1. bgilstrap says :

    Excellent and informative post.

  2. Tom Hogard says :

    Scott,
    Nice explanation of the value, and difficulties with, residential logs. Transportation is a major consideration. I have had similar experiences, although I seldom get free logs. I buy from tree services and individuals – usually delivered here at my mill. Being offered a clean saw log is rare, and the prices I pay are correspondingly lower. I don’t think I was ever offered a veneer-quality log, but I think most tree services are selling those to someone else 🙂

    I don’t produce a product, the logs I buy are usually for resale with my milling services included. Perhaps next year I’ll have my kiln going and will start buying/milling/drying and selling lumber. I, too, get the calls about those ‘valuable’ yard trees, your explanation explained the reality very well.

  3. Skip Kincaid says :

    Great post Scott! As an SAF Certified Forester and an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, I can verify everything you’ve posted. (btw…. you’re supposed to be impressed by those credentials!) I get “the question” from homeowners with a single tree, and landowners with hundreds or thousands of trees. “How much is it worth?” My response is the same as yours, “whatever someone’s willing to pay.” Not a smartass answer at all. It’s gospel. Thanks for sharing this insight and I will likely share your thoughts, and this article with folk if you’re OK with that. Might get you a few logs!! Mill on!!

  4. Steve D says :

    I had a walnut in my yard that wore out its welcome. It had 2 trunks about 18″ and my heart sank when I saw how much sapwood was there. Anyway, I milled it and it awaits my attention.

    Great article.

  5. David says :

    Great article (as usual) that every home/land owner should be made aware of.

  6. thekiltedwoodworker says :

    My only problem with your article is the lack of an Oxford comma in the second sentence in the second paragraph. 😉

  7. Tim says :

    Great article. We have a huge oak tree in our yard that will come down in the next 10 years. I’ve often thought about what we could do with the wood. You’ve explained the economics well. I think I would be lucky to get some boards from it after having somebody take it away. Unless, of course, it’s a pin oak (another great article). A neighbor did the same with a huge oak in his yard. He found a guy with a mini mill to process it where the tree cutters brought it down.

  8. Saj says :

    Hi,
    I have one Walnut unfinished lumber 4″x 16″x 12 feet – about 30 yrs old. What would it’s value be right now? Thank you

  9. Chris Johnston says :

    Great article. I have been in the tree business for 36 years now. I have owned a sawmill since 2005. Now that I am retired I have started milling lumber for many projects around the house. I am looking for logs to purchase. If you are close to Uxbridge and have any for sale please contact me

  10. Bill barnett says :

    I have a 40 year old black walnut tree i will take down need a quote on buying the logs bill 314 885 8216 south county saint louis

  11. Russ Meyer says :

    Great article, and thanks for taking the time to put it on the web. I have a few forest grown logs on my property in Pike County, MO. Will be having a timber stand assessment done after deer season is over. It’s a little confusing why MDC quotes Stumpage sawlog High price of $3880, and an average log at $2600. yet your telling me that if I cut and haul my logs to the mills/buyer, I’m likely to only see 1/4 of that quoted price? Where does the discrepancy lie? Also, I’m curious, as a grower/producer will the IRS expect me to claim the sale as capital gains. Any advice for would be log sellers?

    Thanks again for this forum.

    • wunderwoods says :

      The MDC sawlog price list can vary dramatically. The high price is not the high price you can expect to get, it is the high price from one single report. They may only have four reports in a particular time period, the results of which will be highly swayed by a single report. Go through multiple reports and look at the average stumpage price. For example, the average on walnut is about $1,200 for 1000bf or $1.20 per bf. That’s a far cry from $3,880. The $3,880 was one report which may have had all fantastic logs purchased by an excited buyer and not represent an average. When the chart says “average” is doesn’t mean “average” log, it means an average of all the reports. The average of logs other than walnut is about 25¢ per board foot at stumpage prices. Cut and delivered to to a sawmill, the prices will be higher. Your final price is, of course, determined by the quality of your logs, and one of the key points of my article is that your logs may not be as good as you think they are. If you know what you are doing, only cut high quality logs and sell to a great buyer, your prices will be higher. Most people I run into, especially anyone asking for advice, don’t have this perfect scenario, so my warning is to set your expectations lower and more realistic.

      As far as capital gains, I have no input on that one.

      • greg atkins says :

        the prices you have listed for this above comment ($1,200 for 1000 bf) is Stump-age prices. not ” logs delivered prices” I guess it really depends where you are and what not, but in illinois. DNR has a website the gives people the low/high/and average money paid for stumpage and logs delivered. https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/conservation/Forestry/Documents/IllinoisTimberPricesWinter2017_18.pdf It has not updated for 2018 yet im sure it will in feb in a couple of weeks, but you still get the idea. the picture above of the walnut laying in the driveway you said 250bf of high quality wood was worth 500 bucks. I’m not bashing but I feel your prices are low but considering your profession it would not benefit you to give more accurate pricing.

      • wunderwoods says :

        Greg, I took a look at the link you included and the average price for walnut is around $2,000 per 1,000 bf or $2 per bf. You will get paid more if the logs are delivered to the mill. I know that in my area $2 per bf. is the going rate, delivered to the mill. Of course, there are higher prices and lower prices being paid, but I think that is a good average.
        I also understand your concern that I have no reason to state higher prices given the business I am in, but I seldom buy logs, so I have no real incentive to post inaccurate prices. I write this blog to be as educational as possible with the most accurate information available at the time.
        Thanks for the link. I am sure others will find it helpful.

  12. Jackie says :

    If a homeowner had a rather large Maple tree that branches off into 5 different trunks, wasn’t interested in getting any money for it but thinks it would be a shame to see it turned into firewood only, how would they go about seeing if anyone would be interested in having it?

    • wunderwoods says :

      The answers would range depending on where you are at. The best universal answer I can give is to find a local sawyer and start there. A smaller operation would probably be more interested than a large one. Wood-Mizer will share a list of mill owners in your area which may also help.

  13. Vladimir Djukanovic says :

    Hi,

    I have about 16m3 of really ancient oak logs. One is about 1500 years and the rest all about 1000 years old.
    They are large in diameter and I can send you photos if you care.
    Is there a market for such logs. I hear about crazy prices people pay for this.
    My email is below so send me yours if you want to see the photos.

    Sincerely,

    Vladimir

  14. Sophea says :

    thanks for the article. very informative. I’ve been trying to research selling some of our trees. the biggest problem i think, if i understand the research so far, is that some of these massive trees are along a creek. They’re mostly ginormous oaks but a mix of hickory, black walnut, choke cherry, elms, sycamore. I think the ones that are 4-5 feet in diameter are bur oaks because of the acorns. Some of their branches are dead but the trees aren’t.

    The issue is there is creek erosion. while I understand tree roots hold banks together, the roots are exposed enough to make the current trees unstable. A couple might have even been hit by lighting. It’s hard to tell. I don’t want to get to close to them because of the dead branches so high up.

    annnnyway, my question is about cutting trees along a creek. I think i read only up to 20% of the trees can be removed. We don’t want to clear cut the area but do want to cut these old dangerous trees and replant immediately with new trees, shrubs, and plants to stabilize the banks. That’s what I read was the way to stabilize a bank. Because these trees are so large we weren’t sure if they’d be worth money. Obviously we’d need some professional advice from a forester, which we are planning on doing. Just curious if you had any input. Thanks and happy new year

    • wunderwoods says :

      I salvage urban logs, so I will have very little helpful input on working along creeks. It sounds like you are worried about the logs being too big and I can’t imagine how that would be a problem. For me bigger is always better.

  15. Neil says :

    I have about 100 popular and the mill has offered $106 per tree and I thought that appeared a little low (although I realize it’s not cherry), and will leave thee stumps and scraps. Which will then take about 4 K to chip. Thoughts and thanks in advance!

    • wunderwoods says :

      I am not sure on poplar pricing, though I imagine it to not be very high. You will need to get a better idea of the board footage in each tree to figure out the price per board foot and determine if it is low. That could be a great price if your trees are small and low-grade or it could be a low price if your trees are giant and high-grade.

  16. Tom Hogard says :

    It sounds like Neil is averaging the bid by the number of trees, and I suspect that they bid by the board foot, although they may have only given him a total ($10,600). From his comment it sounds like it is a stumpage bid and will be quite a bit lower than a p/bf delivered at the mill. If they averaged 1 – 24″x16′ log in each tree (400 bf), that would be about .25 p/bf stump value (not too bad).

  17. Joseph Yoder says :

    I think I have a pretty nice walnut tree in my yard. Is there a minimum diameter for a tree to produce good lumber? Can a complete amateur like myself access that lumber with simple tools?

    • wunderwoods says :

      We usually are around 13″-15″ inside the bark on the skinny end to make a tree worth the time to mill, and that is often pushing it. Since you are doing this for yourself and not trying to meet any production goals, I would say 12″ would be a good limit, though you can still get lumber of smaller logs. If you have a chainsaw, you can mill the lumber pretty easily with an Alaskan chainsaw mill.

  18. Andy says :

    I have a red oak tree which is about 120′ tall and about 72 ” in diameter at the base. It is very straight and has no other branches for about the first 70′. I will be taking it down soon due to the proximity to an outdoor project, but wondered if there was anyway to tell how many bf it would generate?

    • wunderwoods says :

      Yes, with accurate numbers. You will need diameters at the skinny end of the logs at a certain length to use the Doyle scale. Since the tree is still standing this won’t be easy, but you should be able to make some inferences from measuring places you can reach. I will tell you though that the sizes you mentioned seem very, very big for a red oak. They can get that big, but it sounds like you are overestimating a bit. A 70′ tree is tall, 70′ of trunk without branches would be incredible. 40′ would be long.

  19. Jerry m says :

    Informative I have 500 or more Oak logs on my property Central Fl for sale any interest or more info?

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