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Firewood? What is a load?

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Tom D

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We have been splitting logs lately, the timber has been lying in the yard for a couple of years and now we want to get it converted into logs to finish seasoning indoors so we have been busy with the firewood processor. Looking at the pile of logs and thinking about selling it all next winter has led me to consider the best way to market and sell our produce.  Since Trading Standards and the Weights and Measures Act 1985 have little to say regarding firewood we are a bit in the dark when it comes to quantities, packaging and pricing. With most goods the law is quite clear and very strict with serious penalties for suppliers who sell goods in quantities or measures outside those prescribed in the Act. Firewood however is a bit of a mystery, I suspect that it falls under the category of solid fuel, but its hard to confirm if thats the case. However it is viewed officially it would appear that the market is wholly unregulated.

 

Logs are sold in a variety of ways, here are a few of the most common:

 

By weight; usually by the “ton” however this is almost never confirmed by any kind of weigh bridge ticket something which  is likely to be illegal as far as the weights and measures act goes as one thing they are strict on is selling by weight. There is however a fundamental problem for the consumer with buying timber by the ton, this is simply that the wetter the wood the more it weighs. So there is an obvious incentive for the supplier to sell unseasoned wet wood as this will significantly ‘up’ his margin, if he bothers to weigh it at all that is!  Supermarkets have been dicing with the same issue for years when it comes to meat, hanging the meat performs the same function as seasoning logs, it dries out a little and whilst the flavour may improve, and possibly the price per kilo, the lost moisture is lost profit since they bought the meat by weight in the first place. They have got around this problem by injecting the meat with “stuff” to bulk up its weight, and apparently this is ok with trading standards! This has gone on for years of course, in times gone by bakers used to be infamous for adulterating their flour with fillers such as bone meal, chalk, sawdust and even gypsum! Thankfully at the end of the 19th century laws were brought in to standardise what could be called flour, maybe its time they took a look at bacon! (all that white stuff that comes out as it fries is the supermarkets added filler).

 

So back to logs, selling by weight simply encourages the supplier to sell wet wood, and wet wood is not good for burning, not only does it produce little heat but because it burns at a lower temperature the combustion is incomplete, so gaseous tar and soot condense in your flue potentially leading to chimney fires. It would perhaps be ok to buy logs by weight at a known moisture content as happens in the wood chip for biomass industry, but that rarely happens.

 

By far the best way to buy firewood is by volume, this way you get what you pay for, they may still be wet, but 100 logs are still 100 logs wet or dry, so now the incentive is with the supplier to sell a quality product, assuming he wants to keep your business that is. So the next problem to arise is quantifying that volume, a cubic meter is a relatively common unit and should be the ideal but thats not always the case, which leads us to what is perhaps the most common way of selling logs…..

 

The load. So what is a load of logs? Well, anything you want it to be really, and this is where the industry really needs some guidance from the government. The load could be a bulk bag, but these vary in size from 2 cubic meters down to less than 0.5, or it could be a vehicle of some sort, trailer, pickup, 4×4 or even a car boot. From the consumers perspective how are they to compare one ‘load’ with another, does the back of one suppliers transit van compare favourably with another’s trailer? Who knows?  The upshot is the poor consumer is left in the dark. With weights and measures regulations so strict on other industries, including coal and smokeless fuel, why is it that logs are still in the dark ages when it comes to consumer protection?

 

The answer may lie in the fact that during the industrial revolution we abandoned wood as a fuel, only to re-discover it in the last 10 years or so, and when the laws on weights and measures were made firewood just wasn’t on the radar. But these days it is most definitely back as a serious contender in the fuel market, sales of wood burning stoves have soared thanks to the carbon neutral credentials of  burning wood over fossil fuels. (don’t get me started on the carbon credentials of imported eastern european logs though!)

 

Its time for HM Government to wake up to the burgeoning market in firewood and apply a little common sense to the way in which our logs are sold. We could do with a standardised moisture content for firewood, so that customers can expect to be able to get a certain calorific value from their wood, at least if its advertised as ‘ready to burn’ anyway. Then theres the weight / volume issue, logs really should be sold by volume, and all prices should be advertised by the cubic meter, irrespective of the size of vessel used to deliver them. This way the consumer can confidently compare prices from one supplier to the next. We have found that selling by the cubic meter we loose out to other suppliers selling by the bulk bag, our £60 per m3 has less appeal than a £50 bulk bag even though that bag may only contain 0.6 cube, making it considerably dearer, what do we do, sell unseasoned wood in order to cut our prices further, or try and skimp on the amount we sell?. Sadly the lack of regulation is currently driving quality down as firewood producers engage in a race to the bottom to stay in the game.

 

So if you agree with the views expressed above please share this article on Facebook with your local trading standards office, yes they all appear to have FB accounts! You could also share it with your MP. You never know we may end up with a fairer firewood market in the not to distant future.

 

For some further reading here’s a helpful PDF from the Forestry Commission.

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No more regulation please!

 

Just sell by the m3 like all professional setups in the industry do. People soon work out the difference between a 'load' and a m3.

 

Ignore those who choose to underprice others. We raised our prices and it made no difference to sales whatsoever as we focus on quality and those customers who are prepared to pay for a consistent quality product.

 

Ash and Woodworks seem to operate along these lines and their businesses appear to be thriving.

Edited by arboriculturist
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It's annoying when someone underprices you with a 'ton' bag of wet wood but I would much prefer that to more regulation. 

 

We sell by the cube as it's the most accurate measurement, customers normally stick with us or come back to us despite all the other people using different measurements and if I were them I would want the choice of buying lower quality products rather than strict rules which will just push the cost up.

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Noooo.

We need less regulation not more in our life. What we do need more of is people taking responsibility for what they buy not relying on laws that replace intelligence.

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When we bought our first woodstove in the mid-70's we were interested to read that in the U.S. firewood was usually sold by the 'cord' . The people we bought from - usually one-man bands with a Tranny flat-bed - always looked puzzled when we mentioned that, and so a load was a load was a load as far as most were concerned. You either trusted them or you didn't.

I think if I was selling I'd be tempted to make available a couple of pics for customers, e.g. a ton of wet wood, a ton of dry wood, and a cubic metre of wood maybe stacked like the cord in the link above. These days we buy from a large sawmill that kilns its firewood and it's sold by cubic metre.

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The problem I have with volume measurements is fresh air. I contacted a local supplier to  ask for a price for larger sized logs for my boiler. I wasn't offered a significant discount, even though I'd expect to get less material in the same sized 1cubic metre  bag if it were cut larger. Now if I were allowed to take my Ifor into their yard, and stack it carefully myself with logs, I'd expect I could get a very good deal for me, based on the ( very roughly ) two cubic metre capacity of the trailer with sides. 

 

I suppose, it would be interesting and informative to buy two of their bags, and then arrange them in the floor of my trailer, just to see how they compared. Sadly, I don't have the spare cash to try this. 

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2 hours ago, Peter 1955 said:

The problem I have with volume measurements is fresh air. I contacted a local supplier to  ask for a price for larger sized logs for my boiler. I wasn't offered a significant discount, even though I'd expect to get less material in the same sized 1cubic metre  bag if it were cut larger. Now if I were allowed to take my Ifor into their yard, and stack it carefully myself with logs, I'd expect I could get a very good deal for me, based on the ( very roughly ) two cubic metre capacity of the trailer with sides. 

 

I suppose, it would be interesting and informative to buy two of their bags, and then arrange them in the floor of my trailer, just to see how they compared. Sadly, I don't have the spare cash to try this. 

Normally firewood is sold by the loose load. 

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3 hours ago, eggsarascal said:

Normally firewood is sold by the loose load. 

As I used to do, many moons ago, when there was a timber yard near me. In these modern, mechanised times, the local log merchant uses metre cubed bags and a hoist. No more chucking each log off by hand for them! 

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48 minutes ago, Peter 1955 said:

As I used to do, many moons ago, when there was a timber yard near me. In these modern, mechanised times, the local log merchant uses metre cubed bags and a hoist. No more chucking each log off by hand for them! 

How do you suggest it changes, every load over a weighbridge?

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1 hour ago, eggsarascal said:

How do you suggest it changes, every load over a weighbridge?

That's what I used to do for a long time. As long as the moisture isn't excessive, it's a transparent method. 

 

Obviously merchants can point to a bag and say there's no disputing what you're buying, if they're selling a ( fairly ) constant size of log, especially if they're not too big. Most customers are likely to want logs that require no further splitting or cutting, so that's another scenario which is transparent.

 

It's only people like me who want a non standard commodity who upset the applecart. It was ever thus.  🤔

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I was always happy to have green timber 'in the round' - mostly oak, beech, and ash - as I always seemed to get more even if perhaps I didn't. I also used to quite enjoy splitting and stacking in the days when we had only a Franco Belge wood-burning boiler. Heating a stone cottage in a frost pocket took 9-10 typical loads a year. I'd usually had enough by the last load though. It was stacked for a year before use.

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45 minutes ago, Peter 1955 said:

That's what I used to do for a long time. As long as the moisture isn't excessive, it's a transparent method. 

 

Obviously merchants can point to a bag and say there's no disputing what you're buying, if they're selling a ( fairly ) constant size of log, especially if they're not too big. Most customers are likely to want logs that require no further splitting or cutting, so that's another scenario which is transparent.

 

It's only people like me who want a non standard commodity who upset the applecart. It was ever thus.  🤔

Putting a load of split ready to burn logs over a weighbridge just ain't going to happen, if you want a non standard commodity buy round wood in and store/ split it as you see fit.

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15 minutes ago, eggsarascal said:

Putting a load of split ready to burn logs over a weighbridge just ain't going to happen, if you want a non standard commodity buy round wood in and store/ split it as you see fit.

 

Do you buy the round wood in by the ton, cube, lorry load or van load though?!

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1 minute ago, josharb87 said:

 

Do you buy the round wood in by the ton, cube, lorry load or van load though?!

It's years since I bought round wood in, it was by the ton. Went out by the m2.

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I've bought loose wet logs for several years and am charged by the m3. Basically after the logs have been dropped off the back of the tipper fresh from being sawn we get a tape measure and do a rough measure of l*d*h to calc the m3, we then typically round down to allow for air and type of wood and I pay the agreed price per m3. This works for me as I've a drive, wood stores and enjoy the chopping and storing. It's also cheap enough to allow me to use the wood burning stove daily and so a big thanks to all tree surgeons who deliver like this as I couldn't enjoy my stove as much without it.

 

More widely, my thoughts are that customers will want different options, most will probably like chopped and dried. Many sellers seem to want to sell a builders bag (or tonne bag) and I've found the best ones say what size their bags are as often it's 80cm cubed and so 0.64m3 which is obv's a bit smaller than 1m3. So as long as the sellers are clear about what a tonne bag size is when they sell then I' happy, it's where I've sold it as a 1m3 and it then turns out to be 0.64m3 that I'd be left disappointed, but that means I just don't repeat business.

0B70EF55-1A93-4981-B4F4-9DA6AC783061.jpeg

Edited by Dougie Stirling

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The legislation is on the table to dissuade anyone selling firewood green, part seasoned or dry seasoned by any other measure than by the industry standard - m3.

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7 hours ago, Dougie Stirling said:

I've bought loose wet logs for several years and am charged by the m3. Basically after the logs have been dropped off the back of the tipper fish from being sawn we get a tape measure and do a rough measure of l*d*h to calc the m3, we then typically round down to allow for air and type of wood and I pay the agreed price per m3. This works for me as I've a drive, wood stores and enjoy the chopping and storing. It's also cheap enough to allow me to use the wood burning stove daily and so a big thanks to all tree surgeons who deliver like this as I couldn't enjoy my stove as much without it.

 

More widely, my thoughts are that customers will want different options, most will probably like chopped and dried. Many sellers seem to want to sell a builders bag (or tonne bag) and I've found the best ones say what size their bags are as often it's 80cm cubed and so 0.64m3 which is obv's a bit smaller than 1m3. So as long as the sellers are clear about what a tonne bag size is when they sell then I' happy, it's where I've sold it as a 1m3 and it then turns out to be 0.64m3 that I'd be left disappointed, but that means I just don't repeat business.

0B70EF55-1A93-4981-B4F4-9DA6AC783061.jpeg

0.8x0.8x0.8=0.512 so very nearly 1/2 a cubic metre

 

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Good spot 🙂, 0.512m3 is even worse than I'd thought. The internet is so harsh when you can't edit what you've written :-), still smarter now than I was and thanks for not being unkind about my maths.

Edited by Dougie Stirling

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I can't see it being regulated anytime soon. Lidl are selling little bags of kiln dried kindling for a price that works out very close to €1000/ton.

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