Firewood business?

I’m thinking about starting a side business selling firewood. I don’t have an excessive amount of wood here on the property, and I’ve been very disappointed with the quality of local Craigslist firewood sellers. Nobody has a clue what “seasoned” wood should be, it’s all wet and barely burnable. If I had my act together, I’d buy a couple years in advance, but I always figure by then I’ll have my own supply sorted out.

So this seems like an opportunity. Sell actual dry firewood for about the same price as the local pickup guys, have a deep stockpile and dry storage, and work up towards the $$$ firewood processing equipment. I have 80 acres here to store wood on, so this business could scale up significantly before I run out of room.

I’m about an hour from three major cities and the rural area close by is very much wood-heated.

I have a technical edge too, because I know how to cut the dry-time significantly. A hoophouse (unheated clear plastic quonset hut) is great for starting plants early spring but gets too hot and stands empty all summer… unless you stack firewood in it. You’ll have dry wood in less than 6 months. They are cheap to build and again, I have room. It could spawn a nursery business just to make use of the structures.

I’m thinking to simplify the handling, I’d like to use pallets and firewood bags like this:

Logistics would suggest carrying a very large truckload of wood to one of the local cities and distributing it with a smaller truck. Probably woodgas powered!

Kiln drying is an interesting prospect which carries a big premium and gets you past the “don’t move firewood” rules. However I’ll start simple and just offer good dry wood locally.

I’m sure some of you have ventured into firewood before. What are your experiences and cautionary tales?

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My experience was that fire wood is too much labor for what people will pay in general. The way you can do some is find a tree trimming service that sells the log loads cheap some do it is bonus money to them as they make the real money on the customer wanting a tree out of the yard. The bonus with the smaller operators around here is they won’t bother taking the logs to a saw mill so you get some decent sized logs which work up faster. I have bought wood that way and split a load with a friend a few times when I lived on a small 5 acre lot and didn’t have time find my own trees to selectively cut.
But around here the bulk of the market is people with a processor who simply start with a tree and end with split in the back of a truck.
The problem is that is a very expensive machine and they have to run a ton of wood though it to turn a profit. But their labor is almost nothing per cord.
My two cents is get a saw mill saw out the good boards and sell the lumber it is worth more and less labor honestly.

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Your overall plan is sound.
The leg up being the only to offer pre-seasoned dry wood.
Those wanting this will want in my experience open faced fireplace capable wood.
So you will have to develope or self-use up all of the low grade junk stuff.
And that gets you wifie glared at.

You are really trading your time and yuoth-sweat for money.
Only worth it if you have the time tp sweat it.
You cannot hire/pay labor. Not the profit margin to carry that.
Firewooding wears out equipment’s. Your profit has to go back into that. You cannot afford cranky saws, cranky trucks, inadequate mauls, an undersized slow hydraulic splitter.

And old folks knowledgeable will want you to row stack your delivered to see if it “measures up”. Even ask you to finer split down some of it no longer able to do themselves. Expect this. And do with good cheer.

How do you empty these bags short of one piece at a time? Leave the bag, loose the bag does not seem practical. Go back cost you expenses.
Here what is used are those ICB? ICU? metals frames, and hard sides Orchard fruits tractor boxes. Lifted, tip, dump, on delivery. More equipment.
And others dump-bed trailers.

Go for it. I did in my 20’s, 30’s. Even 40’s. Got too work busy then. A mistake. Doing wood IS the clean stress relief from working stresses.
S.U.

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Not traditional labor maybe, but I have a lot of brothers (and brother-in-laws) that need gainful employment… If I can break-even while keeping them busy, I consider it profitable. If it supplies wood for my use and theirs, along with truck fuel and even lumber logs, it’s just one piece of a larger puzzle.

Yes, I’ve seen those IBC totes, plastic tank removed, they hold 1/3 cord each. Sturdy. Going rate is $50 around here. The idea with the bags is, they’re cheap and you leave them with the customer. If they insist on stacked wood then the metal crate is not saving you time, just sturdier.

I haven’t seen the “big operators” around here with those expensive processing machines. They probably exist. But keep in mind, firewood is a very localized business, and while a few operators could saturate the New Hampshire market easily, transport costs keep the big players away from rural spread out areas like Kentucky. As I said, we’re an hour from Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington. The rural and suburban market in that triangle is way more than I could ever service.

That is an excellent thought, and could co-exist with a firewood business. I will explore that option.


Has anyone here built a firewood processing machine?

And, I really like this machine.

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Chris,
It doesn’t pay.
If you are just wanting arm chair blather because you made up your mind already…then this:
When I was 18 I made $30,000 buying and selling firewood. I bought out a program that had run out of time renting a place in a gravel pit. The program had split Red oak wrapped in cellophane bundles and it was a youth work program sponsored by the state. They sold me 3,000 face cords of firewood for a dollar a face cord. I sold the firewood at $100 a face cord in Detroit.
that first gig spoiled me as I never made that much money on firewood ever again. In fact right now I live in a forest and we still sell firewood for $100 a face cord here.
If you are going to persist with this idea you need to sell face cords of firewood that are for feet tall 8 ft long and 16 in in length exactly. You need to sell top grade premium season firewood. You need a reputation for only selling this kind of wood at these dimensions. You cannot make up costs by sales and volume. if someone is selling firewood for $100 a face cord you can’t sell yours for $95 a face cord and make any money. You actually are not competing with other people. You are making a customer base that will pay whatever you ask because you have top shelf product.
You will run out of firewood fast. You will end up having to buy loads of logs. You need to start charging the amount that it would take to replace the wood you’re selling already.
If you really have to try it. Cut and stack one face cord of firewood and see how long it takes and how much effort etc etc. I believe there is an infinite number of ways to make money and do it easier.

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Yes. Yes. For Rural tree growing property owner full use integration is the only way to make sense of it.

A local old worn out timber faller fellow he “leased” our street side barn lot.
He’d buy his In-wood for $60. an over stacked pickup load from local boys hunger and needing. He’d fine split it down rows stack it. and even tarp up some of it.
Sold it for $120. a cord. Used his old 3/4 Chevy for paid for delivery until was down to 5 out 8 producing. Out “lease” payments were selected rows picking at a $100 a 128cu cord. Ha! Ha! ME sweating the across the streets transfer of ten cords in the late August heat. In my early 50’s.
Here in Washington State it is illegal to use face cords. Only THREE 4 feet by 8 feet by 16 inches rows can be offered and sold to the public. Yes. Three ICU boxes.

Your brothers and in-laws would be the $60 dollar boys.

Now the three county advertising firewood suppliers do use firewood processing machines. The ICU boxes. The delivery dump trailers.
Should I even say this . . . . $260 a 128cu cord. For 50-70% energy softwoods. And it is not seasoned or dried. That is up to the buyer.

Anyhow do try this ChrisKY.
You will not regret the experiences.
“Wood is Good”, any which, way, you can.
S.U.

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A long time ago, a little better pump and saw today, but quite easy to do.

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You guys should realize what prices are around here. A pickup load is roughly a face cord, maybe slightly more. Most are selling between $80-150 for “seasoned wood”, maybe half that for unseasoned. It works out to $4-500 per cord. Premium reputable places get even more.

Three typical local ads, priced per truckload/rick:

$120 https://lexington.craigslist.org/for/d/nicholasville-seasoned-firewood/7240158038.html

$105 https://lexington.craigslist.org/for/d/lexington-firewood/7247948317.html

$200 https://lexington.craigslist.org/for/d/lexington-firewood-and-firewood-racks/7245864657.html

I could certainly do like Steve’s friend, just buy split green wood and season it for profit. But I feel like I can handle more of the steps myself, and having logs around can be good for other uses (sawmill etc).

Thanks @Jan for the video, I think I could build something similar.

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Three face cords of dry stacked fire wood weighs 4000 lbs. A half ton pickup cannot sustainably deliver a single face cord of firewood. A single face cord has to be stacked up over the sidewalls of a fleetside pickup.
If you are buying “heaped up” loads and they are claiming it is a 16"X4’X8’ “rick” or face cord, you are getting robbed.
I would that you not make the mistakes I made.
Always stack, always know how much is on the truck. An F250 can deliver 2 face cords stacked @70mph with side racks.
Nowadays you’ll have to get a CDL because you’re in the wood business so it’s a commercial vehicle, and they will weigh you and when they do you better know how much you weigh ahead of time. I actually got my commercial driver’s license to deliver fire wood with a dump truck.
I noticed that no one challenged my numbers for when I was starting out. I guess that slipped by everybody. But the point was it cost me nearly $250,000 to buy trucks and labor to get that wood out of that pit in one week. I did it all paying cash from selling the wood. It was the best product my customers have ever seen. Still, when it was said and done. My profit was 30k. I bought my first property with that profit.
I cut and split my wood, it is cut to 16-in lengths it is stacked 4x8 ft. When I have a face cord or two I call my list of customers from years back and sell my wood. my customers always want to buy my wood because they know what they’re getting I charge a premium and I don’t try to compete with the low ball heaped up pick up guys. Still it doesn’t really pay.
I do wish you the best with your endeavor.

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Chris,
It’s all about the usual issues - if you already have this and that, it can be worth it. If you need to fabricate or buy most of the equipmemt - then probably not.
It’s also about scale. Small scale - most of the work will still be wood handling. Invest in more equipment and you become a part time mecanic. Worst case you end up in front of the computer with the phone to your ear without touching a single log.

I supply 3 families with firewood + my own and occational small odd orders on top of that. That’s pretty much what I’m willing to do as a side job with the equipment at hand. It satisfies my addiction without getting a burden. I don’t like to plan ahead too much. Tends to kill the joy if you feel like you’re behind schedule.

I’d suggest starting off small. See to you own firewood needs first and any access wood you bag, cover up to dry and sell. Later on, if you feel like expanding - that’s fine.

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Around here people would buy oil at those prices. Which is usually what drives the profit out of wood.

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Horrible prices, @Chris. Using current exchange rate, it makes on average some 10 ths. CZK for cord, which is roughly 3.5 m3. For same volume I would pay half of that sum if I want hard wood like oak or beech or just one third if softwood like pine or spruce. And I regard it as quite expensive :nerd_face:

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Just an idea if you run across fruit wood you might considering chucking branches up for the meat smokers and charging premium prices for shattered wood. You already have the equipment for that. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Wow. And all this time I’d though you “Eastern guys” (anybody east of Montana) were face-cording as ricks. That’s just one 16 inch by 4 foot high by 8 foot long row stack.
Like comparing western deer/elk antlers with eastern fellows claims.

Anyhow how I saved myself from the majority of delivery stacking by using a heavyduty 1969 Chevy long-narrow bed with four foot high reinforced plywood sides and front.
This was an ex-forest service spec’ed GSA rig with a huge rear diff and 19.5 inch wheel and tires. I tonnage licned it for 10,000 GVW. Legal by it’s GM door tag.
And yep green felled wood out of the forest was 5,000 to 5500 pound loads 'cause we’ve half, quarter rounds rough split and take it out as a full cord and a quarter over stacking.
Now dried down DF, hemlock, White firs came out 2300-2800 pounds for the cord.

What saved the majority of the delivery stacking is asked, “is that a true full cord?”
Yep. I’d whip out the State published regs. A measuring tape and show the customer . . . see, “4x4x8”
“Ain’t loose stack and hollow in the center is it?” I’d hand them a pair of gloved and say, “Lets unload it off, and see.” I never had to re-load. Pocket the money. Happy customer, and leave.

Now the b-i-l’s Ford wide bed and it was always have to unload and stack.
Just stopped delivery selling off of it. Only used it for out of the forest take homes. HD F250 licensed for 10,000. also. We plumb wore out those rigs in 10 years. Doing six months of the year, weekends.
I read a lot of books roadside waiting for a sale.

One fellow here had a flat bed he could put 3 cord on carefully stacked across. You know 8 foot wide by 4 foot deep by 4 foot high; with a plywood sheet divider in-between.
Then Bruces CDL, and high tonnage licenses. Full or empty.
It all adds up and cuts into the bottom line.
S.U.

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I never understood the face cord thing either seems like a way to trick people to me. We always counted full cord here on the farm. But the only wood I ever bought was long length when I was too busy to get it out of the woods. I bought the log load and a friend split and stacked all of my wood for his half of the load. Worked out well for both of us because the log load was so cheap from the tree trimming company.
That was the year I traveled all the time for work.

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2014–15 North American winter . Did not pre buy propane and price surged . Was also using wood for heat . I had more wood cut but could not retrieve it from under snow , I tried to buy more wood but no one had any . I finally found someone with fantastically high price for poor quality wood . Guess I should have just bought propane . I have no idea .

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Get the money before you unload.

It’s interesting to see your rear tire pass you when using a 3/4 to pick-em up truck for delivery. Make sure the rims are not too rusty.

A farm permit can get ya around CDL and fine detail inspections (20 mile limit). A farm registration can get ya from the east to the wast coast with out CDL etc…

You will find some good repeat customers.

Few stock up during spring and summer.

They like CLEAN wood.

Professional chain saws last a lot longer. About the only thing I would lay out real money for.

Clean logs are best for the chain and you.

Look into specialty stuff, like bundles fire wood sold at stores, oline stations, camp ground etc. Pine roots make good fire starter stuff.

Do not rush into it. Take your time.

Every now and then you will hit a good year, current events, what ever. Take advantage of those few years but do not expect next year to be the same.

Where will ya find the wood supply ? ? ?

It’s always nice to have something to fall back on . . .

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This, or something like it?

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Different strokes for different folks. Firewood is a good business around here. Here is the little finger of Michigan. It depends a lot upon your customer base. A lot of money here because it’s mostly lakeshore. So people are buying for their fireplaces more than for actual home heating. I don’t know what a face cord is going for right now. Ten years ago it was 70 to 80 delivered. At that time the processors bought 10 cord loads of logs not suitable for the saw mill. 80 bucks a cord delivered. They call these pulp cords here. These are usually part of the logging/saw mill operation because you still need the big truck with the grappling boom. They cut it to sixteen inch lengths, and split it. Restacked it as true face cords. The call them ricks down in Indiana and middle south Steve. Took me a while to know what they were talking about. Anyway when ordered they load the stack or stacks on the truck and deliver it within a certain radius for the price. Extra charge for longer hauls. This is usually one year old logs. No drying beyond that. They must make money at it. Most of the sellers are farmers that are filling in after other farm duties ease. I think that any effort for drying and all the extra movement would not be worth it unless you were going to get a real premium price. If you are cutting off your own property I don’t think it would be worth it unless you were an actual in business saw mill. I used to worry about how much I was making per hour. That’s because I was never a farmer. Now I think, no matter what I’m doing, it’s better and more productive than sitting in front of the tube.

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The other down side of dry wood is that it shrinks. At least that is our experience. After it shrinks, you end up with less wood. At least it seemed to shrink.

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