I AM the King of Kindling

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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Just a reminder that our new book “Little House Off the Grid” is now available! Head over to http://aztext.com/Little_House_Off_The_Grid.cfm to check it out and order a copy!

10 Responses to “I AM the King of Kindling”

  • Glee:

    I love this. I read your blog every time it shows in my inbox. I love what you’re doing with the scrap. I hope you find a way to make it pay. It’s one of the problems with small producers – we loose the effects of the economy of scale. Taking ten boxes to the store is costly per box. If you took 20 or fifty, then the cost per box is far less. That makes the trip worthwhile. I had to learn that with my egg business. Delivering one dozen eggs to a house five miles away isn’t cost effective. Neither is paying $25 a week for a booth to sell ten dozen eggs at $3 per doz. at the local farmer’s market. The home baker that sells her pastries at the farmer’s market is far more profitable for me. I deliver five dozen eggs to her house five miles away near my grocery store, bank and other shops. I combine errands with the trip and make it pay me. She in turn distributes flyers for me and advertizes me as one of her suppliers. I do the same for her, and we both profit. Next year I can add smoked chicken and turkey to my products. Maybe then it would be worth paying for a booth.

  • queen of string:

    If you un box, I would suggest still tagging as a way of introducing these confirmed customers to your other ventures. They already have a relationship with you and see you as a supplier of a needed, useful and effective product. I would expect that these people would be more likely than your average bear to buy something else from you. Out here you could double the price for sure. Cutting kindling is a slow boring job no one wants to do and $10 a box of the size you’re offering is whole lot cheaper than bribing the kids to do it and is whine free :-). I hope you find a way to make it work as it’s a great use of a waste product, if you dont do it yourself, is their anyone else you could put onto it, for whom it would be worthwhile?

  • I agree with two comments. Lose the box. When you place the long pieces in your contraption bundle them with plastic quick ties or twine in lengths that you want the kindling to be and in the thickness of one bundle so the ties end up in the center of the cut bundle. Then cut. After that just fix a tag on them and you can carry them around by the ties. I’ve seen kindling that has two ties about 4 or 5 inches apart that has a piece connecting them together like a handle too. Keeps the pieces from sliding out and its easier to carry. You could become the next thousand-aire!

  • Jeff:

    How about “Sticking it to you since 2011” or “We sweat the small stuff” as a slogans?

  • It’s always a treat Cam to read of your adventures.


  • Cathy:

    Kill the kindling idea…rent a shredder and make wood chips.
    Go to fungiperfecti.com and buy trifecta mushroom spores, put it all into building healthy soil as part of your organic garden plan and add mushrooms to your CSA products…. your a farmer, not a lumber jack. FungiPerfecti is the epacenter of ecomycoloy too.

  • rita:

    You need more tie-downs, so that when it’s cut to length, it’s not a mess but an easily picked up bunch of parallel short pieces, ready to be put into a box.

    If you had a different way to bundle them, you wouldn’t need to run and procure boxes. How about hay twine?

    With this kindling you’ve found a niche. That’s where money for really small businesses comes from. You have the land to do it, free material as input, and a market that’s asking for the product. All you have to do is solve the ‘how’ with a simple process. You’re most of the way there already. Come on, you can do it!!

  • Rick:

    Very clever setup.

  • Trudy:

    Thanks Cam, for my morning chuckle. I can always count on you.

  • CJ:

    Just a thought, but what if you banded the long sections securely (and to the dimensions of the box) before you cut them. Then when you cut off a block it’s ready for delivery – no collecting, no boxing, and stackable in your pickup.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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