Cutting Firewood for Extra Cash

I remember cutting firewood with my father. He’d use the chainsaw, and us kids would stack. It seemed that he cut just about as fast as we could stack. There were usually two or three of us. I’d also used a chainsaw plenty in my teen years, and a little since then. So when a neighbor kindly offered some trees for us to cut for firewood, to earn a little extra cash, it seemed like a good idea. Another kind neighbor found a buyer who would take all the mixed hardwood we could cut, at a price of $50 per rick, and the buyer would provide pallets and wrap, and would pick it up. They did not need it chopped, just cut to length. Average price of cut and chopped firewood of this type was about $75 per rick, so it was a reasonably good deal.

We tromped down and surveyed the trees. Lots of brush to clear off, but some good wood in there. Kevin fired up the chainsaw, and started cutting. The saw was having an off day, and it fussed and fumed. We managed to get about half a rick cut. All elm. People here don’t like elm much. No one seems to be able to agree on the reason, but everybody agrees that they like everything else better. So now we had half a rick of elm. Slow going, and the saw was having a hard time keeping up.

We cut some cedar as well. That was slow too, because cedar has so many limbs to remove. We got about a quarter of a rick of that. We figured the cedar was worth it if we split it into kindling and sold it by the bundle.

We then started cutting oak. The saw was feeling a bit better when we started, but it chugged its way through VERY slowly. After a few cuts, it started smoking. Badly. And bar oil was pouring off the end of the bar. After Kevin pulled the bar out of the log, the chain was still steaming.

I let it cool some, and sharpened the chain. You could SEE the rounded corners on the ends of the teeth. You could also see them sharpen up as I filed. Not good.

It was good for four more cuts. Exactly four, I counted. Then it started smoking again. A generous neighbor joined us to help. He brought his own saw. He fired it up and started cutting circles around Kevin. Our poor little saw chugged and choked its way through a log, and in the same time, the neighbor chewed his way through about six. After four more cuts, the saw was again, smoking and dripping.

When the neighbor quit, we quit. Our saw was just not up to it, and never would be. No amount of sharpening would ever make that chain right. No amount of babying would get that little saw to handle oak logs.

Some facts about chainsaws:

They come in different sizes. And the smaller sizes are made for different purposes than bigger saws.

The baby ones – 14-18″ are made for “occasional home use”. That means if you have to trim a few limbs off a tree now and again, they’ll do fine. These saws have a narrow kerf, and a low powered engine. And the saw chains are made from softer metal, so the teeth wear down MUCH faster. I guess with the smaller kerf they thought they could get away with it. Generally, the smaller the saw, the punier the chain width, and the weaker the engine. Some brands are complicated to start, hard to keep going, and difficult to service. Others are made with the attitude of dumbing down the servicing, but usually the parts are of such poor quality that what was meant to save time just results in a LOT of frustration.

The middle sized ones – a few 18″, but mostly 20-24″, are made with a larger engine, and harder chain metal. They have a wider kerf, and they can cut circles around the baby ones. The larger ones again, are more powerful. Ease of servicing varies widely. There are also Professional and Home models in this range, but usually even the home models are far more durable than the smaller saws. They may have either a medium kerf chain, or a wider kerf chain – wider is generally the most durable chain, but also takes the most power.

The daddy saws. Ok, so most loggers use a 24″ bar, a few have a 36″ bar that they use for extremely large trees. But a 24″ is standard. So here we are mostly talking about larger engine size. More power. You’ll pay twice the price for them. Sometimes more. But they’ll work more reliably, and cut much faster, and they’ll be worth repairing when something breaks. They will generally have chains with the widest kerf, which are made from a harder metal, so they last longer, and require sharpening less frequently.

Some facts about wood:

Cutting evergreens is easy, and even a bad chainsaw can cut through it without completely choking up. Other softer woods too. They can make a mediocre chainsaw look ok, and you can make pretty good time. I don’t remember my Pa ever stopping to sharpen a chainsaw during work – though he did so at night in his shop.

Cutting hardwoods is hard. And harder. Some hardwoods are hard, and others are like trying to use a breadknife to saw through granite. They’ll systematically dismantle all but a good saw, and they are even hard on that. You’ll still have to stop to sharpen every hour or two, at best.

So… back to the original topic. Earning money doing this. Yes, you can earn money cutting firewood. You can earn enough in a day’s work to replace a full time job, if you want to put in a long day, or if you have a helper.

You’ll have to get the wood for free too. If you have to pay for a permit, or pay someone else a cut off the top, it isn’t going to be worth it. But you CAN get wood free, if you find out who has property that they are clearing. Often they’ll bulldoze trees, and then just light them on fire. If that is the plan, they are usually perfectly willing to have someone come in and salvage some firewood first.

But you can only do it if you have the right tools to start with. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a lot of frustration, and VERY little output to show for it. If you don’t already HAVE the right tools, then it isn’t going to be worth getting them if you are desperate for cash, because it is probably going to cost you several hundred dollars to get a chainsaw that can keep up – and you are likely to need two of them to really produce.

If you have a little backyard chainsaw and think that you can go and cut hardwoods all day, and make something at it, you’ll be disappointed. A little one can’t even handle an entire day of work, even if you keep sharpening the chain. You’ll need something better, and bigger.

If you do happen to have it though, firewood can be a nice way to earn a little on the side, or to fill in the gaps if you are unemployed.

But you gotta have the right tools.

If you don’t, then look for other ways to profit locally – You might be surprised at what you can do.

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