Become an Urban Lumberjack

You don't need your own woodlot to start a thriving part-time business as an urban lumberjack.

| September/October 1981

  • 071 urban lumberjack 2 splitting logs
    If you are planning to start an urban lumberjacking business of your own, you'll need—in addition to a few tools—a place that's suitable for splitting and stacking all of the logs.
  • 071 urban lumberjack 1 loading truck
    Urban lumberjack David Markson delivers a load of seasoned firewood to one of his city customers. Scrap and storm felled trees and limbs provide a ready source of marketable fuel. 

  • 071 urban lumberjack 2 splitting logs
  • 071 urban lumberjack 1 loading truck

Last fall and winter, I cut enough firewood to heat my seven-room house and bring in a substantial profit ...even though my home is in the heart of suburban New Jersey, only 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan! And if you live in or near a large city, as I do, you might also be able to keep your woodpile high—while earning a steady income—by cashing in on readily available free fuel.

Just about every country dweller realizes the value of good cordwood, you see, but in the cities and suburbs great quantities of this valuable natural fuel go to waste every year. Scrap wood from urban building projects is just as often discarded as it is recycled, and streets in many older residential neighborhoods are lined with massive oaks and maples that are regularly trimmed. So anyone with a little free time, a few tools, and some elementary knowledge of woodcutting can help him- or herself to a bonanza of free-for-the-hauling firewood.

Open for Business

I launched my career as an urban lumberjack when Hurricane David's violent winds littered the streets of my New Jersey town with enough tree trunks and tree limbs to fuel a whole battalion of stoves.

As I watched the city's cleanup crews feeding cord after cord of perfectly good wood into the steel jaws of chipping machines, I had a brainstorm: Who would object if I were to reach some of the fallen timber before the municipal workers did, and cut the logs to cart home for my fireplace? I set to it right away, and within a couple of afternoons—using only a bucksaw and a compact car— I collected nearly two cords of wood!

After that encouraging start, my project quickly mushroomed into a small but steady business, which brought in over $1,000 last year (not including the cash I saved by reducing my own heating bills). I've discovered numerous sources of free wood to supply my own fireplace and stove. I now have a long list of customers to whom I can sell the surplus, and my profits have enabled me to buy a chain saw, a used pickup truck, and a new airtight wood stove.

I'm willing to bet that you could easily duplicate my success whether you plan to cut wood just for your personal needs, or to harvest enough to start a full-scale delivery service. However, although urban lumberjacking is relatively easy to break into, it isn't an ideal line of work for everyone. The initial investment in equipment doesn't have to be large, but you will have to spend many hours cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. If you're not prepared to make that kind of commitment, you'd better plan to pay for having your fuel delivered to your doorstep this winter. On the other hand, if the idea of being your own boss and working up a good honest sweat with vigorous outdoor work does appeal to you, then read on ...and good luck!


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