the basics of choosing firewood…

Reader Contribution by Mary Murray
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We’ve entered day 4 of the snow and ice storm that has hit the Midwest, and as the temperatures plummeted (-11  yesterday morning), each day opening the door we’re greeted with a bone-chilling blast of air. It’s so cold that even heated water buckets have a film of ice on them that needs breaking so goats, chickens, and barn cats can be assured of plenty of water.  

In preparing for the storm, extra wood was stacked on the back porch, and after tossing another log on the fire, I’m glad to be inside. Morning chores are done, and I’ve left the gusty winds outside, for now. Warming up by the fire makes me glad for the wood we have on hand. This crackling fire in the kitchen will take the chill out of a home built in 1864, a home that certainly seems lacking insulation in some rooms!

As I talked with a friend, she asked about the best types of wood for burning. A look through our local paper will have advertisements for a variety of woods. Which is best? The prices range per cord; does a lower price mean an inferior wood?

While I’m certainly no expert, I’ll share what she and I talked about…a list of what has worked best for us over the years, and what we’ve found for sale in our area. 

Good Firewood Choices

  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Maple
  • Walnut

In our experience, these woods give off a good amount of heat, have a long burn time, and produce little smoke.  While ash and walnut are difficult to split, it can certainly be done.  I admit, we buy ours split and ready to stack.

Poor Firewood Choices

  • Elm
  • Pine
  • Poplar

We’ve found that these woods don’t give off much heat and can have a short burn time. That means I’m tossing more logs on the fire to get warm and finding that it’s burning just too quickly. I’m going through that woodpile much faster than I’d like to.

Again, this is only our personal experience with these types of wood. No matter which wood is used, it’s important that its been set aside to dry at least 6 months before burning, and it’s been kept dry while it’s stored.

In early fall when we double-check our wood supply, it also a reminder to schedule a chimney sweep. A chimney that was used all winter will definitely need a good cleaning to loosen and remove any soot that’s built up inside. A chimney sweep can also check for any damage, loose bricks or mortar, and even add a cap to the chimney; this will keep debris and rain out.  

On days like today, when a bitter wind is whistling and it’s 8 degrees outside, a crackling fire in the fireplace is a warm and welcoming country pleasure. 

Hmmm…it seems like cats love the warmth of a fire, too!

 Photos courtesy of Mary Murray

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