Owning wooded acreage affords the opportunity to select and chop your own firewood...either for your own home or as a side business. Forester and land owner, Jim Mize, shares his tips on the best types of firewood and the value and pleasure of cutting your own .
Henry Ford is often credited with the phrase, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” The concept was popular earlier and a number of writers have summarized it in their own words. I can only add to it by attesting to its truth.
Forestry school helped me appreciate the character of trees. We studied them, planted them, and harvested them for various purposes. In our third year, we spent a month in camp cutting pulpwood for the state. Somewhere in that month of free labor was some education.
During college, I had a friend who heated with wood so we spent many fall afternoons cutting and stacking wood for the winter. It was pleasant work; the dry fall leaves crunched underfoot between the chainsaw’s roar and the thump of an ax. Early into the activity, we were peeling layers to balance the heat we generated with the cool afternoon.
We cut many kinds of trees, all dead and dry, and learned the nature of grain in wood
Cut a sweetgum and you might as well plan on burning whole logs. The grains intermingle and bind to themselves preventing any split. Swing an ax into a sweetgum log and it may bounce off.
Hickories are much the same. The grains weave through the log in such a way that if you do split it, the resulting stick may well be curved.
Chop pines or poplars and you can split the logs easily and the sticks fall out straight, but the heat value causes you to split more.
For my taste, a red oak is as fine a firewood as you can offer.
Later, I moved to the South and my first house was in the country.
An old red oak was dead and leaning over a small creek, so I cut it before it fell on my neighbor’s property. Of course, it fell downhill on uneven ground so after cutting logs into firewood length I then had to move them uphill to begin the job of splitting them.
The old oak consisted mostly of trunk, with a girth I couldn’t reach around. It was a fall and winter project so after each quail hunt I dedicated a few hours to rolling the round cuts of the trunk to a flat spot where I could swing an ax.
I had a speed-chopping ax from a forestry classmate who competed in the event during forestry school.
He was a lineman on the college football team so he had the muscle to drive the ax deep into a log. I lacked his strength, but found the broad edge and heavy head on the ax did its work when I dropped it precisely where it needed to fall.
Steadily, my stack of wood drying in the backyard grew in length and height. Seeing the pile grow felt like watching a bank account increase. We were investing in sweat equity to spend our efforts when winter came. Few chores seem as rewarding as cutting firewood; at the end of the day, you can see the result of your work.
We bought a fireplace insert with a blower to heat our house. That one tree lasted the winter. When storms hit and we lost power, we never lost heat. A pale wisp of smoke rose from our chimney as the fire burned hot with little ash. A teapot whistled on top of the fireplace insert, humidifying the house during the dry winter.
Dead trees serve many purposes in a forest. They are home and habitat to wild creatures that nest and rest in their nooks and crannies. Still, I doubt they miss the occasional oak taken for good intent.
Chopping your own wood can warm you twice.