Ben Moore was always destined to take up forestry, coming from a family that’s involved in almost every part of the industry. Sawmilling proved to be his calling. 

MOORE Timber, based near Elgin, Moray, in the north of Scotland, is a small-scale sawmilling business, which is committed, by its owner operator Ben Moore, to create: “A localised timber market, where trees are felled, processed and put to use within the local area.” 

Ben’s company sells both hardwood and softwood timber and offers a mobile milling service. His vision for the company is to continue to work with local arborists and forestry companies to source high-quality timber, which he can then use to produce products that are suited to the needs of local craftspeople, as well as professional and DIY woodworkers.

Ben comes from a family with a forestry background, with his father Malcolm having set up and run a sawmill a quarter of a century ago.

Forestry Journal: Douglas fir beams milled on the Woodmizer.Douglas fir beams milled on the Woodmizer. (Image: FJ)

He said: “Dad had set up a sawmill, focusing primarily on producing treated fencing materials and the felling and marketing of hardwoods in log and sawn timber form. Most of the workforce was trained tree surgeons who were able to jump from the mill into the wood. The business moved from York, to Knockando, and ended at Altyre Estate. I would help shovelling sawdust and stacking boards every now and again.

“However, I was really too young to help when the mill was running at its peak. Dad bought a Wood-Mizer LT20 sawmill after leaving Altyre Estate and he used it for the odd job here and there just to keep him busy as he attempted to retire. During this time, I started to get some time on the mill in the holidays. In addition, as I was growing up, I would help dad out with the odd forestry job. So I certainly had a good idea of what it was like to be involved in the forestry industry.”

Ben started doing his basic cross-cutting and maintenance and basic felling tickets when he was 16, and worked during the school holidays to earn money doing subcontract work for local tree-surgery companies. The work that Ben was doing was operating for them as a groundsman or second climber. Then Ben’s elder brother Sam, after a spell as harvesting manager with Euroforest, set up his own business, Treewise Forestry, in 2019. Ben was at university then and when Sam needed help, he was quick to offer it.

After trying to find a way to leave the sector and considering a career in teaching, Ben decided he would stay, opting to set up his own business. His rationale was quite simple; if he was going to make money from working in forestry, he would need to come up with a niche sector of it to try to enter and focus on. That is why he opted for the sawmilling.

“I ran Dad’s mill every now and again while he was in the process of retiring, and quite enjoyed it. It is a Wood-Mizer LT20 on a trailer bed. Apart from dad there was only one other person I knew who did mobile sawmilling in Scotland. When I bought the sawmill from Dad and began selling timber to my first customers, and trialling out to my first jobs, I quickly got the bug. Sawmilling went from a way of earning some money to becoming a viable career path. The satisfaction of creating a useable product was matched by the pride of creating my own work and running my own business.”

Forestry Journal: Ben’s saws. From top to bottom, Stihl MS201 Mt top-handle climbing saw, 450 Husqvarna ground saw, 562 Husqvarna ground saw, Stihl 500i.Ben’s saws. From top to bottom, Stihl MS201 Mt top-handle climbing saw, 450 Husqvarna ground saw, 562 Husqvarna ground saw, Stihl 500i. (Image: FJ)

While he did have experience of the sawmill and obviously was from a forestry background, Ben felt he would benefit from some additional training and attended a course at the Scottish Wood Yard at Dunfermline, which was run by the Association of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers (ASHS), called ‘Working Woods’. It covered the growing of high-quality hardwoods and the milling and drying processes.

“While that is the currently the extent of my sawmilling training to date, I do, however, have 50 years of experience sitting on an armchair at home. In addition, my uncle, Jim Birley, runs the Scottish Wood sawmill. So really, I have two professors of the industry in very close contact and they are available for any advice and guidance I might need.”

Ben is quick to admit that it has been a steep learning curve for him and he was able to help supplement his earnings while building the business up by continuing to work with his brother Sam.

“Finding a market took me a while. I started out milling a load of hardwood, only to then find the furniture makers wanted kiln-dried timber. I moved onto larch, a timber I knew to be in high demand, so I cut up all the timber I had into cladding boards. No one wanted the cladding boards. The first order I got was for sleepers for a bridge. I had, however, cut up all my timber into cladding boards. I needed to buy a lorry load of timber and quick! I managed to get the order done but you can imagine that at this point I was financially not in a good place.

Forestry Journal: Sam, Ben and Tom, standing in front of a load of larch delivered to the mill, from a thinning job by Treewise Forestry.Sam, Ben and Tom, standing in front of a load of larch delivered to the mill, from a thinning job by Treewise Forestry. (Image: FJ)

“Thankfully, I now have got to a good point. Through a website, Google Ads, Facebook Marketplace and word of mouth, that work seems to be consistent. I can be working on several orders at once, grading my logs to get the most out of them. I cut all my softwood timber to order and to make sure I do not waste anything. I have found some furniture makers who will buy air-dried timber, and I am becoming known amongst DIYers and homebuilders for my softwood products. I have enough work to be on the mill full time. I do, however, jump on with Sam for the odd day here and there for a play in the woods.”

Ben’s business relationship with Sam does not just revolve around working with him; Ben also sources his timber from his sibling. It is a mark of how the business has grown and developed that Ben has moved on from taking the timber he needed by the forwarder-load to now getting it by the lorry-load. Predominately, Ben works with larch and some Douglas fir, but likes to pick up the odd bit of hardwood when it becomes available.

His wood choice reflects the range of products that he mills from it. These products are usually Douglas fir beams and larch cladding and fencing. However, Ben has shown his customers he has the ability to custom-mill timber. Therefore, his selling point to his customers is that he can really cut anything they want. Demonstrating this capability, Ben can also produce green oak timber and a variety of dried hardwood slabs.

Ben is full of praise for the Wood-Mizer LT20 sawmill.

READ MORE: Treewise Forestry: Meet the young operators who went out on their own

“The Wood-Mizer is a bandsaw sawmill on a trailer bed. It is a simple set-up; a Kubota diesel engine that powers a bandsaw blade. To move the logs around there are a series of pulleys, lifts and hand-pump hydraulics. This means that the milling process is labour intensive, but the machine is simple so I can keep up with the repairs. It has a six-metre bed and a 600 mm square cut. With a bit of chainsaw magic, however, pretty much any size of log can be processed.”

While the Wood-Mizer is a well-established brand, Ben has also taken the plunge on something a little less familiar in the form of a Sanderson TL7 telehandler to help with the movement of wood around the yard. 

“This is a new machine to me, so I’m still getting used to it. They are no longer made, so parts are hard to come by, but beggars cannot be choosers. It’s better than skidding sticks with the old New Holland compact tractor. It has a three-tonne lift with the boom in, and a seven-metre full boom length. I have been picking up logs in the yard for fun and have yet to find one it cannot lift. It can turn on a sixpence.” 

For saws, Ben uses both of the main brands. “I use a Stihl 500i as my primary processing saw. When felling for production no other saw comes close. It is well built and powerful.” Interestingly, Ben also uses a Husqvarna 562 and he offered a mixed review of this model’s capabilities. “It’s okay now, but I had a lot of issues when I first bought it.

The saw is pretty much the same weight as the 500i, but the performance is nowhere near as good, and the build quality seems to be lesser.”

His other two saws of choice are a Husqvarna 450, which he describes as a “great little lightweight saw for the odd chipping job”, and a Stihl 201 TCM top handle, which for him has “lots of power for a little saw”. 

While he is more involved in his own sawmilling business and doesn’t climb much now, when he does he uses a TreeMotion harness, which he finds “comfortable”. 

Ben has been in business since January 2020 and is happy with the way things have been progressing to date. He is getting a consistent workflow and he has the freedom to jump onto felling or climbing jobs when they come up. 

At the end of 2022, Ben was in the process of extending his yard to get the most out of the telehandler and generally create a more efficient workspace.

Forestry Journal: The Sanderson telehandler doing its thing.The Sanderson telehandler doing its thing. (Image: FJ)

“Currently, I am working in the middle of a field. It is a very basic set-up. The field has turned to mud so we are in the process of digging it out and putting hardcore down.

"Building a bespoke shed for the sawmill, one that is accessible from both sides to allow movement of round and sawn timber, is important. I also want to build a kiln for drying my sawn hardwood and the odd load of firewood. 

“A secondary processing shed, where I can have an edger to process cladding boards and locate a large planer, is another desire of mine.” 

Looking to the future Ben wants to bring staff on board as currently he is a one-man operation.

“Quite simply, employing staff would mean that I could increase my production and decrease my lead times.” 

Ben would also like to break into the hardwood market.

“The hardwood market is about the buying and selling of premium products. That is really where the future of the sawmill will lie.” 

However, to be successful at this move the setting up of a kiln will be a necessity.

Forestry Journal: Ben’s cousin James Birley using the sawmill. James, a tree surgeon from Guernsey, hopes to set up a sawmill there.Ben’s cousin James Birley using the sawmill. James, a tree surgeon from Guernsey, hopes to set up a sawmill there. (Image: FJ)

“The kiln I am looking at most closely is the iTech kiln units. These are made to be installed in a storage container. They are an all-in-one unit, so I should be able to punch in some details and let the machine heat, blow air and dehumidify by itself. These are plug-in-and-go options.”

Ben also plans more equipment to support the business growth and expansion. An edger, with its double circular saws to rip down boards, will aid Ben’s cladding production.

“Currently, I just use the Wood-Mizer, but the problem with this is that a bandsaw can stray off path every now and again or the log can start bowing when you cut it, especially larch. 

“It is quite a skill to produce a high-quality board at the right dimensions. An edger is a secondary processing machine with multiple circular saw blades that cut the width of your board. I can produce a load of through-and-through cut boards on the Wood-Mizer that I can then chuck through the edger. This will increase my production and the quality of the final product.”

A large planer is also on the shopping list, allowing Ben to prep hardwood boards. Ben believes a Wadkin planer would fit the bill, because of their durability and longevity and the fact that his uncle Jim has had one for years and swears by it. 

“The first stumbling block to overcome before I can afford such toys is to get a three-phase electricity supply into the yard. This won’t be cheap, but it is essential. I really want to have three phase, an edger and a kiln installed by the end of 2023. I will, however, just have to see how things go.”

Finally, Ben would like to make the transition to an electric sawmill, which would be quieter and more efficient. This would allow the business to be more eco friendly. Ben has been looking at the Wood-Mizer LT40 and the Mebor HTZ800 mills. Ben has come a long way in a short while since he decided a career in teaching wasn’t for him and opted for sawmilling, but he has had no regrets.

Forestry Journal: Ben milling a redwood quarter that was felled by his eldest brother Richard Moore.Ben milling a redwood quarter that was felled by his eldest brother Richard Moore. (Image: FJ)

“The journey feels like it’s been a long one. I am, however, only 24 and I have been going for just two years. The truth is that for the past two years I have been operating with not much more than the sawmill.

“Up to now, I have just been playing around, making a bit of extra cash here and there, and skimming the surface of the timber market. 

“This year I will employ some extra hands, invest in some new toys and start taking sawmilling more seriously!”