Firewood Tips & Tricks

  • Softwoods and hardwoods.  Firewood is classified into two different categories.  The term softwood describes evergreen, or conifer trees, which keep their leaves year-round (pinion, juniper, spruce, ponderosa, fir).  The term hardwood applies to leaf-shedding or deciduous trees, which means they lose their leaves in the fall (aspen, cottonwood, oak, maple).  
  • A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree F. This is the standard measurement used to state the amount of energy that a fuel has as well as the amount of output of any heat generating device. So, the higher the BTU number for the variety of firewood, the higher the heat produced.
  • Cord – a true cord of wood is 4’x4’x8’ or 128 cubic feet.  This should be the measurement once your firewood is cut, split and stacked.  Be cautious when hearing the terms face cord, firewood sold by weight, and pickup beds being used to describe measurements for firewood that is for sale.  These terms make it difficult to know exactly what volume of wood you are actually getting.  Always ask what the cubic feet are for those terms and that will help you compare accurate volumes and prices.  DO NOT PAY for firewood until it is delivered unless you are dealing with a trusted source.  
  • Seasoned Wood – Firewood with low moisture content produces more BTU’s than green firewood, so you should ask if the wood you intend to purchase is seasoned or not. Green or unseasoned firewood is freshly cut and/or split, has a higher moisture content and releases less heat when burned.  Seasoning of softwoods generally takes 6-12 months and hardwoods may require 1-2 years to season properly, but your wood will burn hotter, longer & cleaner.
  • Kindling is defined as “easily combustible material for starting a fire.”  Common items to use are newspaper with a pile of small sticks arranged on top.  You can also split down one larger log with an axe.  Start small and build a bed of coals before you begin to add large logs to your fire.
  • Chopping Firewood Make sure to wear gloves, closed toe shoes and safety glasses.  It is important to use a sharp axe and a splitting maul can be useful for larger pieces of wood.  A big round of wood makes a great chopping block.  
  • Air Flow – Leave your wood stove door slightly ajar (approximately 1/4”) to allow fire to become established while you tend and observe for approximately fifteen minutes before closing the door, and ensuring that fire is burning well. To establish your fire, burn it briskly (all air-intakes fully open and door ajar until fire takes off).  Air flow can alsobe adjusted by the damper which controls air flow from the stove to the pipe and/or air-intake openings on your stove. Adjusting the air flow will help you to conserve firewood, have more efficient burning and regulate the temperature within your home. Remember the fire triangle…for fire to exist you need heat, fuel and oxygen.
  • Chimney Cleaning – Make sure to clean and sweep your chimney on an annual basis and/or hire a professional chimney sweep to do your inspection and cleaning.  Alpine Chimney Sweep is one of our local, certified businesses.
  • Safety – Check and replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and then test the alarms. 

Now you are ready to settle in and cozy up to your beautiful fire!  Living in this pristine rural mountain environment requires us to take more time, patience and personal responsibility with our daily chores.  Collecting firewood, preparing and starting a fire is no different.  If you are harvesting your own wood, take the time to thank the trees or make an offering to the Standing Nation that provides so much for our health and well-being. When all of the steps are tuned into, it can become a satisfying daily ritual that allows us to dive deeper into ourselves and into connection with the elements. 

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” — Zen Kōan