For a good number of people in our area, gathering firewood to heat the home or to burn recreationally in a fireplace or fire pit is an annual event. There is something very satisfying about backing your hind end up to a fire to get warm. Here are a few things to think about before you hit the woods or purchase firewood.
Try to keep a year ahead on your firewood cutting to give it time to dry out. Well-seasoned firewood will give off more heat than green wood. Another problem with unseasoned wood is that it can cause more creosote buildup in your chimney, which can lead to dangerous chimney fires. Store firewood in the dry, which can be as simple as a sheet of plastic stapled to the top of the wood stack, or as elaborate as a covered woodshed. Again, dry wood give you more heat per chunk.
There has been a lot written about what is the best wood to burn. While it is true that some types like oak and hickory have more heat value than others, the bottom line is that all wood, when properly seasoned, will burn. Rather than looking for specific woods to burn, it would be more beneficial to look at each tree’s condition and value and use cutting firewood as an opportunity to remove diseased, damaged, or deformed trees from your woodlot. This will make room for desirable trees to grow healthy and at a faster rate. What trees are desirable is a personal choice, and could be based on the tree’s value as timber, wildlife food source, or visual appeal. State forestry agencies are available to assist forest landowners with keeping their trees healthy and valued, so give them a call to see if they can give you a lesson in selecting trees to cut or leave.
Make safety your number one priority when cutting firewood. Putting several tons of tree on the ground has its hazards, so take all the precautions. Wear proper clothing, including a hardhat, eye protection, work boots, and gloves. Keep your brain on red alert at all times, and look every situation over twice before you lay the saw to the wood. Properly done, gathering firewood is hard but satisfying work. Being careless can make it tragic. Let’s be careful out there.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.