How to Sell Firewood: Starting Your Side Hustle

Are you thinking of starting your own firewood business? Watch and listen in as Jake and Jared discuss some fundamentals that will help you get started selling firewood. They cover a lot of great topics, so grab your pen and paper! 

Video Transcript

So, Jake, last time we were here there were no totes. Not a lot of wood. Now, we've got like a million totes all full of wood. So, what's going on? Is business really good? Business has been pretty good. I've been busy out here with the RuggedMade splitter in the wood yard splitting as much wood as I possibly can because I never have enough wood. I can always sell as much wood as I have seasoned each year.

So, we're still down here in Connecticut visiting Jake and having a lot of fun with the machines and splitting and we had Jake up in a tree because he's a professional arborist but one of the questions we get asked the most and just when you're on the forums you guys are probably always seeing this topic coming up is selling firewood. We're not really talking about the big, commercial-scale guys with lots of employees running a big business. We're talking more about someone who maybe got started splitting wood to heat their home and then they ended up with too much wood and they're thinking, "Hmm, what if I started selling some firewood on the side?" Jake, you've had an experience like this, right? Yeah, it sounds pretty close to home, actually. Like most, I started out heating my house with wood back when I was young, living with my parents, and now that I have my own property and house, we carry on that tradition. At one point, it just basically got to the point where I was like, "Hmm, I think there's some money to be made here." Living in the Northeast, we have pretty good winters and burning firewood is a pretty natural thing that people do whether it's for recreation or for heat. I saw an opportunity there, so I decided to take a stab at trying to sell some wood and it kind of turned into this. It seems like you're doing well.

So, what we wanted to do in today's video is kind of at a high level talk about what things should you have in mind and be thinking about if you are considering selling firewood, kind of on the side. This sort of assumes that you've got probably some kind of full-time job or maybe you're retired and you're not really looking for this to be your primary source of income but you've got the... maybe you have enough wood and you've got the time and the equipment that you can kind of split more wood than you need to say, heat your home or maybe just do your kind of recreational backyard fire pit-type fires. So, we just kind of want to go over some of the common topics that you should be thinking about. It's not really meant to be a detailed deep dive how-to and how to set your price and exactly how much wood you need to split to make a profit. If you guys are interested in some of those more specific topics and want us to drill down deeper, let us know in the comments and we can do some follow-up videos.

But, for now, one of the main questions we get is, “How big could this get?” So, I think the first thing to do is to have realistic expectations about how much wood are you going to sell, how much time is it going to take up, how much do you stand to make, what do you think would be some... a realistic way to set someone's expectations or goals as they think about getting started in this as kind of a side business?

vSo, I think setting realistic expectations when you're having this idea or desire to go into selling firewood kind of on the side is a big part of it. There's a lot of moving parts with it when you're talking about equipment, knowing your market, your sources of wood. There's a lot of different things to consider to be able to make a successful firewood business even if you are doing it as a side hustle, so I think we can discuss all these different points and more. We could talk about this all day honestly.

So, if someone's got a nine to five [job] but they do want to get started in this, what would be, maybe, a good starting point where they can ease into it? I think there's a couple different ways that they could ease into it, but I got a pretty good way out there by the road. Let me show you. All right. Let's go check it out.

So, Jared, welcome to my roadside firewood stand! I love it. So, this is if you're thinking about getting into starting to sell firewood on the side, I think this is a pretty good entry-level way to accomplish a couple different goals. One, obviously, you're by the roadside and it's great advertising. Two, it's pretty low cost to get it up and running. As you can see here, I built this all out of pallets and some roofing material that I found at the dump. Beyond that and buying a little mailbox and some paint, we had this thing slapped together in a couple days. Yeah, looks like business is good. It has been pretty good. So, this is a good option if you are on a busier road and if you have people that you know are buying firewood at like gas stations or something, bundle firewood. This is a good way to advertise. It's a good way to advertise two different things. One, the fact that you're selling this product and, two, you can see here on the side, I have a little note that advertises other services as well. One of which, being larger quantities of firewood, tree work, stuff like that. All the things that I do that I can potentially make money on. This is a great way for people to get to know you and to come up. It's a little bit personable and it's also a great source of passive income. It's not like I have to stand here all day. It's on the honor system, which for me, has been working out pretty well. And, it's always out here, so people can come 24/7 and buy firewood and really, the only thing I have to do is come out and fill it up and collect the cash. That's great.

Now, have you found that some of the people who've come by and grabbed bundles have then turned into dumping off trailer-load-type customers? I have. A lot of people have driven by. It took a couple months. I put this thing out around Fourth of July with the expectation that I wanted it to be here, people get used to it, and kind of get to know it. That way, by this time, the winter, they would kind of associate this firewood stand with me selling firewood. So, I had a lot of people at first they would come buy a bundle then maybe buy a loose stack and then this fall people were calling me and saying, “Hey, I bought a bunch of wood from your firewood stand over the summer and early fall. Now I'm looking for larger quantities. Do you deliver, and what's your prices?” Well, that's great.

Now, you mentioned larger quantities. So, I think one of the next topics that is very common is maybe someone's got just enough wood that they've been splitting and it’s enough to heat their home for a typical winter or maybe have a little bit of set aside to season, but what if they want to go to this next level and they need more wood? Thinking about sources of wood. Yeah, sources of wood [are] very important. Obviously, I do tree work, so the source of wood is myself but if you don't have that luxury, then it's a real thing to consider as far as whether you're going to buy wood or get wood for free and the different pros and cons associated with that. So why don't we head back to the wood yard and I can show you some of my sources and we can talk [about] that further. All right.

So, Jared, you asked about sources of wood. As you can see here, this is my source. Yeah it looks like you got a pretty good stockpile. Right. So, obviously, [with] me doing tree work, I am my own source. So, from the jobs that I do, I can kind of pick and choose the nice logs. Nice birch one right here. I bring them back to the yard and that's my source for firewood. But, obviously, not everybody has that luxury. For those that don't have the luxury of doing tree work but you still want to keep costs at a minimum, there are a couple different options you can, or avenues, you could choose to go down. One of which is procuring the wood from your own woods, if you're lucky enough to have your own land where you can cut down some trees. So, obviously, that is a great way. There is some time involved in that, which should be factored in somewhere, when you get to pricing your wood or the final stages of that. Another great source that I know being a tree guy is, I love when customers or people call me up looking for logs delivered to their house because a lot of the time if I'm not bringing it back here, I have to pay to go dump it. So, tree companies are always a great source for wood. If you are looking for a whole truckload of wood delivered of logs, that's a good way to get it and keep your costs at a minimum.

Now, so, let's say, someone, they're not professionally in the tree service and they don't own 100 acres of land where they can harvest their own. So, they've got some relationships with some tree folks who are going to be dropping the wood off. Can you really be picky in terms of what kind of wood you're getting and how manageable the sizes might be? Don't you often get some kind of low-quality stuff and the stumps and some stuff that can be hard to split? That's definitely a possibility. I think, at first, when you're first developing a relationship with the tree company, I don't think you have the luxury of being too picky. I think, once you establish a rapport with that person or that company, then maybe you could start to ask for specific species or have them let you know when they're taking down trees within your realm of capability for whatever equipment you might have but if you want [certain] sizes of wood and you don't want to deal with big stumps and nasty pieces, there is another avenue. It is going to cost you but you can always buy log loads from a logger or something like that. Generally, they will sell the firewood poles or the tops of trees that are nice and straight, generally smaller diameter, 18-inch and below. That'll make some really nice firewood but there is a cost associated with that. Generally, you’re not going to get that for free. So, it seems like it really comes down to how productive you need to be and what kind of equipment you have.

You look at processors. They can be very high productivity but they need to be fed kind of a perfect type of round or if it's big stuff, you need something powerful enough to break those up. So, you start thinking about what kind of time you have to put into that process up front by getting better wood vs., is the effort to split the stuff that might be free or almost free. Right. There's all different ways to get it. It's just how much time do you want to spend or how much money do you want to spend getting that wood. But, once you have it and once you figure out what your processor or your equipment is capable of, I think it's pretty easy to determine what type of wood and what source you want to go down for procuring that wood for your firewood side hustle. So, that's been one of the best questions, “What do I do to get enough wood to support a business above and beyond what you might be splitting for your own needs?”

Okay, but now you've got a nice pile of wood like that. You’ve got to split it. So, so one of the next pieces, and I think we all love to talk about this especially here with RuggedMade, we love talking about log splitters, you need equipment. All kinds of different equipment. So, maybe we can go on to that and talk a little bit about there's different levels of this game as far as equipment, starting with some pretty basic but then you start seeing what you've done with your business and adding equipment. If you're not subscribed, be sure to subscribe to Dude Ranch DIY and you'll see all the equipment Jake's been investing in. Let's go take a look at some of that stuff. Sounds good. It's my favorite topic. All right.

So, any conversation about selling firewood is incomplete without talking about the gear. We love our toys. We love our gear. In some cases, people are starting to think about selling firewood on the side as maybe a way to sort of justify or rationalize some investment in some more gear. Or it could be totally serious about [needing] more equipment to go beyond what they're splitting to heat their own home with. But, this is not going to get it done. I hope not. You’ve got a nice splitting maul there. I mean, that's not going to get it done. That might heat your home partially but, in this day and age, it's all about the gear. You've put together a pretty impressive yard here with basically a whole process. So, let's talk a little bit about what sort of… again, going back to those reasonable expectations of what kind of equipment might you need to invest in or how to best use the equipment you might already own to start selling some wood on the side.

Yeah, so, I mean, you said it best. You can split wood with a hatchet. I hope you're not trying to sell wood by splitting wood with a hatchet. You certainly could sell wood with them all. I know people that do split wood with them all and sell it. It's a good workout! Great workout, but there's a lot of time and effort put into that. So, most people, if they have a log splitter, they probably have the potential to create more wood than they need, especially because firewood takes a year to two years, depending on the species, to dry. How productive you can be is largely dependent, I'd say, on what kind of equipment you're using. So, as you can see here, I have lots of different types of equipment to aid in productivity. These things didn't just appear overnight. I started out with a box-store splitter way back when [with] a horizontal-vertical unit and then upgraded to my RuggedMade 737 that I have now and everything else kind of fell into place after that because I kept growing the operation bigger and bigger. Now, with my newest addition of this 24-foot conveyor, which, just again, helps in the whole process of being more productive. I don't think it's wise or smart to go out and invest all of this money right up front if you haven't established a good client base and gotten to know your area and established a good source of wood, whether it be free on your property or paying for it and stuff like that.

I think that's a great point. As much as we love the gear, it's expensive. On day one, you may not be able to go out and buy all the tools. You may have to sort of self-fund that through the sales as you build a customer base. You’ve sort of done it incrementally. There's some great videos on Jake's channel where he's now talking about what he's doing with the conveyor. That's really exciting. We're running this in the last video, if you saw it, where you can just see from split, right into the trailer, and then off to a customer. Right, exactly. I will mention that all of this… there's only two things here that I bought specifically to do firewood. One of which was the log splitter, obviously, and the other being the conveyor here. The tractor, the dump trailer, all the chainsaws, and everything, all of that is related to the tree work side of things but they also happen to be extremely useful for the firewood side hustle. So, if you can justify buying equipment, you have another source of income to pay for that equipment but the equipment can also help you generate money by selling firewood. I think that's a really good way to look at it and it might be easier to justify to your spouse. Yeah.

So, some of this equipment serves a lot of purposes. Tractor or Bobcat, a lot of folks have those even if they're not using it commercially, so that's handy. I think most of you probably have a pickup truck or three so you don't necessarily need a trailer but you might have one of those or you might be thinking about getting the right type of trailer if you're thinking about delivering wood.

That's something you mentioned about the wood, after you've split, is seasoning. So, another thing to keep in mind. You saw at the beginning of the video, all those beautiful totes full of wood stretching all the way down the access road here at the ranch. You’ve got to have space. This takes space. It's not just one day one and done. Split this green stuff and drop it off at a customer. That's not a customer you're going to keep very long. You need a lot of room. And, of course, this equipment takes up a lot of space to really have some elbow room. You can fit into a… you don’t need all the space in the world, but you need some space. It's not necessarily going to fit in a tiny little, two-car driveway. Right. Yeah, storing the wood is a big factor. At the end of the day, like you said, unless you're marketing and selling green wood, most people want to buy seasoned wood that's been sitting for about a year or even more depending on the species. So, to have that space and the area for your bulk piles or your totes, like I use, or just firewood pallet racks or however you choose to stack or store your firewood while it's seasoning is definitely a big factor. Yeah.

Now, probably the next step in this process is getting the wood to the customer. We saw the roadside stand which is great. That nice passive income. You're at work at your nine to five [job]. People are dropping money in the box, hopefully. But, what about when you’ve got to deliver face cords, full cords, that kind of thing, to a customer's home? Let's talk a little bit about that because we got our trailer here. Right. Delivering is a great way to sell more firewood. Sure, you can sell firewood and advertise that people can come pick it up in the backs of their cars or a pickup truck or whatever, but to be able to offer that delivery is a real convenience thing. And, I think that you're able to then charge more because you're not only offering a product but you're offering a service, too. Stacking goes one step beyond that. Just making it easier for the customer. But, delivering wood, a dump trailer is a really great way to do that. You can also do it with a pickup truck, like you said. So, being able to load the dump trailer or the pickup truck or your little landscape utility trailer is a factor and it's effort and stuff but as you can see with equipment, there are certain tools out there to help make that loading and delivering of the firewood easier.

So far, we're mainly talking about what do you want to do as far as starting to sell firewood and what do you need for wood and gear. But, perhaps the most important thing to think about is who are you selling to? Who's your target market for this? In terms of delivery, we can talk a little bit about your radius of operations. How far are you willing to go to deliver? You're not really going to do enough volume unless you're willing to deliver. We talked a little bit about what people are going to be using that wood for but let's stick with delivery. So, what do you think would be a reasonable way to approach how far or how big a market you're going to target?

Right. Well, I think that it really falls within, “What type of area do you live in?” Are you living in a city where there's thousands of people every square mile or are you living in a more rural area where there's only a couple hundred people per square mile? That would kind of denote how far you would need to go in order to be able to have enough customer base to turn a profit or make some money on the side there. So, I think that's a pretty case-by-case basis but you have to think, are you rural or are you suburban or are you urban? All of those kind of dictate different uses as well. You'd imagine that somebody in a more urban area is probably not heating their apartment in a building with wood. But, maybe they have a little solo stove up on the rooftop patio or porch or something and they are able to burn firewood, probably smaller quantities, and they're going to be buying smaller quantities but then that falls into [charging] a higher price. Somebody that's in a more suburban area probably has a backyard. They might have a wood stove or a fireplace in their house so they might be buying larger quantities of wood and they probably are willing to pay a little bit higher price for that kind of stuff. Whereas somebody in a more rural area, they probably have access to wood. They might not want to cut and split their own wood themselves, but they might be actually heating their homes with wood. People that generally are heating their homes with wood and buying firewood for that purpose are kind of looking for a deal. They're doing it to save money. So, that all kind of falls under your radius and knowing your customer and knowing your area and stuff like that as far as how far you are willing to deliver. Maybe you live in a rural area but you'd like to charge higher prices to a city that's maybe 10 or 15 miles away. That's kind of something that I actually do.

So, time is a big factor. When you think about it, doing a business like this, your opportunity cost factors into so many aspects of this. Time on the road to go deliver, the time it takes to process, the time it takes to take down your own trees and add that in. In terms of delivery, one of the questions we see talked about on the forums all the time is, “Are you dropping that truckload or trailer load in a driveway where it's easy to get to and you just drop and go and the customer's not even there? Or do you need to coordinate with them and get paid?” Or, one of the common questions is, “What about stacking?” Where do you weigh in on this stacking question?

Right, well the stacking is… Personally, I don't really offer or advertise that I stack the firewood. I'm more of a dump it out of the dump trailer or the dump truck kind of guy. Just because, stacking… there's a lot of room for interpretation in stacking. When you're in this day and age, when you're texting back and forth a lot of the time or messaging on Facebook with a potential customer that's found your services, what might be close to the driveway or access to them might, in reality, be pretty far and you might need a wheelbarrow or you get there and they say, “Oh, yeah, it's right on the other side of the lawn.” And then you get there and you realize that there's a bunch of bushes or septic or something in the way that's preventing you from backing your truck or trailer right up to that area. So, people definitely make money at stacking. I think you should definitely charge a premium for that service but, personally, I don't find the extra money to be worth my time. But, to those that do, good on you. Yeah. I mean, maybe [with] your average customer, you've got an arrangement where you just drop the load in a reasonable place that you can get to and and off you go. We always hear stories about someone who's got a really good, old customer. Someone who's elderly and they want some of the wood stacked in the garage where they can access it easily. Sometimes it's about taking care of that customer. Probably what's most important to think about is having that clear communication about the expectations. This is the service I'm delivering. This much wood, dropped in this way, for this much money. So that there's no hard feelings or misunderstandings later. Absolutely. There's always those special circumstances for the elderly or somebody that might have recently broken a leg or something. I do have a heart. But, generally, as far as stacking goes, I'm a no on the stacking. Yeah. I mean, certainly people would appreciate it but you can very quickly find that that money you charge for that load you start really calculating how much time you invested in it and what else you could be doing, maybe, at your normal job working some overtime, getting time and a half. You might find that you're not really making the money you think you're making selling that firewood, so trying to be nice but also you are running a business. It's not a charity in this case. Exactly.

So, no discussion of selling firewood is complete without talking about price. Our goal today isn't really to get into how much you should charge because where are you in the country, how much time you're going to put into this, things like that. But, one of the main considerations, I think initially, is how much volume do you think you can do and are you going to try to go after volume with trailer loads or maybe approach it more from a, “I have a specialization. I have a niche.” What are some of your thoughts on that? Yeah, so I think there are two different types of operations out there. There're the types that are high volume and they have the equipment to sustain that high amount of volume. And, that's great if you can do that. But, my guess is that if you're going to be doing high volume, it's probably not a side gig or a hobby business kind of so to speak, on the side. So, for me, the firewood is kind of like a side thing. My goal is to sell less firewood to more people. So, I kind of go after the smaller markets. I sell in smaller quantities with higher profit margins to offset the cost of the equipment and everything and kind of keep the bills paid. So, for people that are just looking to get into it, it's probably more realistic, again, going back to those realistic expectations that you're not going to be doing super high volume your first couple years, especially if you're just starting out with a splitter and maybe a dump trailer or a pickup truck.

What would be a few examples of the kind of niches someone might think about depending on where they are in the country and who they might want to market to? Yeah. So, I mean, depending on where you are in the country dictates the species of trees that you have around you. Smokers and everything like that have become really popular lately. Yeah. We're getting smoked out here. Don't worry, this isn't the wood that I sell to my customers. But yes, if you're down south where they have mesquite wood and stuff like that, and they love pig-roast, barbecue. Exactly. You could specialize in just doing, like, smoking chunks or smaller splits. Me, myself, we’re up here in the Northeast. We’re lucky enough to have cherry and hickory and stuff like that, applewood. So, whenever I have cherry or hickory, I'm cognizant of that and I do set off some rounds to the side. I'll cut them smaller, maybe chunk them up a little bit bigger, but shorter pieces for that type of smoking wood and stuff like that. Like a wood-fired pizza oven? Right. Wood-fired pizza ovens are becoming super popular now. They don't dictate the type of species quite so much as the size. So, they want smaller splits that burn really hot and pretty fast and you can charge a premium for that because the more you process and handle the wood, the more time it takes, and the higher your price should be for that kind of stuff.

Another great way to offset costs and utilize the full tree, so to speak, is you always have off cuts off of your logs or some nasty, crotchy pieces or something like that. You can turn that stuff into chunk-wood for people heating with a boiler or the little off cuts that might be this long, you could split that stuff up and even sell it as kindling and charge a premium for that.

Now, you recently got a bundler. Some great videos that you've been making about that. Yeah. Where would that fit in? I see you got your wrapped bundles and your roadside stand but what about that typical convenience store commercial contract, if someone could, maybe, get that kind of business? Yeah. I think that would be great. Me, myself, I am trying to find a store to start selling my bundles at. As of right now, I'm just selling them at the roadside stand but, again, you can basically take what you would sell a cord for, that price, and you can even double or sometimes even triple it if you're selling it in those small bundle quantities you see at the gas station. Some crazy prices for bundles, and even if you come in a dollar or two lower than that, people will be tempted to buy it and you can still really stretch out that cord of firewood to earn yourself more money. Therefore, you have to split less firewood but you're selling it to more people and making more money. Yeah. Now, it can be a little more high effort. You’ve got to split pieces a little smaller but these are just some options. I think for a lot of folks, at the end of the day, if you're talking about making sure you're making money at this, not just sort of paying for your equipment. Some people really are just trying to make a return on their investment in equipment. They're not necessarily needing to make the kind of profit that a sustainable business needs to make. Right. But, they’ve got to balance that effort and what they can charge. But, at the end of the day, in a lot of cases, it still will come down to volume. And, one way to get that volume is, as you say, it takes time. It's not going to happen… it's not a get-rich-quick kind of scheme. It's going to take time and to build that customer base you’ve got to get your name out there. We talked about the roadside stand. You’ve got that great drive-by traffic depending on what kind of road you live on.

But, maybe a final thought is marketing. Advertising. We're not talking nationally. Something within your driving range that you've determined. But, in this digital age, anything from Craigslist to Google Ads. What are some ideas that people can think about to start marketing once they made that decision that they do want to start selling firewood? Right. I mean, I think like you said, in the digital age we're on Facebook Marketplace. It’s a great way to do that. You can get high traffic. You could be a little bit more traditional and just post your business card up on the local bulletin board at the hardware store, at the grocery store. I've done both of those before. On the flip side, you also have to keep in mind that if you're just starting out and you're also advertising, you want to make sure that you have enough firewood to sustain the attention that you're going to get from that advertising. Anybody who splits firewood knows, you never have enough firewood. So, you can't please everybody, but if you only have a couple cords and you sell those couple cords to the first couple people that call it, what does that say to the next people that call, and you say, “Oh, well, I'm out of firewood.” They're probably going to forget your number and move on to the next guy, and if he has firewood they're going to call him next year instead of you. So, to be able to make sure that you have enough supply to reach enough people and supply enough people to then have them call you back the next year, I think that's almost just as important as getting all the phone calls, if not more important. Yeah. So, having too much demand’s kind of a nice problem to have but it's not necessarily a problem you want to run into. Right. So, you've got that great pile of wood we were looking at earlier. It's not going to split itself. No, it's not. So, I think we'll wrap up here.

We hope you enjoyed this topic. We would be interested to know if you have specific questions on anything we've talked about or anything we didn't cover. In the future, we could certainly go a little deeper into some of these questions about getting that firewood business up and running. Absolutely. Until then, I'm Jared with RuggedMade. I'm Jake from Dude Ranch DIY. Thanks for watching.