They say firewood warms you 4 times; when you cut it, when you split it, when you stack it and finally when you burn it. There is nothing easy about gathering your own firewood but with a full woodshed, there is a sense that you’re ready to take on whatever winter can throw at you. The best word to describe this feeling might be “satisfaction”. For those of us that take on the challenge, the feeling is well understood. In this article, we will discuss the basic considerations of gathering your own firewood, from start to finish.
Not all firewood is equal. Ideally you want wood that burns hot and clean for a decent length of time. What you don’t want is firewood that produces low heat, heaps of soot and ash and leaves you with a fire box that needs emptying out every second day. In saying this, the expression “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind. Most of us will take what we can get, but if you’re lucky enough to have a choice here are some things to consider:
Hardwoods are high-density woods. They burn hot and clean for a long period of time. A negative is that they need a lot of heat to burn and therefore they are not as easy to use to start a fire with. Hardwoods also generally take longer to dry. Some popular hardwoods in New Zealand are Gum and Eucalypt.
As opposed to hardwoods, softwoods are low-density woods. They generally burn cooler and dirtier. You will still get warmth, but just not as much as from hardwoods. In addition, you typically get more soot and a larger amount of ash left over in the firebox, which means you will need to clean it out more often. In saying this, there are some softwoods that burn clean, such as very dry Pine.
Another thing to think about is that softwoods also generally burn fast, this means you will go through your woodpile more quickly (another reason why you will need to empty out the firebox often). A positive for softwoods is that they are easier to light due to the lower heat requirement for combustion. Some of the popular softwoods in New Zealand are Standard Pine, Old Pine and Macrocarpa.
A blend of hard and soft firewood is often the best as the two complement each other very well. One of the challenges of using only hardwood is that it can be difficult to start the fire or to keep it burning hot, by using a blend, the soft wood will help make the starting easier and the hardwoods will keep the fire pumping out heat all night.
GREEN OR DEAD WOOD
When selecting your wood to cut up, it is helpful to know if it is green (alive / wet) or dead (dry / damp). As this will have an impact on how long it takes to dry before you can use it in the fire, wet firewood is not good for burning. When using dead wood check how rotten or bug eaten it is, buring rotten wood can produce a horrible odor, it might also contain bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus that can make you sick.
CUTTING UP YOUR FIREWOOD
Having the right tools for the job is essential to getting your wood cut as efficiently as possible.
Selecting the right chainsaw for your firewood job is the first step Learn more about Chainsaw selection here.
Aside from your Chainsaw, STIHL have a wide range of wood handling accessories such as Hookaroons and Felling Levers. These can help reduce the effort and save your back when handling or moving timber, these accessories are worth looking into if you do a lot of Chainsaw work.
FELLING A TREE
If you need to drop your tree before cutting it into firewood, World Champion Tree Climber Mark Chisholm is here to take you through the process of felling a tree with a Chainsaw.
SAWING A LOG ON THE GROUND
- 1. If the tree trunk is on firm ground, you can cut it to length where it is. However, before you start sawing, make sure it cannot roll away. Small pieces of wood can be used to hold it in place.
- 2. Saw about three-quarters of the way through the trunk, this prevents you from cutting into the ground with the Chainsaw – cutting into the dirt will blunt your chain, one accidental bite of the dirt is all it takes. You can learn more about chainsaw sharpening and recognising signs of a dull saw chain here. Move along the trunk cutting at an even spacing of around 30 cm.
- 3. Turn the trunk over. You can do this it by hand, with your foot or with a felling lever.
- 4. Check that the trunk cannot roll away and wedge it if necessary. Saw through the remaining parts of the trunk at each of the sawn sections.
Chainsaws can be dangerous if not used correctly. Learn more about Safe Chainsaw Operation here..
SAWING FIREWOOD ON A DIY SUPPORT
If the surface your log is on is not stable, a DIY support could be a good solution. This protects not only your Chainsaw, but also your back as you will be working off the ground. Here’s our step-by-step instructions to creating your own support and using it to cut your log into firewood:
- 1. Saw a V-shaped groove into a small piece of trunk. The groove should be the same width as the tree trunk you want to cut into firewood.
- 2. Make sure the support is stable then place the trunk on it. Hand lifting tongs might be useful here. Check if the trunk is stable, wedge it in place if not.
- 3. Saw slowly through the trunk for a clean cut. Watch out for where the sawn-off part falls so it doesn’t fall on your feet!
- 4. Keep repositioning the trunk and repeat the process.
SPLITTING THE WOOD WITH A CHAINSAW
So you will now have several smaller lengths which will be more manageable. But unless you have a very big fireplace, these lengths now need to be split into smaller pieces as the diameter will be too large to fit into your fire. Splitting the firewood is also a helpful step in the drying process.
How small you split the wood down to is entirely up to you but the general rule is small enough to fit comfortably in your fireplace but not too small that each piece burns too fast.
- 1. Place your log horizontally and securely on the ground. Make sure it cannot roll away!
- 2. Cut the log down the middle along its entire length. Don’t cut all the way through the log – this could result in you cutting into the ground and blunting the chain. Leave approximately 5-10 cm of the log intact.
- 3. Prise the log in two using a splitting axe, you can repeat this process until you have your desired size.
SPLITTING THE WOOD WITH AN AXE
If you’re thinking of splitting your firewood with an axe, you might find these tips from the Urban Lumberjack Matt Grace useful.
CUT TO THE RIGHT LENGTH
The typical firebox in a modern fireplace takes 30cm length cuts of wood (larger fireboxes can take up to 40cm). It is therefore really important that you cut your wood consistently to this length. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to stuff lengths that are too long into your fire. Evenly cut wood is also nicer to stack, and dries more evenly.
Before your firewood is ready to go into your fireplace, it needs to be “seasoned” (dried). Stacking your logs in a correct way helps air circulation and aids the drying process.
Safety gear shuold always be part of your essential equipment. Find out more here.
Other than safety gear (PPE), keeping your chain sharp is the most important operational requirement when working with a Chainsaw. Ideally you should sharpen your chain regularly (every second tank of fuel for example). It is much easier to maintain a sharp chain instead of trying to sharpen a blunt chain.