Firewood – Buying, Producing and Storing
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As November draws to a close, Henderson County is finally getting some cooler temperatures. This is good news for people who have fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. They can finally enjoy a warm, crackling fire in the evenings snuggled up with a book or their significant other.
Part of the fun of having a fireplace or a wood-burning stove is obtaining and chopping wood. OK, I know some people wouldn’t classify chopping wood as entertainment but some of us might. I love to get outside on a cold winter day with a sharp double-edged axe and split wood. Making those bigger pieces of firewood smaller can cause a man to end up in short sleeves in a snowstorm! As my old Grandpappy used to say, “Firewood warms you twice: once when you cut it and once when you burn it”.
So, what is the proper way to split firewood? What are the safety procedures you should use to assure you don’t end up spending your holidays laid up with stitches in your shin? How do you best preserve the wood so that it will be ready to burn when you need it? Let’s answer these questions.
First, we’ll talk about the proper way to split wood. We won’t get into cutting trees as only experienced chainsaw operators should try cutting trees. I suggest purchasing rounds (wood that is still intact) or quarters (rounds that have been split into four pieces) of some hardwood, preferably oak or hickory. These trees are straight grained and split easily. Sweetgum and elm, on the other hand, have interlocking grains and are difficult to split.
Make sure the wood has been cured for at least a year if not two. Cured wood is dry and splits much easier than green wood. If splitting rounds, you will need a maul, which is essentially a really heavy, thick bladed axe. This instrument looks like the progeny of an axe and a sledgehammer. One end is sharp while the other is relatively flattened. When tackling a particularly stubborn round, you can slam the sharper edge into the wood and use a sledgehammer on the flattened end to drive it through. For splitting smaller pieces, I recommend a simple axe.
Safety is of primary concern when using wood splitting equipment. An axe can cripple a careless user so staying alert is very important. Do not split wood if you have been drinking! You are sure to end up with a hospital trip if you do. Wear safety equipment such as safety glasses, gloves, shin guards, and steel-toed boots. Keep your tools sharpened to a working edge not a razor edge. A working edge wouldn’t cut you if you drew you finger across it but a razor’s edge would slice your foot off if you hit it.
Firewood is usually bought and sold in cord measures. In many states firewood regulations requires firewood to be advertised and sold in full or fractional cord lots except when sold in individual bundles of less than 4 cubic feet and sold “as is.” A standard cord is a stack 4 feet long by 4 feet high and 8 feet wide (4 x 4 x 8) for a volume of 128 cubic feet.
When buying firewood, be sure to confirm that the wood has been seasoned for at least one year. Green wood that has not been seasoned will not burn efficiently and will cause creosote buildup in the chimney. Inspect your wood to make sure it is not heavy with excess water or infested with fungus.
Whether you purchase rounds or split wood, storage is very important in keeping it dry and solid. Wood should never be stored where it might contact the soil because there are all sorts of wood decomposing fungi and insects that live in soil. These organisms will cause your wood to rot and it will not last long. Stack the wood on some sort of material or structure that elevates the wood. Keep wood dry by covering the top of the stack with some material such as roofing or plastic. The sides will not need to be covered.
Finally, be sure to get your chimney inspected annually and have it cleaned when needed.