Ready or Not #17: Wood Storage

A couple of years ago my friend called me and asked, “What kind of wood are you burning?” I thought that it was an odd question. But I asked my husband what we were burning and he said peach wood. After I told her, she started laughing and said that she had driven around the block three times with her car windows rolled down, in the middle of winter, because it smelled so good.

She was right. It did smell good and, even more important than that, it kept my entire house warm. Some nights I burned apple, or pine, or “I don’t know”, and peach – like on the night my friend called. She was lucky that my husband was home because for me most of the woods are in the “I don’t know” category, except pine. I can usually tell pine pretty easy by its shape – 2×4, smooth, no bark. Just kidding. Actually, I’m pretty good at picking out apple wood because there is nothing better than slow grilling a good steak over a smoky apple wood fire. Yum.

I want to talk about alternative fuels for the next few weeks, starting with wood and wood storage. An alternative heating source is vital during the winter months. In our first house, we had a fireplace insert and it saved us several times. Not just with heating bills, but literally with keeping us warm when the power went out in the middle of a very cold winter. A transformer was knocked out in Nevada and it affected most of Utah, and two other states, for the majority of the day. I also cooked our meals on top of the insert during that crisis. It was a lot of fun. I had another experience where I didn’t have a back up heating source and it wasn’t pleasant at all.

Part of using wood to heat and cook with, is getting it started. You can use crumpled newspaper, kindling, commercial starter sticks, OR my cheap, easy to start method. First, you need to buy a dozen eggs in a cardboard container and save your lint from the dryer. You will also need some paraffin wax or, what I use is old, doesn’t-really-have-much-of-a-scent-anymore candles.

Stuff a fair amount of lint in each of the little cardboard cups, melt the wax, and liberally drizzle it all over the lint and cardboard. Let the wax cool and harden. These make wonderful fire starters. They cost nothing to make because you have all of the necessary items by default.

These little starters are great for starting fires in your stove or insert, backyard fires, or for Boy Scout campfires. If traveling with them, tear off as many as you think you need and put them in a water proof plastic bag so that they will travel well and stay dry. They will start the most stubborn of fires.

When you are buying wood, it is usually sold by the cord. A cord of wood, properly stacked, measures four feet wide by four feet high by eight feet long. A “face-cord” isn’t really a cord, but is a pile that measures only four feet high by eight feet long and is generally only the width of whatever the wood has been cut, probably about 12” to two feet.

If you are paying for a cord of wood, make sure that it is a true cord. It is also a good idea if you stack the pile yourself because if the wood is stacked haphazardly you could be getting a smaller load than expected. A ½ ton pickup will hold approximately 1/3 of a cord.

It is important to have both softwoods and hard woods when burning in your stove or fireplace. The softwoods, like pine, start quickly, but they also burn faster. Hard woods, like any fruit tree or ash, takes longer to start burning, but it burns hot and lasts longer. To start a really good fire, stack it correctly by putting softwood on the bottom with some hard wood on top. Make sure that it is stacked loosely so that there is enough oxygen around the wood that you are trying to light (that is why you stack the wood like a teepee or other loose frame buildings). The softwood will burn long enough to get the hard woods going and will give you a very satisfying and hot fire.

Store your wood in a covered area. It is important to keep the water and snow off of the wood that you want to burn. Wood needs to be dry to burn efficiently, effectively, and without a lot of smoke. We’ve all heard tales of having to “go out behind the wood shed.” That was because wood really was stored in a shed, or at least a small lean-to with a roof and a couple of walls to protect the wood.

It is also important to keep wood dry so that it won’t rot. Make sure that the wood isn’t stored directly on the dirt. This will help to stop the decay and it will also help keep some insects out of your pile.

Check out the following wood table that I found in the Readers Digest “Back to Basics” preparedness book. It shows some interesting information about wood and what you can expect with different species. Always season your wood long enough to make sure that it is ready for a fire. Some trees only take six months to cure. Most need 12 months, and others take up to 24 months before it would be advisable to use.

Characteristics of Different Kinds of Firewood
Wood Species Approx. weight of 1 cord (in pounds) Value of Air Drying Resistance to Rot Ease of splitting
Shagbark Hickory 4,200 Little Low Intermediate
Black Locust 4,000 Little High Intermediate
White Oak 3,900 Some High Intermediate
American Beech 3,900 Some Low Difficult
Red Oak 3,600 Some Medium Intermediate
Sugar Maple 3,600 Some Low Intermediate
Yellow Birch 3,600 Some Low Intermediate
White Ash 3,500 Little Low Intermediate
Cherry 2,900 Little High Easy
American Elm 2,900 High Low Difficult
Sycamore 2,800 High Low Difficult
Douglas Fir 2,800 Variable Medium Easy
Eastern Red Cedar 2,700 Variable High Easy
Tulip (yellow poplar) 2,400 High Medium Easy
Hemlock 2,300 High Low Easy
White Pine 2,100 Variable Medium Easy
Basswood 2,100 High Low Easy
Cottonwood 1,900 High Low Intermediate

Technically you need to have two years worth of wood stored in order to say that you have a year’s supply of wood – one year’s worth that is dry and ready to burn and one year’s worth that is in the process of drying. It is hard to say how much you really need because it all depends on how often you fire up your fireplace or stove, how much hard or soft wood you are using, and if the wood is fully cured.

Final thought. If you are going to store your wood, don’t store it on the ground, put it in a place that is easy to access, make sure that it is covered and I would advise you to not store it in a garage that is attached to your house because of the fire danger. Safety firs –t and happy heating.

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