Running an efficiant firewood business
This fall I've been making moves towards getting more heavily involved in the firewood business. I enjoy the work, and it seems like a good supplemental income for my landscaping and snowplowing business. I've cut and split a good amount of firewood and have a good understanding of cutting firewood for personal use, as well as for sale. What I'm interested in is how to make a commercial firewood operation as efficient as possible.
Its pretty well understood among a lot of people who have tried it, that there isn't a huge profit margin in the wood industry when you consider the cost of your tools, gas, oil, chains, labor, vehicle, wood, and wood lot, etc. In the landscape business, I find it is important to do stellar quality work, and also to sell your services at a premium. I don't mean to say "jack up the price", but to get good value for the work you're doing. For example, you could by the cheapest clothes, or food, or car, but in most cases people don't, because they see the value that is worth paying a higher price. This could simply be the value the customer finds in the assurance of the quality of the goods they're purchasing. I plan on providing wood that is split up more than adequately for even smaller woodstoves, and that is FULLY seasoned, and all premium hardwood species. No half seasoned wood, no poplar or crap. Good firewood for a fair price.
The questions I'm running into as I get into more and more wood for next year is:
1. To stack or not to stack? While it would save much time and labor to not stack the wood and just leave it in a pile, I'm afraid it wouldn't season as well even if covered, up here in NY. The method I've used in the past is free-stacking wood on top of pallets which I can come by fairly easily and covering with a trap. When I free stack cords, the piles are very tightly stacked and measure 128 cubic feet. I figure this keeps the wood up off the ground and also gives me an idea of my inventory. I'm not sure if it is helping the seasoning process as much as I think though, as when I stack cords they are pretty tight. I could imagine there being more airspace for curing in a large free thrown pile. To start I'd be loading my dump trailer by hand (most likely stacking it out again to show customers the full cordage before dumping) so picking up dirt with a load of wood wouldn't be as much of an issue as I've read it being for some who load their wood with a skidsteer bucket. Is it worth stacking the wood or should I just toss it in a pile and forget about it till next fall?
2. How to deal with size? I've found when doing my own firewood I like to split pieces pretty small for starting and stoking fires, as well as easily maneuvering the pieces in a smaller woodstove so I usually split wood on the smaller size. So say I give a log thats 7-8 inches in diameter a split in half, in a lot of cases, I would split those halves in half rather than having a two half circle shaped pieces with a flat side that is 7" or 8" long. I recognize this is more work though, and therefore greater cost to me When doing this I'll also come up with some pretty small pieces as I figure, better to split it one time to many than not enough. Also when cutting pieces around 16" long down a log, or on funny shaped logs, I'll end up with pieces that are pretty small, less than a foot but still good wedge shaped chunks of firewood. Should I try to mix these smaller pieces of wood in with cords of 16 inch wood for variety, or should I separate them into cords of smaller cut pieces for pretty small wood stoves and wood burning cook stoves?
3. What is the best way to avoid problems with customers? With firewood I find that a lot of people don't know what a cord looks like. Rather than sell loose cords I think its probably important to at some point show the customer a stacked cord and measure it for them. Should I A. Stack the wood in the woodlot, tell customers to check out the wood, pay me, and I will deliver it that day. B. Stack the wood in the trailer and show it to them before I dump it. or C. Throw it loosely in the trailer for a loose pile, estimate the cordage and deliver it and hope for the best, saving money and effort by not stacking?
Also for those in the commercial wood business, if you advise stacking, what method do you find most efficient for stacking?