Our Firewood Business
By Steve Gillman, Canon City, Colorado
(My own entry in the Working
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
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
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
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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