Sawmills in the United States provide an essential foundation for numerous industries. The lumber produced in a sawmill is distributed to construction, fabrication, and furniture industries to create numerous products for the consumer. Leftover wood products are shipped to paper and board processors, creating another industry segment.
Despite all of the advantages that sawmills provide, OSHA also notes that working in a sawmill is “one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.” When environmental factors are also factored into the equation, they become even more dangerous, especially if the location is remote and no healthcare facilities are nearby.
In the United States and Canada, there are over 1,000 active sawmills currently producing lumber. Their softwood capacity is at 189 million cubic meters, while consuming 280 million cubic meters of timber. The average worker in a softwood sawmill can produce over 2,100 cubic meters of timber per year, which is about half of what the average worker in a stud, timber, or specialty mill can produce.
Important Saw Mill Industry Statistics
#1. Sawmills in the United States produce about $34 billion in revenues each year. From 2013 to 2018, the market for this industry has grown at an average rate of 3.3%. (IBIS World)
#2. About 3,200 sawmills are currently operating in the United States. At current production levels, they will support the direct employment of about 85,000 people. (IBIS World)
#3. Wood production with sawmills creates a moderate amount of capital intensity, as $0.21 for every $1 spent is on wages. (IBIS World)
#4. Over 766,000 acres of U.S. forest lands help to support the sawmill industry each year. 49% of the forest areas of North America are considered to be certified. (Statista)
#5. About 70% of the forested land in the United States is considered to be timberland, which makes it capable of producing wood that can be utilized at an industrial level. (Statista)
#6. Each year, sawmills in the United States help to produce 11.9 billion cubic feet of industrial round wood. (Statista)
#7. Forests and forestry products in the United States help to support the employment of over 953,000 people, making it one of the most significant manufacturing employers in the country. Over $53 billion in payroll is generated each year because of forestry products. (Statista)
#8. Paper mill shipments from the United States are worth $45 billion each year. The wood and paper manufacturing industry has a market value of $282 billion. (Statista)
#9. Over 41 billion cubic feet of lumber is produced in the United States each year with the help of sawmills. The industry also contributes to over 79 million tons of paper and board products. (Statista)
#10. The average log size that is handled by sawmills in North America is based on its geographic location. The largest logs are found in British Columbia, where the size was 42 centimeters in diameter. In eastern Canada, the average log size was just 16 centimeters in diameter. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#11. The United States represents 9% of the current industrial round wood market. Sawmills help to produce 27% of the global market for wood pellets, but it provides just 5% of the sawnwood market. Canada is responsible for 23% of the sawnwood market. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO])
#12. Canada is the second-largest provider of wood-based panels, responsible for 9% of the global market. The United States does not even crack into the Top 10 in this segment. (FAO)
#13. China is the primary importer of industrial round wood products, controlling 39% of the import market. Canada imports 3% of the global industrial round wood products that are available. (FAO)
#14. The United Kingdom is responsible for 43% of the import market for wood pellets. (FAO)
#15. The U.S. is the global import leader for wood-based panels, responsible for 15% of the market in 2016. (FAO)
#16. Sawmills which operate in the eastern provinces of Canada operate on margins that can be as low as 10%. (International Wood Markets Research)
#17. In 2016, Brazil was the third-largest exporter to the United States, behind Canada and Chilie, with 109 million bdft of lumber. Their volume of lumber was up 54% for the year. (International Wood Markets Research)
#18. Canada shipped 15 billion bdft to the United States in 2016. (International Wood Markets Research)
#19. Pine beetles are a major issue for saw logs, especially in the western states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada. The beetles have killed about 60% of all the pine trees in British Columbia and 20% of all standing trees within the province. (International Wood Markets Research)
#20. In 2012, 30 sawmills in California helped to produce 1.9 billion board feet of lumber, which was 7% of softwood production in the United States and about 5% of domestic production. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#21. 83% of the timber harvest in California came from private lands. Another 14% came from national forests. 97% of the timber that is harvested in California stays in the state for processing. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#22. 32% of the wood volume that is harvested in the U.S. will be used for boards and lumber. In California, over 360 million cubic feet of wood fiber was used to generate energy. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#23. The annual capacity to process saw timber in California has decreased by over 70% since the 1980s. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Saw Mill Industry Trends and Analysis
The sawmill industry has experienced a general growth trend since 1995, especially in the United States and Canada. The lumber produced by these mills may sometimes sit in reserve as a stockpile during times of economic decline, but it creates products that can be preserved and used at a future date.
Some of the sawmills in the United States have reached 30% margins on the lumber they produce for the first time in history. As export markets continue to improve and domestic demand stabilizes, the trend for the industry should continue to be one of strength.
The top 10 lumber producers in North America are responsible for 40% of the total capacity that is available. 40% of the top producers own fewer than 10 sawmills, with Potlach and RSG Forest Products only owning 4. Despite the size of the industry, SMEs dominate, even as Canadian firms look to purchase sawmills in the U.S. to enter the market.
Timberland will still be used for a variety of products. Look for the industry to consolidate more in the next 10 years, as larger brands begin to buyout small operators to improve margins. Current revenues should stay steady, with 2% to 4% growth, during this forecast period.