Thinking of buying a pellet mill...

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bicarbonate

Member
May 25, 2014
11
SW Montana
So we recently moved to Montana (Oct '16) and I turned 40! Any way for the past few years I've been keeping an eye out for niche ideas to earn *extra $$.
I live outside of Helena and drive past a wood yard twice a day with a pile of sawdust twice as big as my 3 br house, so I got the idea of using that sawdust to make a product. And of course pellets and bricks are pretty much all I can come up with. Buying a pellet mill means you will be able to produce livestock feed as well but that's a whole 'nother complex topic..

Anyway I have limited experience myself using a pellet stove and since I'm more than positive this mill's sawdust is evergreen (meaning 90% pine) I wonder, do people even look for softwood pellets? Does the burn rate over hard versus soft pellets at the per pellet level matter? Nice sappy evergreen wood burns hotter IIRC but the stigma is that more creosote is produced. I can disprove that with regards to burning lumber scrap but....

Thoughts? opinions?

*I should clarify. I'm not looking to quit my day job producing pellets as there is no way I could compete on that level with big box stores @ $5 per 40lbs. But an extra hundred or two a month would be the goal.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,616
Northern NH
If there is a market for pellets or wood blocks wouldn't you think the mill with the sawdust pile would be making them?. In my area the only ways mills survive is to sell everything except for the smell of the wood.

To make pellets, the ground wood needs to be dried to a low moisture content. In general I don't see you making premium pellets and that's probably what the local market wants unless there are commercial facilities that burn pellets. . Bio Bricks look to be far lower hassle and lower prep time. .
 

Deezl Smoke

Feeling the Heat
Nov 28, 2015
463
Oregon
Please keep researching and considering buying a mill. I too would like to be able to use some of the massive byproducts of saw mills and logging that we have here in western Oregon.

Now, be prepared to be shot at here with all kinds of negativity toward making your own pellets. There are a few of us that understand, but mostly people will attack you or your concept. One or two may actually offer some proof of what they say to back up their point of not making your own. But for the most part, people today just can not grasp the concept of doing work with your own two hands when not at the office. I guess you're supposed to only be allowed to play internet games or something when not at the office.

HOWEVER, the low density feed pellet does not seem to do well wood making heat pellets as a rule. It seems you need higher pressures to get the lignin in the wood to move thru the pellet enough to bond it together. I have watched dozens of videos on youtube that do show people burning their home made pellets, so,...... Perhaps some have modified their mill? Or, perhaps some of the feed pellet mills today are higher pressure, I do not know.

But there are import mills that they say are made to produce wood pellets. I think they need to have the raw material screened quite well though.

More genius inventions have been dreamed up under the shade tree than any other way. So please do not give up.
 

bicarbonate

Member
May 25, 2014
11
SW Montana
Thanks guys. I have not contacted this mill about the dust so peakbagger could be right. I also have a much smaller millworks place nearby too that i could check.

I know Premium pellets would likely not come from me however I am not talking about making my own mill or buying some POS. I mean a real mill made for producing wood (or feed) pellets like: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Pellet-Mill-5-die-8-hp-diesel-engine-FREE-SHIPPING-/222100858814

And since a small mill like this would require a decent bit of labor you can understand my statement last night for not looking to make bank. This mill nearby I mention because that pile has not moved a bit.. I do need to call or stop by to verify first.
As far as a demand, we do have a Lowes, Home Depot, Townsend, and Walmart that sell pellets seasonally for around $6 per 40 pounds so my idea is that I might get sales for the many people that have to drive through my village to get to Helena.
 

nailed_nailer

Minister of Fire
Oct 29, 2007
938
Cape Cod, Ma
Not to throw a wet blanket on your plans but this has been discussed quite a few times on here.
The search button is your friend.

More power to you for looking into it.
---Nailer---
 

bicarbonate

Member
May 25, 2014
11
SW Montana
True Nailer.. However I'd like to think that my topic isnt really about the idea of milling my own however I will concede that last night I did google but not search specifically here.

A couple of my smaller questions have been ignored so far though, in favor of the overall thought/idea.


I wonder, do people even look for softwood pellets? Does the burn rate over hard versus soft pellets at the per pellet level matter?
 

nailed_nailer

Minister of Fire
Oct 29, 2007
938
Cape Cod, Ma
To answer you question.....

I love softwood pellets.
I feel they burn hotter and cleaner than hardwood.

In my area Vermont makes a great softwood pellet.
If I had a cheap source that is all I'd burn.
But, at ~$300+ a ton its not a deal for me.

So, Yeah....softwood pellets are desired.

---Nailer---
 

fedtime

Feeling the Heat
Sep 13, 2009
268
Down East Canada
I've said this before about owner-operated pellet mills: my bro-in-law has a business that generates loads of sawdust. He spent around $15k on a pellet mill, dryer, etc to try to make pellets to sell. What he found: consistency of the material (type, moisture content, etc) is very important. He would just get the mix right, start turning out a good pellet, then the sawdust input would change (even a slight change) and throw the whole works off. He experimented with a binder and that seemed to make the consistency of the sawdust input less important, but the cost was high. With labour, power, etc costs, it was not economical to have guys constantly fiddling around with the equipment and not generating a good pellet consistently. What he ultimately said was, for him to make it work he would have to spend well over $100k on the proper equipment with lots of automation to reduce labour costs.

That being said, a good-quality home mill, an unlimited supply of inexpensive material and plenty of free time sounds like it could work for a home-owner who is not particular about the quality of the pellets they turn out.
 

bicarbonate

Member
May 25, 2014
11
SW Montana
Thank you nailed.. that's the pellet-specific input I was looking for. I was thinking that logically a pellet that burns hot and produces less ash would be what people want. But I also know 'people' in general can be less than intuitive lol. Anyway so I'd assume that softwood pellets would burn faster, just like the logs themselves. But would the increase energy output be worth it?

Fedtime, Thanks for that story about the brother in law. Thats interesting but at the same time I bet he wanted the most profit he could get. With investing $100k then you could potentially compete with major retailers in town. Anyone who wants to run a tiny mill, at home, I'd think that unless they found some secret formula for the best pellet ever then they'd be like-minded and want to generate pellets for home consumption while also possibly selling a few just to make it a little more worthwhile. But that is really interesting that a tiny little change would throw off everything.
 

Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
I wonder, do people even look for softwood pellets? Does the burn rate over hard versus soft pellets at the per pellet level matter?
All I burn are softwood pellets...

The softwood/hardwood debate ... They burn at the same rate because they are metered out by the auger. Pellet length can effect this rate though. Over long pellets feed slower than smaller consistent sized pellets. Softwoods do tend to burn slightly hotter due to the resin content.

Good luck...
 

FirepotPete

Minister of Fire
Oct 25, 2010
725
Titletown U.S.A
Nice sappy evergreen wood burns hotter IIRC but the stigma is that more creosote is produced. I can disprove that with regards to burning lumber scrap but....

Lumber scrap and whole pieces of firewood with bark are two very different things to burn. Most of the pitch that creates problems is in the bark of evergreen trees, the pitch also seals moisture in the bark to add to the problem.
 

womaus

Feeling the Heat
Oct 25, 2015
498
Central MA
Last year a local pellet yard was pushing out softwood pellets for $4 a bag, one day only sale. I grabbed 25 (well, I paid for 25, they shorted me a bag when loading them up). That was all I could fit in the car without dragging the rear bumper all the way home...

Those softwoods were the best thing I burned last year, high heat, low ash. Kind of a nice smell in a woodsy way, though some compared it a bit to cat pee.

One thing to consider when talking softwoods vs hardwoods: If you order a full cord of oak and a full cord of pine, and put them each on a scale you'll see that the oak weighs quite a bit more. More weight equals more burnable matter.

Now order a one ton skid of hardwood pellets and a one ton skid of softwood pellets. Put those each on a scale (nah, don't do it....unless you have a ton of feathers to weigh too...). Yeah, each bag of pellets is 40#. And each skid has 50 bags on it. Now, there is sure to be a bit of difference in burn and heat output due to the composition of the wood fibers, but not enough to matter in the big picture. One could also surmise that there is probably more softwood pellet volume in the 40 pound bag? Maybe?

And the old adage of "burning softwood = creosote = chimney fires" can certainly be true if you are not managing the wood stove correctly, but there seems to be little concern in the pellet stove use, due to the stoves burning the product so efficiently.

This year I've been feeding the stove with Walmart offerings (yeah, I know, the sacrilege of it and all that...) but I found that one of their stocked products worked well with my Accentra, and the price at just over $4.50 a bag locked the deal. A month or so ago I stopped to pick up another 20 bags or so and saw that they had another brand, from northern Maine. Thought to myself there's a lot more pine in northern Maine than there are hardwoods...picked up a bunch, they burned quite well, even smelled familiar. Stopped back up to grab more and found a few water damaged pallets on sale at $4 per bag. I was able to dig out 15 good ones that hadn't been soaked.

So...I prefer the softwoods, but have a stove that will burn just about anything well.

As for making your own? In the colonial days one farmer in the village would make pottery in the winter, another might be a cooper, another might have a small forge. I say do it...but I think the payback time will be a long one. And I can't imagine it's the healthiest pastime to have either. Careful of what you breath in.
 
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Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
though some compared it a bit to cat pee.
Those that make that comparison are not familiar with cat pee ... I enjoy the pine smell, and having cats, do not get that comparison. I have been using softwoods after the many comparisons to mixed soft/hardwoods or hardwoods available here. The last time I opened a bag of Indecks (couple of years ago now), I was greeting with a swamp smell that was horrible along with a huge pile of ash once burnt. The higher cost of softwoods for more BTUs and less ash make them a worthwhile option for me. Burning Spruce Pointes currently but have used LaCrete and Heartland pellets before... all variations on the pine/spruce/fir varieties.

For the OP, drying materials may be the biggest hurdle for pellet production as long as raw material is size consistent. Larger wood shavings in the mix requires a "hammer mill" to breakdown material size for the consistency needed. More equipment and more energy consumption...

There have been a few experimenters or wannabes in the past:
https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/first-homemade-bag-of-pellets-to-test-out.153985/
https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/hybrid-pellets.152040/#post-2040428
https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/personal-pellet-mill-advice-please.151828/#post-2038738
https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/approx-btus-from-various-biomass-pellets.108860/#post-2038167
https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/make-your-own-pellets.149703/#post-2016621

Took a bit of searching but enjoy!
 

Cedarjunki

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2015
513
Upstate NY
So im curious lake girl, doi fall under the experimenter or the wannabe? ;-)
 

Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
So im curious lake girl, doi fall under the experimenter or the wannabe? ;-)
You're a class of your own ...pelleter extraordinaire!==c Thanks for showing up! Seriously, you're one of a couple of members who actually bought a mill and produced pellets so it would be interesting to hear about your experiences, costs, results. Novice lady was the only other one who I recall actually made pellets on a small scale but she disappeared ...

Find this Twin Ports Chart interesting from a raw materials perspective... http://www.pelletmasters.com/faqs/TwinPortsTesting_watermarked.pdf
 

Peterfield

Minister of Fire
Dec 12, 2013
1,394
New Hampshire
So we recently moved to Montana (Oct '16) and I turned 40! Any way for the past few years I've been keeping an eye out for niche ideas to earn *extra $$.
I live outside of Helena and drive past a wood yard twice a day with a pile of sawdust twice as big as my 3 br house, so I got the idea of using that sawdust to make a product. And of course pellets and bricks are pretty much all I can come up with. Buying a pellet mill means you will be able to produce livestock feed as well but that's a whole 'nother complex topic..

Anyway I have limited experience myself using a pellet stove and since I'm more than positive this mill's sawdust is evergreen (meaning 90% pine) I wonder, do people even look for softwood pellets? Does the burn rate over hard versus soft pellets at the per pellet level matter? Nice sappy evergreen wood burns hotter IIRC but the stigma is that more creosote is produced. I can disprove that with regards to burning lumber scrap but....

Thoughts? opinions?

*I should clarify. I'm not looking to quit my day job producing pellets as there is no way I could compete on that level with big box stores @ $5 per 40lbs. But an extra hundred or two a month would be the goal.

Tour a couple of pellet makers plants and get an idea what's really involved. Drying, recipes of wood, high pressure dies, etc. There are plenty of folks that posted this topic in the past that didn't finish their journey.
 

Cedarjunki

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2015
513
Upstate NY
Buying a mill for personal use, sure. Buy a mill to sell pellets, NO. Not unless you have a couple hundred grand for the correct equiptment.

Of the 3 ton i have burned this year, 1 1/2 tons of that was homemade pellets. The absolute hardest part to deal with is moisture content. 8 -13% is required.
I still havnt bought the hammer mill that i need. So i am still only doing small batches here and there. Do i regret trying it? Nope. But i can tell you why right now. I did not pay a cent for the mill, i do not pay for the electric it consumes. So for my time i can offset the cost of pellets with making some no and again.

Now as far as soft/hard goes.... My pellets are made of mostly white pine and white cedar. Very soft woods, hardwoods are killer on the dies. So doing hardwood pellets on cheapy mill wont last long. But softwoods, grass, leaves, coffee grounds are perfectly fine. And produce nice pellets.