Stoves and Stove Wood. (From the Southern Reporter circa 1898)
A tree blown down by the winds in the spring, full of the sap that made it a thing of beauty while it stood, becomes the curse of housekeepers when it is used for stove wood. Such wood makes a spoiled meal, a sour temper, an ill husband and a damaged stove. Farmers sometimes neglect this important matter in the house, but never forget to scold when meals are out of time and badly cooked, although their poor wives have been struggling for hours to coax a flame from a mass of sobbing, dripping wood that positively refuses to burn. When the back of the stove is burned out, a lecture on economy is read to the struggling woman when the fault is all in the wood. In a good stove, there is practically no wear out if the proper fuel is furnished. Every farmer who consults his own interest will see that his cook has suitable wood.
Stove wood should be cut in the fall when the trees are free from sap. Neither hickory nor oak are suitable for a stove. They burn with too little flame, and make such solid beds of hot coals in the furnace that the doors are warped and cracked and the backs burned out, while the oven is imperfectly heated. The best wood for a stove is one that is easily kindled, burns quickly with a flame, and leaves no coals and few ashes. In certain districts where red cedar is plentiful it is used almost entirely for the stove, the only objection being that it makes almost as much soot as bituminous coal; the same objection applies to the different kinds of poplar. Sweet gum, once seasoned, makes an excellent stove wood, but nothing is to be compared with sassafras. It fills every requirement to perfection. Old fields and swamps all through the South are filled with these two kinds of wood; they are comparatively worthless as timber, but invaluable as fuel. It will take but little work when the crops are laid by to cut and haul enough to last the stove for a year, with incalculable gain in the way of labor-saving to the cook, saving in the way of the stove, and in regular and well cooked meals, in Texas the farmers are compelled to haul their entire winter’s supply of wood in the summer; the winter rains make the prairie roads almost impassable in a short time, and it is the paradise of cooks. The summer suns dry and season the wood; a Texas cook never knows what it is to wrestle with weeping sticks. If some heavenly power would compel our farmers here to haul their wood in summer, if only once, they would not need compelling again, but they would prepare it voluntarily ever after.
(Fast forward to today)
There seems to be no end in sight of reviews and marketing from the wood stove industry. No matter what kind of stove you are looking for, you can find a wealth of information to help you make your decision on what type or brand of stove to buy, and how to care for it. But what about firewood? There seems to be next to no information out there concerning what kind of woods you should be using for fuel, and how to prepare and store it. Actually there are some good sites out there, but you have to do some digging for them. I have placed a new link for Wood Heat Organization Inc., a Canadian organization dedicated to the furtherance of the wood heating industry. It may be a Canadian organization, but wood is wood and burns the same no matter what country you live in. I suggest you visit the site, check them out and maybe learn a thing or two. They actually have a good sized book on residential wood heating that you can download as a pdf here.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when determining your heating plans for your survival homestead. For one, a lot of people like the idea of pellet fuel, and under ideal circumstances these are good units to include in your plan. However, In making your long term plans you need to remember that the ultimate meltdown scenario will leave you without electrical power, and pellet stoves require electricity to operate. If you do use pellet stoves for heating, make sure you have a backup plan in place.
You’ll want to use good quality seasoned hardwood for fuel, but that may not be possible at first. Seasoned hardwood is that which has been allowed to dry in the sun for at least one year. You have several potential ways of obtaining fuel, but for a long term sustainable homestead you’ll want to grow and harvest your own trees for fuel. Unless you already have a place with a woodlot already planned you may want to talk to a certified forester about your plans. They can help you create the ideal woodlot planned for your area and environment. You may want to start by clear-cutting a strip and planting a fast growing tree like a poplar before you set up your homestead and move in if you can do it that way. This will give you a quick supply of trees to harvest while a better quality, but slower growing tree gets up to speed.
If you buy firewood from a dealer, make sure you buy it as a “full cord” sale. This will measure 4′ by 4′ by 8′ long (128 cubic feet). Try to get a dealer you can trust to give you a fairly tight cord without a lot of twisted or bent pieces that will take up space. If there are very many in the cord you purchase you’ll be short changed in the deal. You can also buy your firewood as a face cord where the pieces are cut 16″ long. It is a lot cheaper per cord this way, but that is because you aren’t really buying a cord, you’re only buying a third of a cord, in a sense.
Another popular way to sell cordwood is by calling it stove length. This is usually wood cut to 12″ lengths, and again can be much more expensive than by buying a standard cord of 128 cubic feet. A good way to save money is to get cordwood in four foot lengths and cut and split it to size on your own. You can buy a hydraulic splitter and save a lot of work, speeding up the process. If you are on good terms with the homesteader down the road you might be able to share the cost with them and save even more money.
Whatever you choose to do, try to learn the ins and outs of wood heating before making your decision. An informed decision is always less costly than trial and error.