Gathering Fire Wood…

Although the last two winters have been short, dry and warm, we still need to prepare for the “cold” months, just in case they live up to their name.

For the past three years we have gathered cotton wood from our dry creek bed and everything from elm to locust and cedar from the local wood waste sites.  All good and reliable sources for free (minus the labor of cutting and stacking) heat!

This weekend a friend and fellow, local, off-gridder delivered a pile of pine scrap to our driveway.  He gathered it from another gentleman in town who builds with it.

Our favorite wood to burn has traditionally been cottonwood.  It’s soft, light weight, easy to season and split.   It also does well in our stove for several reasons.The stove pipe in the pictures above contains 3 years of creosote build-up-not bad at all.  We owe that, in most part, to burning low-resin/dry wood like cottonwood and elm.  That’s the first advantage to cottonwood-the second is the heat it produces.

Cotton wood produces a reasonable amount of heat for our small space; 10′ x 20′ and 12′ at the peak.  Because it’s so light weight we don’t have to worry about over firing the stove.

In contrast using a wood like pine which has lots of resin will produce a lot of heat in a wood stove and can be, if not dried well, a bit concerning because of sparking, popping and the amount and speed of creosote build up.Drying pine out, or seasoning it, follows the same process as all woods–cut it and stack it where it can be rained, wind, and sunned upon for at least 6 months before use.  For wetter wood, like elm, it can take up to a year for it to be ready to use.  

In the case of our newly gathered pine, we needed to stack it differently because it’s been milled and is flat.  Stacking it with no space would not allow it to dry and could result in it rotting in the little rain we get.

As a solution, my husband decided to create these smart (and nice looking) stacks.  Air flow is allowed and the elements we want, rain, sun and wind can get to most of the wood’s surfaces.  

We usually have our first freeze by the end of October-so for this pile, we are behind the curve-it will however be ready by the coldest part of our season, January and February.
We will use pine this winter for the first time in our stove, but not exclusively.  The best use of it will be to mix it with our other woods to create a more balanced fire.  The pine can quickly get the fire going-which is important.  Often when welcome home during the coldest part of the winter it will be sub 40F in the shed and in the mornings, the same.  Having a way to raise the temperature in our space by a few degrees quickly will be nice.

As always, it’s all an experiment and we shall see how this one works out!

Up next:  Volgerzang refurbing!


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