Last week I spoke about the use of firewood as a source of household fuel. This week I will continue with this topic. I’ll start by defining some nebulous terms associated with trees in general.
“Hardwoods” are simply defined as deciduous trees and the term has little to do with the “hardness” or actual density of the wood itself. Softwoods are conifers, but their wood can be much harder than some hardwoods, such as willow, lime or poplar. Some softwoods, such as pine or red cedar, produce a lot of smoke and also produce sparks from the pockets of resin. Robinia is a hardwood that burns very hot, but it often has pockets of vapor in the wood which explode and produce sparks. It is not a good choice for fireplaces unless there is a solid screen to block the sparks.
The moisture content of any species of wood affects the combustion characteristics. The hardwood species that contains the least water, while still alive, is ash. Right now there is an abundance of ash firewood in New York City, as many of our ash trees have succumbed to the emerald ash borer. If you are desperate for firewood, you can cut some white ash and burn it a little green, but trying to burn hickory or very green oak will often put out your fire. A 16 pound bolt (a bolt is a small log) of red green oak (freshly cut) can be eight inches in diameter and perhaps fifteen inches long. It will weigh twice as much as a well-seasoned (dry) piece of the same size.
Imagine a gallon of water or milk and consider that a single sixteen inch bolt will hold that much water inside. Before the wood in the log starts to burn and produce those BTUs, that whole gallon of water has to be boiled. It takes about a thousand BTUs to evaporate one pound of water.
Sometimes dead elms stand for years, providing almost instant, dry firewood. Unfortunately, elm is the most difficult wood to split, and it really isn’t very dense. Unless you have access to a log splitter, forget to split the elm by hand. Ash wood that is straight without many knots is perhaps the easiest wood to split, but any wood with many knots or several branches can be difficult. There was a time when I would chop all my firewood by hand, with a maul (sometimes called a “go devil”) or with steel wedges, but now I have neither the inclination nor the stamina for it. To do. In recent years, I’ve only cut trees small enough in diameter that I don’t need to split them.
I don’t have to burn as much wood as I once did, since I’m spending five months in the heat of Florida. I can now get by at home with maybe a facial cord, which is defined as a single, neatly stacked row that is four feet high by eight feet long, but can be anywhere from twelve inches to twenty-four inches wide. .
If you are buying firewood, make sure you and the seller specify full or front bead volumes. Chimneys in Florida are for the show, not for survival. It is OK for me. After breathing wood smoke fumes for over forty winters, I think I’ll be a little healthier if I give it up.
Breathing wood fumes, loaded with carcinogens and particles, is not the only drawback of heating with wood. No one who lives in a suburban area should ever consider burning wood as their primary source of home heating. Even outdoor wood-fired furnaces greatly pollute the ambient air and in my opinion, they should be banned in any suburban area. I don’t think people, especially children, should be exposed to wood smoke while waiting for the school bus each morning.
Wood stoves are also responsible for chimney fires which can threaten the entire life of a family. Wood stoves require a dedicated chimney and require frequent inspections and maintenance by professionals. Firewood is dirty, often enters your home with all kinds of insects living there, and leaves distinct smells inside that many people find objectionable.
Cutting down trees and turning them into firewood is one of the most dangerous things a person can do. This is because people who work as a lumberjack pay the highest workers compensation rate in America.
The cost and maintenance of a chainsaw and associated woodworking tools are also quite significant. A wood splitter, chainsaw, leg warmers, helmet, oil, gas, and other assorted tools far exceed the cost of the stove itself. Think carefully before you decide to try and save money by burning wood this winter.