Collected firewood wisdom

swmn

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Looking for your good ideas too. Relatively new wood burner here, my previous experience in Kentucky and North Carolina counts as heating with wood in Alaska during September and October.

I am going to share what I have learned the hard way, but I am really hoping to learn from you.

1. Get at least a year ahead on the firewood stash. I can buy a cord of wood as standing timber from the the state for ten bucks. If I fell it in September, split in January and season it all summer I am good to go twelve months after felling. A cord of wood that really is 20% or less moisture content costs way more than 10 bucks on craigslist.

2. Tarps suck. God bless my loving wife for allowing me to build a wood shed.

3. Wood really does split very easily at 40 below. What isn't usually included in that observation is the fact you have to be outdoors in 40 below weather to take advantage of the property. I am willing to work a little harder at -10 to -20 because I can stand to be out in it quite a bit longer.

4. Now that I am a year ahead, I plan to stay a year ahead. Splitting at -20 is way easier than splitting at +60. All I have to do in the summer is get my logs and rounds in. Since I am a year ahead I can wait and split the rounds when it's easy in the wintertime.

5. Spend the $30 on a moisture meter if you are going to buy "seasoned" wood from some random dude on craigslist.

6. My jury is still out on "striping", but it looks like a winner. What I have been doing with branches under 4" in diameter is cutting a "stripe" through the bark with the tip of my chainsaw while the branch is still on the tree. Once it is striped, then I cut it into stove lengths, throw it on the wood pile without splitting it and it looks like I won't have to split those little guys to have them ready for next winter.

7. Poplar, handy in the shoulder seasons for taking the chill off the room, but it makes a lot of ash. They don't call it "gopher wood" for nothing, as in stick a log in the stove and "gopher" another one. Also very plentiful in the public use cutting areas, usually close to the road too. I like having maybe 20-25% of my wood pile for next winter as poplar, I use it both in shoulder seasons, and also to keep a good bed of coals in the stove if the house is too hot to load the stove up with birch again just yet.

I do have some questions.

How long is spruce "good" once it is split? I have some spruce split in March 2013 that I am burning now in January 2014. According to my moisture meter it is sitting at 14-16%MC, it smells vaguely of turpentine and it is burning great. Will it be any good next winter, or do I need to make a point to burn it all this winter?

Whats a really good way to tell if a standing birch is worth felling? I look for lots of the green moss that looks like a beard, one or maybe two lumps of conch-fungus tops, and listen carefully while whacking the living snot out of the standing tree with a baseball bat. If it passes all three tests I got about a 75% chance of felling a birch with good solid heartwood, but I still get rotted out heartwood a quarter of the time.

More to come, I have learned a bit about stacking this year but I don't have pictures ready to post.

Please chip in. I am experienced enough to realize I am not expert.
 

iofthetaiga

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How long is spruce "good" once it is split? I have some spruce split in March 2013 that I am burning now in January 2014. According to my moisture meter it is sitting at 14-16%MC, it smells vaguely of turpentine and it is burning great. Will it be any good next winter, or do I need to make a point to burn it all this winter?

Whats a really good way to tell if a standing birch is worth felling? I look for lots of the green moss that looks like a beard, one or maybe two lumps of conch-fungus tops, and listen carefully while whacking the living snot out of the standing tree with a baseball bat. If it passes all three tests I got about a 75% chance of felling a birch with good solid heartwood, but I still get rotted out heartwood a quarter of the time.

More to come, I have learned a bit about stacking this year but I don't have pictures ready to post.

Please chip in. I am experienced enough to realize I am not expert.
Spruce, (or birch, or poplar) Will remain "good" pretty much forever, provided it's split and put up out of the weather to dry, before any rot has a chance to start. If you keep it dry it'll still be good 50 years from now.

Birch, and it's associated microbes which cause it to "rot" so quickly are a really cool dynamic. It's all about moisture, and birch bark is really amazing stuff; very much like cork in it's ability to contain or exclude moisture. Once you fell a birch, you need to get it bucked, split and stacked out of the weather so it can dry ASAP, or it will rot FAST. If you drop a birch and leave it on the ground, bucked or not, it will rot in a year. BUT, you can drop a birch and unzip the bark as you described by scoring the bark with a saw along the top of the full length of the log, and you can leave it lay on the ground for 3 years and it won't rot one iota (at least here in the interior). The bark will peel itself open and lie flat against the ground and very effectively protect the log from ground moisture while allowing it to air dry pretty quickly and efficiently. Even through a couple years of rain and snow that log will cure dry and hard! The key to preserving birch is to get it opened up as fast as possible and deprive those rot inducing microbes of the perpetually moist petri dish environment they need to thrive.

Rot-wise, popular is somewhere in between. Leave it on the ground and exposed to ground moisture, and it will rot pretty fast too, tho not quite as fast as birch, but much faster than spruce. Get it bucked, split, and stacked under a roof, and it will dry quick and be fine wood too. Popular gets poo-poo'd by lots of folks, but the fact is that it has close to the same BTU value as spruce, usually holds a fire about as long in the stove, and isn't resinous, so it doesn't put as much creosote up the chimney. Performance-wise, I think the difference between poplar and spruce is a toss up.

One year drying time is ok, but 2 years (at least 2 summers) is best. The caloric value of spruce doubles with two years drying time.
 

Skrap

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Geez fellas. Just learnt something today. Good info. And I thought I knew a bit about wood and burning, etc. Thanks.
 

outaMT

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For sure! Good info regarding the Birch. Thanks Taiga.
 

NRick

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Here's what a guy approaching 80 years old told me: "Cut the trees far away from your cabin while you are young. Save the ones close by for when you get old."
 

Cresent Hills

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It is standing wood, he has to cut, haul and split... basically the same wood we get for free around here.

When he is done, I be he would charge $250 too...

I can buy a cord of wood as standing timber from the the state for ten bucks.

A cord for $10? Here a cord runs $200-$250 a cord. Come here and get rich!
 

Daveinthebush

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I always split so I have 6-8" squares and leave the edges as starter wood and light burnings. In the heat of the winter I burn the squares as they fit in the stove better. Squares help with the stacking too. Especially on the ends as they don't roll out easily.

Lots of good advice here. Doing things right helps prevent things like chimney fires and poor burning.

Here is a tip for cold weather. My friend always has ash blow back at her when she opens the wood stove door. Chilly, chilly Wyoming. So I told her to just crack the door for about 2-3 minutes letting the warm air move up the stack before opening the door fully. Problem solved. Problem was, cold air sinks and the cold air in the stack was sinking down the flu blowing the ash back.
 

pacific23

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Wish I could bring up some hard wood to guys. Here is my buddy Scott on the splitter [I took the shot with my cell] popping some Black Jack Oak, we found some dead standing in my back yard and started working it last weekend.
 

swmn

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I found a piece of birch a lot of folks would leave behind as I am getting wood for next winter split and stacked. I zipped or striped it still on the felled striped.jpg tree, impossible to split may not be dry enough to burn in one year, but some day this sucker is going in the stove.
 

bkmail

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Didn't know about the zip strip on the birch, appreciate the info.
We burn whatever I can get and heat exclusively with wood at the house and the cabin as well.
I'm always on the hunt for free wood and its getting tougher each year in the valley area to locate any.
BK
 

swmn

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Birch, and it's associated microbes which cause it to "rot" so quickly are a really cool dynamic. It's all about moisture, and birch bark is really amazing stuff; very much like cork in it's ability to contain or exclude moisture. Once you fell a birch, you need to get it bucked, split and stacked out of the weather so it can dry ASAP, or it will rot FAST.

After I had this winter's wood up I harvested some more birch in September 2013, looking to have them ready to burn in September 2014. I got the logs bucked into 16" rounds where they fell, and then stacked the rounds beside my house. Splitting them open now (Jan 2014) I am not seeing any rot in the solid rounds. I can't say for sure if the ones that already had center rot got a lot worse or only a little worse - but I am leaning towards only a little worse.

However, that was pretty late September, probably the average round in that pile was felled less than a month before the first freeze. If I am going for birch in maybe July or August do you suppose it would be advisable to unzip the bark before I buck the log to maybe buy a little time before the first freeze?
 

Daveinthebush

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Cutting in the late fall or winter there is less moisture content in the wood. Birch has a resin in the bark making it pretty much water proof. So a downed log rots from the inside out usually. If you have it bucked up already, it should not rot as fast if at all.

I have one place I can get Alder up to 8" or so. Cut in the winter and dried a year it burns pretty good. A standing dead Cottonwood with the bark off is some pretty good burning stuff. Burns like Poplar, splits easily and can be burned the day it is harvested. 90% if what I burn is standing dead.
 

swmn

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I went to the Firewood Symposium at UAF on Feb 9, 2014. Co-sponsored by CCHRC @ UAF and the Yukon Chapter of the American Forester's Association.

Lots of good stuff, though aimed primarily at folks thinking about buying their first wood stove.

One thing I finally understand is the difference between dry basis and wet basis when talking about the moisture content of wood.

Imagine a log that weighs five pounds. It actually holds one pound of water and four pounds of cellulose.

If you compare the one pound of water to the weight of the entire log (five pounds) the wood is 20% MC, wet basis.

Same log, if you compare the one pound of water to the weight of just the wood (four pounds), the wood is 25% MC, dry basis.

In general battery operated moisture meters measure dry basis, but there can be quite a bit of variability between tree species. In general, when wood stove mfr's specify 16-20% MC, they are talking about wet basis.
 

swmn

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I am going to take a quick stab at stove efficiency.

Imagine you stick 10,000BTUs worth of wood in a stove. The stove is setup in a room or shed or what have you for a test chamber. You measure the air temperature in the chamber. You light the stove. You measure the air temperature while the stove is running. You know how many times the door to the chamber got opened during the burn, and on and on, the engineering specs runs dozens of pages on these things, but at the end you can say the stove delivered 7000 BTUs to the test chamber. So 70% efficient, right?

Thats the HHV or High Heat Value efficiency.

But, you know how much water was in that 10k BTUs of wood. And you can calculate how many BTUs it took to evaporate all the water so you can burn all the wood.

Arbitrarily to make the math easy, it took 1500 BTUs of the available 10k to evaporate the water, so really you only had 8500BTUs available to heat the test chamber, the stove delivered 7000 of them, so 7000/ 8500 = 82.35% efficiency (LHV) for the same burn, same stove, same test chamber.
 

iyouktug

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SWMN, why wait to split the wood and keep it in rounds, it only takes a few hours to split any time of the year, might as well get it split and put in the shed.

Iofthetaiga, why zip the birch bark off? That is why burning birch is in such demand is because of the bark it makes the logs easy to burn. From now on just cover your birch so you don't have to trouble yourself zipping the bark off those precious logs.

And as far as seasoning your wood,..everyone needs to relax. Spruce is dry enough when cut that it doesent need to be seasoned in order to burn, and birch is far better with some moisture in the wood because it will burn longer, as long as you know how to operate your wood stove properly you will see.
 

BTK

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SWMN, why wait to split the wood and keep it in rounds, it only takes a few hours to split any time of the year, might as well get it split and put in the shed. Iofthetaiga, why zip the birch bark off? That is why burning birch is in such demand is because of the bark it makes the logs easy to burn. From now on just cover your birch so you don't have to trouble yourself zipping the bark off those precious logs. And as far as seasoning your wood,..everyone needs to relax. Spruce is dry enough when cut that it doesent need to be seasoned in order to burn, and birch is far better with some moisture in the wood because it will burn longer, as long as you know how to operate your wood stove properly you will see.
I think taiga actually has a good grasp on firewood knowledge. Learn to control your stove and you will appreciate dry wood. I have not cleaned my chimney since October. With our warm year I actually had to use a lighter three times this winter. If I could, I would never burn birch bark. My tip, split birch before it dries.
 

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