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Making Good Choices About Firewood

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  • Cutting your own wood requires safety and skill
  • Store the wood outdoors, away from the house and off the ground
  • It takes 6 – 9 months for green wood to dry out sufficiently
  • Green wood has more moisture content, smokes more and provides less heat

I have some great memories of cutting firewood back on the dairy farm. With three families using wood to heat in the winter, we had a regular assembly line of activities from felling trees, to cutting and splitting, to hauling and stacking. I must admit I was particularly good at busting the handles out of splitting wedges. No sooner than the guys would replace a handle, I’d over swing on a block of wood and break the splitting head clean off. It just came naturally.

So the cool weather has me thinking ahead about burning wood this winter. If you plan to do a little cutting and splitting this fall, I hope you’ll keep some of these pointers in mind. And if you’re more interested in burning wood than chopping it, remember that all wood is not created equal. Know what you’re paying for and the amount of heat it will deliver this winter.

Cutting wood safely:

  • Because I only use a chainsaw about once a year, before starting, I always check the operating manual for the recommended fuel mixture, choke setting, and throttle control. I also make sure the chain has been sharpened, the oil reservoir if full, and I’m wearing ear and eye protection, gloves, and good sturdy boots.
  • Accurate tree felling takes practice to master. Steps include identifying all the hazards around the tree, determining the height of the tree and the direction it should fall, planning an escape route, making the notch cut, and finally making  the back cut, or felling cut.
  • After the tree is down, remove unwanted branches from the tree. Start limbing from the base of the trunk, working toward the top of the tree. Work slowly and cautiously. Accidents frequently occur during limbing because footing is poor, obstructing branches impair vision, and cause kickback injuries.
Storing wood:
  • Store firewood outdoors. Bring in only what you plan to burn immediately or within a few hours. Storing firewood for extended periods inside the home, garage or basement allows pests developing or hiding in the wood to emerge within the structure.
  • Position the woodpile away from the side of the house and off the ground. Firewood stacked against the side of a building can create a moisture problem and provides a hidden, direct avenue for termites and carpenter ants into the structure. Stacking the wood off the ground (e.g., on poles suspended between concrete blocks), increases air circulation and drying.
  • Burn older wood first to minimize the time during which arthropod infestations can become established.
Burning wood:
  • Firewood from different species or types of trees varies widely in heat content, burning characteristics, and overall quality. In our area, look for oak, locust, hickory, ash, sugar maple and even osage orange. But be particularly careful with osage orange in a fireplace because of its characteristic popping and sparking. This can be a fire hazard if not contained.
  • Wood should be seasoned, or allowed to dry, before using as firewood. This usually takes at least six to nine months of drying time after cutting fresh wood. Burning wood with higher moisture contents produces more smoke and less heat. The smoke produced from burning “green” wood also adds to creosote buildup in chimneys, creating a potential fire hazard.
For additional information, check out our publication on chainsaw operation and tree felling techniques at http://bookstore.ksre.k-state.edu/pubs/MF2103.pdf

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Jessica Barnett
Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent