Heating with Wood

Story and photo by John Adamski

Winter weather set in early this year, with a 12-inch snowfall showing up at my place on Friday, November 16. The onset of wintry weather made me feel especially grateful that my woodshed is filled with dry, split and seasoned hardwood. I feed twelve face cords of firewood into two woodstoves every winter – one in my great room and the other in my basement.

I’ve been heating with firewood for more than 45 years and I enjoy cutting and splitting it myself. I start by cleaning up any deadfall in my woods or by knocking down the few remaining white ash trees that are on their last leg of life. All species of ash trees are dying at an alarming rate due to an invasive insect known as an Emerald Ash Borer, which was first discovered in the United States in 2002. The ½-inch long beetle lays its eggs under the bark and its larvae slowly kills the tree by creating a system of feeding tunnels that meander between the bark and the cambium layer and eventually stop the flow of nutrients and water. D-shaped holes in the bark of an ash tree are evidence that the tree is infected. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued restrictions on moving firewood and wood products made from ash. Current regulations, which are periodically updated, can be found on the agency’s website.

Last February, I undertook a bit of timber management and had some selective logging done in my woods, which left me with a number of hardwood treetops to cut and split into firewood. I like to season my firewood for at least a year to ensure that it is dry enough to burn. Some wood like red oak may take a bit longer.

After bucking and splitting the logs into 20-inch lengths, I stack the pieces in the woods, uncovered, to begin drying. Toward the end of summer, I move them into my woodshed where they can continue to dry. If you buy firewood, look for checks and cracks in the end grain that will indicate proper seasoning. If the bark falls off by itself, that’s a better sign yet. The pieces shouldn’t be excessively heavy and the loose bark makes great kindling.

Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t hurt to stack firewood outside uncovered. It will actually dry faster that way. I always stack mine with the bark side up. That way, surface water runs off and evaporates quickly. The goal is to dry the moisture content from within the wood itself. Once snow is in the forecast, however, it’s a good idea to cover the top of the woodpile only, leaving the sides open so that air can move through. A face cord is a pile of 16-inch lengths stacked 4-feet high and 8-feet long. A full cord is three times that.

For 40 years, I split all of my firewood by hand, using a 6-pound splitting maul. But I bought a 22-ton gasoline-powered hydraulic wood splitter four years ago and I’ve never looked back. It has never failed me—even on the hardest hard maple and stringiest hickory trees in the woods.

John has been a published writer/photographer for 40 years and is a 4-time award-winning member of New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Two of those awards were for these "Life in the Finger Lakes" articles: Plight of the White Deer and From the Brink of Extinction.

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