Forest Products: How and What to Gather from the Woods

How do I make maple syrup?

We get a wide range of benefits from our forests in Wisconsin, including the things we can harvest or gather. For a long time timber was the main product harvested, but today there is a wide array of things that are grown, consumed, and sold from our woods.

Products Harvested from the Woods:

Wood Products

Wood products can be harvested and sold on the market or used for personal projects. The common commercial products are logs sold for either timber production or pulp (paper) production. Firewood and posts are commonly harvested for sale or personal use.

Timber is classified according to diameter and usable height of a tree. Tree diameter is measured 4-1/2 ft. above ground to the nearest inch and is referred to as Diameter at Breast Height, or DBH. Trees of sufficient size to produce logs that can be sawed into lumber are referred to as sawtimber and must be at least 8-foot logs, at least 10 inches DBH. Pulpwood, or trees that are converted to chips or fibers to manufacture paper, hardboard or particle board, includes many tree species. Minimum DBH for pulpwood trees is 5 inches. Pulpwood is commonly cut to 100-inch lengths.

Firewood is commonly sold in face cords (8 feet by 4 feet by 16 inches), but can also be sold as full cords (8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet). There are some species that are more desirable than others for firewood purposes, but the characteristics of good firewood include heat value, ease of splitting, smoke production, and fragrance.

Arts and Crafts

There are several forest products that landowners harvest, and occasionally sell for the purpose of craft making. This list is only limited by one’s imagination, but here are some examples. Boughs and princess pine can be used in wreaths, garland, and floral arrangements. Bark may be harvested for basket making. Unusual wood (knots, burls, crotches) is sought after by wood tuners.


Berries, maple syrup, nuts and game animals are all food products found in your woods. You can gather what nature provides; edible plants (e.g. wild leeks) and fungi (e.g. morels) are a fun way to explore your woodland, and add a new twist to your dinner fare. Or you can enhance what you might find; some landowners get creative and cultivate food in their woods. For example, logs can be cut and inoculated to grow mushrooms.

Maple Syrup

The harvesting and processing of sap from maple trees into syrup can be a fun family activity or an income generating business depending on how much time and resources you want to invest. There are a number of species whose sap can be made into syrup but maples have the highest sugar content and so are easier. There can be a large investment in equipment for this activity so it is a good idea to start out by tapping only a few trees and seeing what the process is like before jumping in all the way. The University of Minnesota-Extension hosted a blog series on collecting maple sap for syrup.

Other Opportunities

There are many traditional medicinals growing in our Wisconsin woods, including ginseng, cohosh, goldenseal, and slippery elm. Another prospect is harvesting seeds to be sold to tree nurseries. You can collect acorns, cones, and other seed, but be sure to work with the buyer to understand their needs. Although not a physical forest product, some landowners earn extra income from leasing their land for hunting. Be aware of legal issues, and consider getting insurance if you choose to make money from inviting people on to your property

Value of Trees as Timber

Wisconsin is the number one producer of paper in the United States, and with 61,000 forestry sector employees, it is one of the largest in the state. That means forestry is important to this state’s economy. Furthermore, 57% of the state’s forestland is owned by private individuals and families, which means they provide the majority of wood entering the market. Consider this, in surveys, about 17% of woodland owners plan to harvest timber, but close to 50% will harvest timber eventually. Knowing the significant value of timber, it is good to enter into the timber business informed.

What is stumpage value?

Before you attempt to market your timber, you will need to know its stumpage value, or the value of standing trees before harvesting. Although many landowners believe that harvesting their own timber may bring in more money, research indicates that working with a forester who has greater access to markets will typically yield higher returns. Logging is a complex, costly, potentially dangerous operation, which is why many landowners choose to sell stumpage and have someone else do the logging.
In forestry, the value of timber is based on a combination of factors: the species being sold and potential products, the overall sale volume of trees being harvested, mill inventories and market conditions, site and logging conditions and the estimated price of trees marked for sale. Different buyers may offer substantially different prices for the same timber, depending on their own costs and market fluctuations. It is therefore important to solicit bids from a number of reputable loggers to receive the highest value. Foresters can help with determining stumpage value, which in turn will be useful in deciding which bids, if any, to accept.

For more information see: Factors Influencing Timber Prices For Landowners

Related Blog Posts

Introduction to non-timber forest products
Non-timber forest products: Seeds and boughs
Non-timber forest products: mushrooms
Non-timber forest products: hazelnuts
An introduction to agroforestry
Splitting firewood safely and effectively
Splitting firewood with power
The art and science of stacking firewood

Related Publications

Safe tree harvesting
How to choose firewood trees
Harvesting firewood from your woods
Protective clothing for chainsaw operators
Buying a safe chainsaw
Estimating stocking conditions
Forest succession
Firewood section in the publications
Investments section in the publications
Trees and forest value section in the publications
Non-timber forest products section in the publications

Related Websites

Heating with Wood

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