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Photo *1 -This is a photo of what I consider a “full wheel-barrow load” of wood; ready to be carried into the house and stacked in the wood-bin.  It is a standard 6 cubic foot capacity wheel-barrow.  I split my wood in a wood-splitting area and then haul each wheel-barrow full to the back door.  I calculate that it takes 13-14 of these full loads to equate to one full cord of wood.  Since I started to keep an account of how much wood I burn; the record is 64 of these loads for one complete heating season. This is my winter workout.

Photo #2

Photo #1

Photo #2 -This is a photo of my back door and foyer.  If you heat with wood expect this.  Many people may not want to tolerate the associated mess.  Remember that all of the split wood that you see in this picture started as a tree that I cut, hauled home, split and stacked in the foyer.  I didn’t buy this wood from someone in this state.  Furthermore, I did all of the work necessary to turn my foyer into the wood storage area that you see.  This bin will hold about one and one-third cords of wood or about 18 wheel-barrows full.  During the coldest conditions, this would last about two to three weeks.  Needless to say, I do not let my bin get empty during the winter.  I am constantly splitting wood during the season along with constantly looking for sources of wood

Heating with wood Addendum
By Tim Siewert

As I wrote in my original article, heating with wood is all about efficiency.  While I may not burn every little piece of wood that I gather, nothing goes to waste.  To this, I would like to share with everyone what I do with the byproducts from wood heating.  First of all, I collect all the little wood chips that are produced when splitting wood; these I add to the kindling supply.

Next, the bark: some of the bark I spread out over any garden area.  This does two things.  It adds valuable nutrients to the soil and is good weed control.  The rest of the bark I save for a specific purpose.  All tree bark contains tannic acid.  The amount of acid varies with the species of tree.  Oak bark has a substantial amount of this acid so I save a good portion.  This bark can be used to tan animal skins.  The Native Americans used tree bark along with the brains of the animal and made a solution to accomplish this.  This method is still one of the best ways to tan animal skins.

Even the ash has a few uses.  First of all, the ash can be spread over garden

areas like the bark.  Commercial fertilizer is graded using a series of three

numbers i.e. 2-10-2 (which is a Miracle Grow number).  The third number

in the series is the potash percentage of that product.  Potash  is just another

word for ash produced by burning wood.  Ash can also be used to make a key 

component of black powder; potassium nitrate.  To accomplish this, the ash

must be kept dry; keeping the ash in a metal garbage can works for this. 

Next, add urine to the ash; fecal matter can also be added but is not necessary

it just increases the potassium nitrate quantity produced.  Note: the more

concentrated the urine the more potassium nitrate produced.  As the urine

filters through the ash, potassium nitrate crystals will form.  I learned this

technique from a 1890s vintage college chemistry textbook that I rescued

from a library sale.

Another key component of black powder is charcoal.  Charcoal is nothing more than partially burned wood.  It is maintained by some that willow charcoal is the best for the manufacture of black powder.  I am not sure why.  I theorize though that it may be due to willow wood is fairly porous or that it is relatively light in weight due to its rapid rate of growth.  Also, considering that there are several varieties of willow and I am unsure of which variety is supposed to be the best, I definitely can not say for sure whether or not this is even something for consideration.  I just thought I would pass on the info if someone was interested in doing some research.

The last key component of black powder is sulfur.  Sulfur is available from several sources.  It is actually found in the ground in varying quantities and concentrations almost everywhere.


So there it is; absolutely nothing has to go to waste.  Even pee and poop has value.  Thanks for reading and visit often.

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Heating with Wood by Tim Siewert

A few people have told me that I am “lucky” that I heat with wood.  Well, I am here to tell you that “luck” has nothing to do with it.  Heating with wood is not just an alternative heat source; it is a different way of life.

I have been heating my house exclusively with wood for 15 years now.  Aside from that, I started learning about different species of trees and their characteristics 45 years ago when I was in the Boy Scouts.  Having gone on countless campouts and tending as many campfires while in the Scouts, I learned about fire making, cooking over a fire, and what species of wood worked the best for different types of fires.  This knowledge proved to be beneficial when I started heating with wood.

Most people are of the mistaken impression that all one has to do to heat with wood is to put in a wood stove, or a fireplace, or a wood burning furnace; then load up on firewood.  This is only the beginning; the very beginning.

To begin with, different species of wood produce different amounts of BTUs.  For those of you that do not know, a BTU is a measured unit of heat.  BTU stands for “British Thermal Unit”.  There are charts that have been published that list different species of wood and how many BTUs that each produces per a measurable amount of wood.  But one problem that I have found with these charts is normally, the measured amount used is a “cord” of wood.  Not all “cords” of wood are created equal.  There is a “full” cord and then there is a “face” cord.  So my first question is, “Which cord are they using?”  A full cord of wood is a stack of wood that measures 4’x4’x8’.  A face cord is a stack that measures 4’x8’ (high and long) by an indeterminate measurement of depth; usually 16” but not always, depending on who you are talking to at the time.  And then, the second part of that question is this: “is the author of the data referring to just cut pieces of wood or has the wood been cut and split and to what length?”  All of this makes a difference.

Granted, all of this is academic to the issue of, “What is good for heating my house?”  Therefore, I have come up with a better system.  I have divided different trees into one of three categories.  These categories are: early season, hot, and kindling.

Let us consider kindling for a moment.  All coniferous trees fall into this category.  The best kindling is construction lumber scraps.  Construction lumber is almost always one of three varieties of tree: Fir, Spruce, or Pine.  I burn almost no Pine in my stove.  While Pine does produce a significant amount of heat, it also produces more creosote than any other wood when burned.  Creosote is not a good thing when heating with wood.  Creosote is a sticky, tar like substance that accumulates on the walls of a chimney and will ignite from the heat of the smoke which will cause a chimney fire.  It is easy to identify a live Pine tree; they have long needles.  As I wrote the best kindling is construction lumber scraps; and the best scraps are Fir.  Fir trees have lightly colored, red wood.  After that, the next best is Spruce which has white wood.  All three of these woods produce creosote when burned; Fir produces the least amount.

You will need to keep a supply of kindling on hand for starting fires along with a supply of paper.  This may prove more difficult than one would initially believe.  Construction has been down for years and newspapers are going out of business almost daily.  Paper like wood is not created equal.  The paper that is best for starting fires is newspaper and brown grocery bags.  Paper that has a sheen is coated with plastic.  It does not catch fire as well as newsprint and gives off toxic substances when burned.  I recommend not using it but recycling it.  Brown grocery bags are becoming a thing of the past also.

I have a theory about the difference between early & hot season woods. My theory is: the darker the wood, the hotter it burns i.e. the more BTUs it will produce per cubic inch.  I have also learned that the darker woods, like Walnut, are also more dense.  The darker, denser woods take longer to thoroughly dry.  Good early season woods are Norway maple and Chinese Elm which are both common in my neck of the woods (southern Wisconsin).  The best early season wood is Cottonwood.  Cottonwood has greenish wood and very thick bark.  Cottonwood dries easily, as does Norway maple & Chinese elm, and is straight grained; therefore it splits easily.  Another good early season wood is Horse Chestnut.  The down side of Chestnut is that it should be cut green (when the tree is alive) and immediately stored indoors to dry.  Then it should be split and burned as needed because Chestnut deteriorates rapidly.  Chestnut can’t be stored outside.  I learned this the first winter I heated with wood.  Cut Chestnut will rot within a matter of months and become useless.  As a note: all wood should be stored indoors which I will address shortly.

Many people that heat with wood love Oak.  Oak is good, but there are woods that are even better.  Also, not all Oak is created equal either. There is a species of tree referred to as Oak which is a variety of Oak but the wood is distinctly different and identifiable.  The wood is generally white with distinctly red patches in the heartwood.  This particular wood is total garbage for heating. The reason why is that it takes more BTUs to burn the stuff than it gives off.  Most Oak trees, particularly mature Red Oak, have thick bark.  The best hot woods that I have found are Walnut and American Elm.  Walnut has dark brown almost black wood and thin bark.  American Elm has very red wood; more red than red Oak.  Another good, hot wood is a variety of cherry known as Choke Cherry.  This wood is also distinctly red.  Cherry and Elm also have thin bark.

There is a reason why I have mentioned whether a tree has thin or thick bark. 

When burned, the bark produces much of the ash.  I am not sure why, I just

know that it is.  Consequently, I debark most of my firewood because of the

ash and insects, but more on that later.  I am fully aware that this is another

step but it significantly  reduces the number of times I have to clean the ash

out of my stove; an unsavory but necessary aspect of heating with a wood

stove.  You see, heating with wood is all about efficiency.  So, considering that 

one’s time is one’s most precious commodity, and heating with wood requires

a significant ongoing investment in time, it behooves one to be as efficient as



To that, there are other considerations.  First, you have to have a chain saw and a means of splitting your wood. A truck is also a prerequisite.  For example: I own a 1-ton, flat-bed truck, three chain-saws, a hydraulic wood splitter, and several axes, splitting mauls, steel wedges, sledge hammers, ropes, chains, etc. all for my wood gathering operations.  I laugh at people who buy their firewood.  In my mind, “Why bother?”  “Why not just use natural gas or electric heat?”  The flip side of this is that now that you have chosen to heat with wood that you do not buy, you are destined to be constantly on the lookout for firewood sources; to the point that you will cultivate these sources and jealously guard their identity and location.  I have been known to instantly alter my plans for the day just to harvest some prime wood.


The next thing that you should have is a wood shed. 

A shed is not a prerequisite but it is far more efficient

than just covering your wood with tarps.  This is to

say that leaving your wood exposed to the elements is

the least efficient choice.  The first few years I used

the tarp method.  I found this to be true about the

tarp method: #1 your wood never totally dries under tarps.

#2 your wood is not secure under a tarp.  People were stealing my wood from under my tarps.  I knew who was doing it but had no proof.  So I built my first wood shed.  There are some things to consider concerning the design of a wood shed.  First it should have a floor, even if said floor is just scavenged wood pallets.  Dirt causes wood to rot.  Next it should not be air tight.  On the contrary, the more air flow through the shed, the faster your wood will dry.  A good wood shed just needs to be weather resistant, solid walls and roof.  To that, the best roofing for a wood shed is corrugated, transparent, fiberglass panels.  This type of roof “bakes” your wood dry in no time just from the power of the sun.

Thoroughly dry wood is the most efficient.  While wood that has a certain amount of moisture in it will burn, a certain amount of BTUs are used to dry the wood completely in the fire before it burns.  Therefore the full benefits of those BTUs are not realized as heat for the living space.  If the wood is making a “hissing” sound in the fire, this is indicative of water being boiled out of the wood.

While I have cut wood at all times during the year, the best time to cut wood is fall and winter when there are no leaves on the trees.  That being said, drying times vary for different woods.  If you have a wood shed: drying time for early season is a minimum of 6 months and for hot wood, particularly oak, 1 year.  All wood is like a sponge but oak especially.  If the wood is cut during the summer, the drying time will be longer and even longer for wood cut in the spring.  Spring is when the sap flow is the heaviest and sap is about 95% water.  There is no sap flow during winter.  And know this: even if the tree is dead, it will still have to dry.

There are a few efficiency considerations as far as the wood burning unit itself.  If you chose to go with a wood burning furnace; great, more power to you.  They are the most efficient but cost between $800.00 and $1500.00.  The one down side is that you lose the “ambiance” of having the wood fire in your living space.  Fireplaces are the least efficient, even with an insert.  Most claims are that wood stoves are 75%-80% efficient.

The one down side of a stove is that your heat source is located in one

place.  Therefore a method of distributing the heat is required.  Start

by installing ceiling fans in every room.  Many wood stoves come with

an integral, thermostatically controlled blower.  If you do not have

one of these on your stove, positioning a box fan behind the stove

works well.  Just remember to have the fan a safe distance from the

back of the stove.  Another really good thing to do is to install a “heat

reclaimer” in the flue just above the stove.  These cost about $100.00

and are available for either 6” or 8” flues.  Just remember to follow

the manufacturer’s recommendations for installation of the reclaimer.  Reclaimers really increase the efficiency of the stove and cut down on the amount of smoke produced.  Some wood stoves are also available with catalytic converters.  These are designed to perform a similar function as a converter on a car.  It makes the smoke that the wood stove produces “green”.  Converters get very hot and do not last indefinitely.  To replace one is expensive.

Another consideration concerning the use of a wood stove is the flue itself.  Black flue pipe can be used to the point where the flue goes through a wall or ceiling.  Beyond that point only class “A”, double- walled, insulated flue pipe should be used.  Each joint of the black pipe between the stove and the class “A” pipe should be cemented together.  Be sure to use flue cement rated to 2000° F.  This will insure no leaks of CO into your living space.  The class “A” pipe can be used in place of a masonry chimney.  This is used in conjunction with a framed chimney.  If this is the case, then the inside walls of the framed chimney should be sheeted with 5/8”, fire-rated, drywall.

Another issue of wood heat is the storage of wood inside the house. It can be messy unless

one takes steps to mitigate this.  Firewood is a great place for small “critters” to hide. 

This is another reason why I debark most of my firewood.  There are fewer crevices for 

insects to hide in.  I have a wood storage bin located just inside my back door.  This wood

bin is actually a closet with a ceramic tile floor and walls and ceiling of mold and moisture

proof drywall covered with FRP.  In essence, my wood bin is as “bug proof” as I could

make it.  There will be ash and bits of wood and bark surrounding your stove during the

winter.  This is another fact of heating with wood so get used to it.  Sparks will exit the

front of the stove on occasion so it will behoove you to have some non-flammable floor

covering in front of your stove.  I have a raised hearth with a 1” thick slate top under my stove.

So I know all of this begs the question “Is it all worth it?”  I like heating with wood;

particularly when I having a roaring fire going in the stove (my stove has a glass door)

when it is 0° F and the snow is falling sideways outside my windows.  I like the physical

exercise that is involved with my gathering operations.  I also like the physical exercise

associated with splitting wood by hand.  Yes I still split some wood by hand; sometimes it is faster than using the splitter.  I like the independence from the utility companies.  I estimate that I have saved over $10,000.00 over the course of the last 15 years; money in my pocket and not in the coffers of some huge corporation.  This estimate still takes into account the expense of the extra gear necessary for wood heat operations.  I like my truck which I would have anyway.  That, along with all the other sundry stuff that goes with gathering wood, is a “guy thing”.  My bride says guys are into gizmos.  So in answer to the question, “Yes, I think that it is worth it.”  Some people have queered as to the time sink involved and how much I value my time.  Call me odd, but I have fun cutting & splitting my firewood.  I rarely look upon it as a chore.

There is yet one more consideration to heating with wood.  Not all insurance companies will insure a home that has a wood burning “appliance”.  And insurance companies will definitely not insure a home that has a wood burner as the sole heat source.  These are considerations if one has a mortgage and is forced to contribute to the legalized protection racket/scam.

A few recommendations concerning the actual cutting of firewood:  First, try to make all of your cuts square.  Square cut wood is much, much easier to split.  Second, determine what length of pieces works best in your wood burner and make all of your pieces that length.  For example: what works best in my stove is 14”, therefore I cut all my wood to that length.  If you have varied lengths of pieces it will be harder to stack and take up more room (efficiency).  There is no such thing as an “nonburnable” or scrap piece of firewood.  As long as it will fit, it will burn.  The only wood that is no good, except for the mystery oak I mentioned earlier, is rotten wood.  I have tried burning rotten wood; mysteriously it produces much ash and little heat.  Go figure.

So there you have it; my take on heating with wood.  Remember, firewood is like ammo; one can never have too much.