Starting a Firewood Business - Part One
By Martin L. Klein
The business of starting a firewood business.
It is a general truism that those who opt to heat with firewood are the more rugged independent type. While we may be chained to a ho-hum forty hour per week job, we tend to be like the seasoned mariner with one eye ever towards the sea. The desire to be independent to chart our own course is always there, but unless one is independently wealthy, our present day economy mandates that we work for somebody else until our ship comes in. I think that mine sprung a leak and sank somewhere along the way. But take heart. If you are reading this article, you most likely are a wood-heat enthusiast and have enough spare time on your hands to process your own firewood. And if that is the case, it isn’t too far of a stretch to consider making some good side-money selling firewood to those rugged independents who just want to burn it.
Many people just don’t have the option of getting firewood for themselves, and are quite happy to pay a fair price for good, seasoned split hardwood to keep the fires burning during the cold winter months.
Being a merchant of firewood for almost 20 years, I have learned from experience what it takes to keep a modest firewood business running from one winter to the next, so if you are considering selling firewood as a supplemental income, have a seat by the fire, and I will share with you what I know about turning wood into extra cash. It is just common sense and a little hard work.
When I decided that starting a firewood business was a good idea back in 1992, I had little to go on as far as equipment was concerned. One old chainsaw with a 20" bar, a splitting mall, and an old International pickup truck with a rickety wooden bed were the main components available to me at the time. But one thing I did have to my advantage was access to a substantial amount of wood, having recently moved to an area with an abundance of standing hardwood. It goes without saying that unless you have a ready supply of standing firewood trees or can get it for free without having to haul it any great distance, a low volume firewood business would not be feasible, since the work in getting it would outweigh the profit. So, if you have enough hardwood, are reasonably able-bodied, and already have or are willing to invest in some basic tools of the trade, let’s get started.
It is always best to have more than one chainsaw. A trio is recommended. Ideally, you should have a medium sized saw (50-80 cc's), a backup medium saw, and a small saw(under 50 cc's). The backup saw comes to the rescue if the first one goes south, and the small saw serves two purposes. It comes to the rescue when your normal saw gets pinched by a tree and you can’t pull it out. It also is a much lighter weight saw and gives your back a little relief from the weight of the heavier saws.
The next big item on your list for starting a firewood business will be a gas powered log splitter, a must have, unless you are willing to make the Herculean effort necessary to split many cords of wood by hand every year. Take it from me. I went that route for several years, and it took several more to recover from it. I finally broke down (literally) and bought a 25 ton light commercial log splitter. Other tools of the trade which I keep on hand are splitting mauls, wedges, ax and hatchet, etc. Stuff you probably already use to process your own wood, so I won’t get tedious.
Now let’s talk about your recovery and delivery vehicle. As I mentioned, I started out with an old rattle-trap pickup truck, which was OK for a while, but as my customer base began to grow, and the deliveries took me to more upscale neighborhoods, I was able to upgrade to a nicer, yet still practical vehicle. I didn’t want to leave the impression that the Beverly Hillbillies had just arrived in town when I went delivering. Appearance is indeed important in winning customers, but that’s a subject for Part Two of my article. I’ve used a Chevy Suburban for the past ten years. When I bought it, the thing looked brand new. I removed the third seat and fashioned a nifty plywood box which slides into the back. It’s perfect for delivering a half-cord load of wood. You probably will opt for a pickup, however. 2 wheel drive is OK for autumn work, but you really should have 4 wheel drive. Most deliveries are made in the thick of winter. And besides, being your recovery vehicle, getting the wood can take you to some off road places, for sure. You should also have a topper for your truck. Wet firewood does not fare well for repeat business.
So now that we have covered the subject of basic equipment for starting a firewood business, you will need to start out in the business of selling firewood.
Let me close Part One with some pertinent advice- Start small. Remember, this can be a good second income. The equipment you use should be reliable, but not necessarily the most elaborate and expensive. You can always upgrade as your customer base grows and the tools have paid for themselves. In Part Two of Starting a Firewood Business, I will share with you what I have learned about winning customers, and, keeping them in future years. Until then, make sure that you’re upwind when you empty the ash bucket.
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