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Our Firewood Business

By , Canon City, Colorado

(My own entry in the Working Outside Contest.)

I was sixteen or seventeen years old and living alone in a small cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My friend and weekend neighbor Mike wanted to make some money, so we started a small firewood cutting-and-delivery business. Not a likely choice given how much I hated chainsaws, but then he agreed to do the cutting. I would do the hauling and splitting.

For some reason swinging a splitting maul never bothered me, despite the many bounces that sent it flying. Perhaps the chainsaw problem had to do with the guy who walked into our elementary school when I was ten years old. He was dragging a leg that was barely attached, looking for a phone to call for help. He had apparently slipped while operating a chainsaw in a wooded area adjacent to the school, and the blade went most of the way through his leg.

At the time we started the firewood business (about 30 years ago) you could get a free permit to cut dead and down trees on national forest land. The public land started less than a half mile from the cabin, fortunately. It was also a good thing that there were many dead maple trees. Maple is a hardwood, and much more valuable than the pine, white cedar and other softwoods in the area.

The woods were thick in places, so although Mike cut, I sometimes had to climb adjacent trees to push and pull the cut trees loose--another activity that didn't bother me despite the obvious dangers looking back on these acrobatics. Once a tree was down Mike cut it into eight-foot lengths which I hauled to the truck. Back at his cabin these were cut into 16-inch logs, which I then split.

One advantage of dead trees was that in most cases they were largely seasoned and ready to burn. In other words they had dried out sufficiently to burn easily and without so much smoke. If you cut live trees you typically need to wait months before selling the firewood.

Once cut and split the wood went back into the truck. Mike had measured everything, so that a truckload with a load on the attached trailer was a full cord of firewood. A full cord is 96 inches (eight feet) by 48 inches (four feet) by 48 inches. Some times we sold face cords, which at 96 by 48 by 16 inches are a third of a full cord, for $30 or so. But generally we sold full cords cut, stacked and delivered, for $75. I imagine the price is higher today, although probably not much higher in northern Michigan, since recessions create many of these small firewood businesses.

Our deal was that Mike got $15 for each full cord we sold, to cover the gasoline and oil and wear and tear on both his truck and chainsaw. The other $60 we split, so I made $30 per cord. Including the time to cut, load, split, reload, drive, deliver, unload and stack the wood at the customer's houses, we probably spent five to six hours for each sale. At the time that $5 per hour (or more) was decent money for myself--the minimum wage at the time was just over $3 per hour.

I don't necessarily recommend a firewood business of this sort. I think that in real terms the pay is lower now, since prices of everything have doubled and the hourly rate you would make almost certainly hasn't. But to be honest, I never thought about the hourly pay at the time. It was nice to work outside and get exercise while making some money.



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