I AM the King of Kindling

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

I find a lot of stupid ways to waste my time, and kindling is one of them. Kindling is small scrap wood that you use to start a fire. If you were to just crumple up newspaper and toss a big round log in to your woodstove, you’d be really disappointed. You’ll have much better luck starting your fire if you build a layer of kindling on top of your newspaper, and then start with small pieces of split wood that have lots of edges that will catch fire nicely.

Our neighbors Don and Debbie Garrett operate a mill where they produce hardwood flooring, trim, and all sorts of other wood products. I put together their catalog and their website for them at http://ddgarrettmillwork.com/. For all your millwork needs, call Don & Deb. How’s that for a non-subliminal endorsement? Needless to say, they end up with a lot of scrap that they pile up in their yard until it looks like this:

I started grabbing scrap wood from them many years ago. Some if it is great stuff and I’ve built lots of neat things with it like shelves, chicken coops … you name it. Some of it is too small to build anything with but it’s great for kindling.

Originally I just used to cut it by hand, with a handsaw. This was stupid, but it’s what a “cidiot” like me does before I figured out that there had to be a better way. A few times I tried cutting it with the chainsaw while it was hanging off the back of the pickup truck, but loose wood like this jumps all over the place and it made it really dangerous to cut that way.

Eventually I built a jig made out of T-steel bars that I bought from the feed mill in town. I put old logs at the bottom so that I don’t have to cut right to the ground which saves saw blades. Once I’ve got it filled up, I cinch it all down with ratchet tie downs that make it really tight. I’m currently patenting this design and was hesitant to release these images to the internet for fear that it will be copied.

Then it’s just a matter of cranking up the chainsaw and running it down between the steel and straps to cut the pieces so that they are the right length for a woodstove. Then we package the kindling into boxes. It sounds effortless! Well, it’s pretty nifty, but it takes an enormous amount of time. But I just can’t stand to see Don’s scrap go to waste. Eventually if no one takes it, he burns it because the pile would get unmanageable. I cannot deal with waste like that. I must have been deprived of kindling in a previous life, and now I must make up for it.

Eventually I realized that I had about a two-year’s supply of kindling stored in my barn. I decided to try selling it this summer in town at our produce stand. Of course, I started schlepping it into town about July the 1st, just when no one’s thinking about fires. I thought maybe the cottagers might have campfires at night, but no one seemed to notice it so I gave up.

Then on one of the last Saturdays in September when I went into town to sell vegetables I took two boxes of kindling. And someone bought them! That’s right, they just walked over and bought them! I think I charged $5/box. And it was the best $10 I had ever made. No really! Best day ever!

Kuhlwant, who runs the hardware store in Tamworth, also took a few boxes. And she sold them. So she asked for 10 more! Woo hoo! Don’t look now, but guess who hit the big time!

So I decided it was time to go big. I came up with a label and called it “Tamworth Brand” Kindling. Then I decided if I were going to be huge, I’d need a slogan. Or slogans! So here are few I’ve been using.

“Unlike Billy Joel, we DID start the fire!”

“Like Jim Morrison of ‘The Doors’ said… ‘Come on baby light my fire.”

And then I decided I’d better sex it up and tried:

“Let us rekindle the fire in more than just your woodstove!”

Are these brilliant or what?!? Really …  what could be sexier than a box of kindling! I’m confident that the readers of my blog will help me to come up with more great slogans.

CBC used to have a TV show called the “King of Kensington” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrP8mjsmy8U

So I decided I was going to become “The King of Kindling” and build an empire on kindling. It was going to huge. And imposing.

Then in the midst of transplanting raspberries and planting garlic last week, Kuhlwant called and wanted another 10 boxes. By the time I scrounge the boxes from the grocery store, get the scrap loaded into my cutting frame, cut it, gather it up and put it in boxes, and then deliver it to the hardware store, well, I don’t think it’s worth it. Not for $5/box. But I’m not even sure if it would be for $8/box. And at a certain point I would price myself out of the market.

So I’ve had to rethink the whole dominating the world kindling market plan. I think I may just pull back a bit and cut enough for us and some friends. Not much of legacy to leave I suppose. But as with so many things I find myself doing these days, it’s just a tremendous amount of work for little payback.

But then again, it’s incredibly gratifying to save such wonderful stuff from being wasted. People rave about my kindling. I’m kind of waffling here. I think what I’ll do is go upscale. I’ll call it “Tamworth Brand Organic Free-Range Kindling.” That’s the ticket. I’ll charge $20/box, and I might take your order for next winter, if I feel like it. That’s the trick. You’ve got to treat people like you’re doing them a favor letting them buy it from you. Move over Warren Buffet. Building my empire is back on track.

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Photos by Cam & Michelle Mather. For more information about Cam or his books, please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com