Firewood 101

Collecting firewood is more involved than just cutting trees down, cutting them up and stacking them for use in a wood stove.  Here is some very important information to follow when gathering firewood.

1. Burn only well seasoned firewood

Seasoned firewood comes from two  sources.

1. Trees that are dead and standing or on the ground. (Needles/leaves have fallen)  If the bark is partially or completely missing this usually indicates that the tree is probably dry/seasoned.  However, notice if part or all of the tree has deteriorated beyond usefulness.  Standing dead trees can be dryer than fallen dead trees.

2.  Green/wet wood that is cut to the proper length for a particular stove, split, covered and allowed to air dry for at least 1 year or more.  It may require more than a year to dry if the wood comes from a region that receives a large amount of precipitation per year resulting in wood that contains more moisture.

Why shouldn't we burn unseasoned wood (green/wet wood) in a wood stove?  Unseasoned firewood releases moisture as it is burning. That vaporized moisture travels up the stovepipe and as it cools it begins to condense on the inside of the stove pipe, solidifying and forming creosote.  Under certain conditions the creosote can ignite and become a dangerous "chimney fire".  During a severe chimney fire a steel stove pipe can melt down causing the house to catch fire. Also a mason chimney/chase can get so hot it will crack and allow flames to lap thru catching the attic/roof system on fire.

2. Have at least a 2-year supply of firewood on hand

What if the firewood cutter in the family got sick or broke a bone?  Or, what if there was an unforeseen emergency, whether national or global, that prevented one from collecting firewood?  Wouldn’t it be wise to have at least a 2 year supply of firewood on hand?

3. Save trees on your property for times of emergency

According to a Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin titled “Woodlot Management”, one needs a minimum 5 acres of trees to maintain a renewable supply of firewood.  This  depends on the climate of the area, the size of the house, how well it is insulated and the efficiency of the wood stove.  What if you don’t have a minimum 5 acres of trees available for firewood on the property?  It would be prudent to collect at least a 2 year supply of firewood from other sources until those sources are no longer available. Then and only then start using the firewood on your own property.

4. Know your trees

Not all trees are created equal.  Some species contain more  heat units (British Thermal Units...BTUs) than others.  This is to say that some species will give off more heat per pound of wood, burn longer and leave less ash than others.  Each region of the country usually has at least one of these species of wood.  You must make yourself aware of which is the best in your region.  The following table shows various species of wood and their corresponding list of “Available heat at 50% efficiency in millions of BTUs. (Most wood stoves)”

Collecting Firewood Collecting FirewoodSpecies                                  Millions of BTUs

Collecting Firewood

Hickory                                         13.8
Apple                                            13.2
White Oak                                     12.8
Sugar Maple                                  12.0
Red Oak                                        12.0
Beech                                           12.0
Yellow Birch                                  11.8
White Ash                                     11.8
Hackberry                                     10.4
Tamarack                                      10.4
Paper Birch                                   10.2
Red Fir                                         11.1
Cherry                                          10.0
Elm                                                9.8
Black Ash                                        9.6
Jack Pine                                         8.5
Norway Pine                                    8.5
Lodgepole Pine                                8.8
Hemlock                                         7.9
Black Spruce                                   7.9
Aspen                                            7.3
White Pine                                      7.2
Balsam Fir                                      7.2
Grans Fir                                        8.4
Cotton Wood                                   6.7
Basswood                                       6.7
White Cedar                                    6.1
Compiled from information from the Univ. of Minn. and the Univ. of Idaho.

5. Estimating the number of trees needed

Once you have established how many cords of wood you need to heat your dwelling for a season, use the following chart to estimate how many trees you need to cut.

Table for Estimating Cords per Tree

DBH             Cords/tree           No. Trees to Make a Cord

4”                0.01                                   67.00
6”                0.04                                   23.00                       DBH = diameter outside bark
8”                0.09                                   10.50                                 at 4.5’ above ground.
10”                0.17                                     5.80
12”                0.28                                     3.50
14”                0.41                                     2.40                      Univ. of Idaho Extension Service
16”                0.58                                     1.70                                             Data.
18”                0.70                                     1.30
20”                1.00                                     1.00
22”                1.20                                     0.82                      Cord = stack of firewood
24”                1.50                                     0.67                                4‘ wide X 4‘ high X 8’ long
26”                1.80                                     0.57
28”                2.20                                     0.46
30”                2.50                                     0.40

6. Finding the right kind of firewood

While looking for a particular species in a forested area try to find a stand of trees of that species. You will increase your chances of finding a dead tree of that same species. If cutting firewood in a National or State forest be sure to have proper permits with you and know the regulations.  Also if cutting wood in a National or State forest it is best to be one of the first in the area you are looking thru.  This can assure you of being able to find good firewood near the road you are driving (“Low hanging fruit”) which makes it easier to get the firewood into you truck.

7. Tools Needed

Chainsaws

Husqvarna and Stihl are two of the best on the  market.  Dealers, parts, and services are readily available in forested regions of the country.  Both brands make chainsaws in three different grade levels:

1. Professional grade
2.  Farmer/Rancher/Mid-grade
3. Homeowner grade.

I recommend purchasing saws only in the top two grades of these two brands.

A Stihl “Farm Boss” with a 20” bar is a mid-grade saw that should be durable enough to cut a persons supply of firewood, and then some, for years to come.  I believe it is one of the best saws for the money.  I have owned four Stihl chain saws over the past 25 or so years and am very satisfied with every one.
If you have back problems or are in your golden years I recommend a Stihl Pro MS 261 with a 20” bar.  If you take good careof this saw it should cut all your firewood and then more for many years.  It will do the same work as a much larger saw only a little slower.

Why a saw with a 20” bar?  A person doesn’t have to bend over as far when de-limbing a downed tree and of course it can cut larger trees.

I recommend mixing the manufactures brand of oil in the chainsaw fuel.  I also recommend using non-ethanol fuel (If it is available in your area) even if it comes only in premium grade.

Also, if you need an easier way to sharpen your chainsaw, check out our blog post The Best Chainsaw Sharpener.

Crosscut SawCrosscut Saw

If your chainsaw breaks and it is impossible to fix it, a sharp crosscut saw is an excellent back up.  A good place to find old crosscut saws is at flea markets and yard sales etc.  If an old saw isn’t missing teeth, doesn’t show much ware and isn’t pitted with rust to deeply they can often be restored back to good working order. Or you can order new crosscut saws from Wood World of Texas.

Ax, Maul, Steel Wedge, Sledge Hammer etc.

Snow and Neally manufactures some of the best axes for the money (click here).  Forged steel heads and tight grain New England ax handles enable these tools to have a limited life time warranty.  Use an ax to de-limb downed tress or use them to cut fire wood if all other cutting tools fail. Mauls are used to split “rounds” of fire wood.  If the rounds are too large for a maul to be effective steel wedges driven with a sledge hammer will split the large rounds down to a size where the faster splitting maul can be used.  Local hardware stores often carry good quality mauls, steel wedges and sledge Hammers or logging supply stores in forested regions of the country.

Peavey

What is a peavey?  A peavey or peavey hook is a logging tool consisting of a handle, generally from 30 to 50 inches long, with a metal spike protruding from the end.  The spike is rammed into a log, then a hook (at the end of an arm attached to a pivot a short distance up the handle) grabs the log at a second location.  Once engaged, the handle gives the operator leverage to roll or slide the log to a new position.

Log LifterLog Lifter

A log lifter is a device similar to a cant hook (a cant hook is similar to a peavey except it has a blunt end where the peavey has a metal spike) and has a short metal leg and foot attached to the handle on the opposite side from the hook.  After the hook is forced to snag the log then push down on the handle. This rolls the log up onto the metal leg/foot lifting the log off the ground.  Now the log is safe to cut with your chainsaw without the chain saw touching dirt which can dull the chain. Another advantage to using a log lifter is that now you don't have to bend over to cut it.

Snatch Cable and Snatch Block

If a desirable tree is dropped where the end of it falls within 90’-100’ of a road, a snatch cable can be used to pull it out to the road where it can be cut (“bucked”) into proper length rounds.

This is how it works. First de-limb the downed tree. by using either a short chain or choker cable, attach one end of the snatch cable to the end of the downed tree closest to the road.   Connect the other end to a vehicle on the road which can drag the tree out of the forest.  If the road is the only place you can use a vehicle to pull the log out, then you might need to use a snatch block.

The snatch block is a heavy duty pulley which you can attach to a tree next to the road.  Be sure that tree is a large tree capable of standing against the added pressure. The cable is run thru the snatch block and then connected to the vehicle.  The vehicle is then driven slowly down the road pulling the cable thru the snatch block which pulls the tree out to the road.

8. Safety

Basic rule of thumb:

          A. NEVER CUT FIREWOOD WHEN YOU ARE TIRED! 
          B. ALWAYS HAVE ANOTHER PERSON WITH YOU WHEN CUTTING!

Other important safety measures:

Chainsaw Chaps and Steel-Toed boots - Most accidents that occur while using a chainsaw cause injury to the body from the waist down.  Therefore it is most important to use chainsaw chaps and boots with steel-toed shields.

Protective Helmets - Before cutting a tree down always observe the upper part of the tree for the presence of a “widow maker”.  A widow maker is any upper part of a tree that is so fragile from decay or some previous damage that it could break and fall causing serious injury or even death to the tree cutter below. This is why it is very important to wear a helmet for protection when cutting a tree down.

Ear Protection - The loud sound of a chainsaw WILL cause the loss of hearing to unprotected ears.  Therefore it is imperative to wear some kind of ear protection devices.  Ear protection devices can be purchased from home improvement stores.  Ear protection devices used while shooting firearms is a very good way to protect ones ears and can sometimes be priced quite reasonably at stores that sell firearms.

Eye and Face Protection - Wood chips being thrown while cutting with a chainsaw can
cause injury to the face and eyes, even loss of eye sight. There are chainsaw helmets that have face, eye and ear protection devices attached to them and are usually available at chainsaw dealers.

  • Dave says:

    Thanks for the chart. I can recommend the Echo Timberwolf CS 590. I have run a Stihl Wood Boss for years and it still performs. Bought the Echo a couple of years ago for Christmas. Now my wife can help as she wanted. The Wood Boss is now hers. Great features and a magnesium crankcase on the Echo. An upgrade from the original safety chain on the Stihl made a big difference. The second saw is a major plus when I decide to get my bar pinched.

    • Nick Meissner says:

      Hi Dave, Thanks for sharing that. I have heard very good things about Echo chainsaws. And I totally agree about upgrading to a more professinoal skip tooth chain instead of the stock safety chain. Cuts quicker. It's always a good idea to wear chainsaw chaps whenever possible. Thanks again!

  • dsb says:

    I did not see locust on the firewood list. It should be. Burns hot and long. Also, check out the "Logmatic" firewood splitter. Better than a maul.

  • 3tactical says:

    1overran

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