Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Firewood Business

I haven't bought any firewood for at least 15 years, when I lived in the city. I can get all I need from deadfall on my own and my neighbor's property. He has a lot of acreage on which, for some reason, the trees tend to fall down more than they do on mine, and (he claims) he can't use a chainsaw because his ex-wife made him promise he wouldn't, even though he now has no positive regard for her. Whatever. There are other opportunities to scrounge. For example my brother and I recently dealt with overgrown vegetation at my mother's place and I got a good truckload of firewood out of  the deal.  In fact my only problem right now is that I don't have enough space to shed everything.

But that's not the point of this post, except to demonstrate that I know the time, effort and investment in equipment required to shed a cord of firewood. Around here, it sells for about $200, and believe me, if you're making $20 an hour you are Hercules.  It's really hard work, you have to constantly maintain the equipment, which means spending money on chains, fuel mix and oil, and small engine repair, not to mention the investment in your truck and tractor (which is pretty much necessary if you're dealing with big trunks and needing to pull stuff out of the woods and load heavy pieces). Also, before you can sell it, you have to shed it for a year.

Unfortunately for Karl Marx, this pretty much shoots down the labor theory of value. There just aren't enough people who want to buy it in bulk to soak up the supply, and the market has a lot of friction. It's too bulky and heavy to be worth moving long distances, for the most part, so you have to find your buyers nearby. I understand there are people who will haul firewood to Manhattan and get a better price, and then there are those ridiculous little bundles of six logs sitting outside the supermarket in plastic wrap with a $6.95 price tag or whatever it is. But that's a very narrow channel.

 I have a probably impractical idea of making a deal with Home Depot, and setting up an operation on the edge of the parking lot -- there's a lot of open space at the Windham location -- with a truck scale, a lot of shed space, and log splitters. Guys can bring in their green, unprocessed material and we'll pay them for it on the spot -- much less than final retail but they won't have to go through all the hassles. We'd do it by weight, not by volume, but whatever the weight equivalent is of a typical cord of green hardwood we'd buy for say, $100. Then we'd section it, split it and shed it, and sell it a year later for $225 or something. (Convenient location, trusted business, top quality guaranteed.) We'd also sell odd sizes for less, and kindling. And we could dicker up and down with people who brought in stuff already processed, or lower quality. Then you'd have a much better functioning market.

Of course, I wouldn't want to encourage people to start clearing land for fuel, but I don't think much of that would happen. It just isn't worth it. We'd be getting material from people cutting roads and clearing house sites, cleaning up deadfall and tree work, and we'd be preventing it from going to waste. If it decomposes, it's going to put it's carbon back into the atmosphere anyway, so you might as well extract the heat on the way, I figure. Not going to happen though.

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