Sell Homemade Firestarters, Cider, or Snakeskin Accessories: Three Home Business Ideas

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We asked our readers to, if they now operate or have ever operated a successful home business that was inspired by an article they read in MOTHER, tell us about it in around 500 words, being sure to mention when and where they started their venture and with how much “seed money,” what they make (net), and anything else that might be of assistance to other entrepreneurs.

Make and Sell Firestarters

Like most people, I’m constantly on the lookout for any idea that might enable me to bring in some extra cash by working at home in my spare time. When I saw the article The Magnesium Fire Starting Tool, I realized that most of the vacationers, campers, hunters, fisherfolk, and backpackers who visit my area could use a handy “burn beginner.” I decided I could meet their need inexpensively, and make some money by marketing my own type of firestarter.

Starting with a baking tin and a supply of paper muffin cups, I gathered a bunch of pinecones (conifers are plentiful in my area) and rounded up some old candle stubs. I placed the paper liners in the tin and then put one cone in each. Next, I melted the candles in a saucepan and poured some of the hot wax over each seedpod. When the liquid cooled and hardened, my homemade firestarters were ready.

Lit under wood laid for a campfire, a “cone cupcake”–it only takes onewill burn long enough to turn even the wettest kindling into a comforting, warm blaze. I sell these little firestarters through stores located near local state parks and vacation spots, for 25¢ each.

A batch of 24 firestarters takes about a half-hour to make and brings in a total of $6.00. The cost of the cups for a run of two dozen amounts to only about 11¢, leaving me with a profit of $5.89 a batch. So I’m earning almost $12 per hour! What’s more, I’ve had no trouble selling as many cupped kindlers as I can make.

Though I’m just getting started in my new home-business venture, I’ve already given some thought to selling my igniters by mail order. And I hope that when I take my next vacation, I can finance the trip–at least in part–by selling my firestarters along the way!
Hazel Colgrove, Bandon, Ore.

Make a Cider Press, Make Cider, Make Money

Last fall, because of my desire to supply my family with freshly squeezed, natural fruit juice, coupled with the seemingly universal need these days for extra cash, I decided to build the hand-cranked cider mill described in How to Build a Cider Press. Almost immediately after the cider provider was completed, I pressed it into service for both purposes, and now sell homemade cider.

First, following MOTHER’s directions, I was able to build my sturdy fruit grinder/press at a cost of about $150 for parts. Next, the folks from the local agricultural extension of our state college furnished me with thorough information on where to locate “pick your own” fruits.

I found that prices for an 850 to 950 pound bin of windfall apples ranged from as low as $20 to as high as $65, for a “commercial” customer like me. Naturally, I placed an order for one of the $20 bins, and the orchard I visited was ready for me to load up as soon as I arrived.

After a delicious trial run by my family, I bought a supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic gallon jugs (for a total of $32), loaded the apples, cider mill, and other equipment into a truck, and drove to nearby Philadelphia, where a fair was taking place in one of the city’s parks.

I set up the mill and began cranking out the fresh cider, and the crowds gathered ’round! They eagerly bought as much juice as I could squeeze, at either 50¢ a cup or $3.00 a gallon. Of course, I sold many more cupfuls than jugs of the golden liquid. I’d estimate, though, that I pressed about 50 gallons total.

Without considering the cost of the cider maker–I was going to make it anyway–my afternoon’s toil brought me a profit of $140 (that’s after deducting the cost of the fruit and the containers, as well as $25 for gas and tolls).

Because of the mill’s proven success both as a cider- and moneymaker, I’m now considering building a larger press, possibly operated by a device similar to the one featured in Bicycle Power, rather than by a hand-turned crank.

After all, nobody ever said you can’t have your juice and a profit, too!
-Phil Smith, Camden, N.J.

Sell Rattlesnake Skin Accessories

A little more than a year ago, when a chronic illness forced me to give up my 12-year career as a plasterer, my family was compelled to find a new source of income. Inspired by several articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, including Make Buttons for Fun and Profit by G.R. Osborne, we all decided the answer to our financial problems might well be found in pursuing our family hobby, making decorative and useful items out of rattlesnake skins.

We already had five nice-sized prairie rattlers in the freezer and were equipped with most of the tools–such as a skinning knife and scissors for cutting and trimming–that we needed to get started. So we purchased a tanning kit for $10.00, five basic belt buckle kits at $1.98 each, and three fancier ones at $4.98 each, and then placed a $5.00 advertisement in the local newspaper stating we would make custom belt buckles, belts, and hatbands.

Well, the orders started coming in right away. It took only one snakeskin to make our first eight buckles, and after selling the smaller ones for $7.50 each and the larger ones for $15 apiece, we were left with a profit of $50 (half of which we reinvested).

Encouraged by the response to our initial ad, we expanded our marketing effort to include displaying our wares at such places as black powder shooting matches, arts and crafts fairs, western clothing stores, and–at the suggestion of my seven-year-old daughter–flea markets. (She’d had a good idea: We made a $300 profit from the first two we attended!) We’ve also enlarged our inventory. In addition to hatbands, buckles, and belts, we’re now making key chains, necklaces, earrings, wall hangings, hatpins, and even vertebrae friendship rings (which our five-year-old son sells to the younger generation for 10 each!).

Because my illness might prevent me from hunting and catching rattlers in the future, we placed another ad in the paper offering 80¢ a foot for live snakes with undamaged skins. Since rattlesnakes are considered by ranchers in our area to be a danger to people, pets, and livestock, we’ve had no shortage of suppliers. (My mother-in-law once dropped by–very briefly–when we were unloading 67 just-purchased rattlers!)

When someone brings in a load of live rattlers, we very carefully–wearing high leather boots and gloves and using a four-foot handling stick–place them in canvas bags and put the sacked serpents in the freezer for a few hours. This kills the reptiles without harming the hides. (Let me emphasize that anyone considering handling poisonous snakes should take every safety precaution. Care should even be taken when dealing with a dead snake, as the fangs and poison sacs will still contain the venom.)

In all, because our rattlesnake business has taught us to cooperate to overcome economic adversity, strengthening both our finances and our family ties, we plan to keep it going even after I’m able to return to “regular” work!
-Robert F. Keller, Scottsbluff, Neb.