Firewood –
What kind, and how to get and store it


When I was young, my father scavenged firewood wherever he could, usually along the creek
bordering our place in southern Ohio.
He would light the fireplace on special occasions...

A wood fire speaks to humankind’s most ancient instincts, and few are immune to its magnetism! Most of us love the idea that we can also heat our homes with wood, and know that it’s a renewable resource. But there is always a price – to heat with wood, we need a good supply of firewood.

Having your own woodlot for cord-wood is wonderful, but if you don’t, there are other good options.


Buy it

  • We live in the hardwood belt of Kentucky, and there are many people in the timber-cutting business. They’ll deliver for a reasonable price, or odd jobbers will come to your property and cut it.

  • Cut it yourself

  • Many National Forests will let you cut dead firewood, with a $5 permit. Regulations can vary, so check with your local Forest.

  • In suburban neighborhoods, trees fall down all the time -- and if you’re there to cut and haul it away, without charge, your neighbors will begin calling you whenever one comes down.

    People might even ask you to remove standing trees, but be careful about this. You’re not in the tree-trimming business, and probably won’t have the equipment or protections professionals do. (like insurance!)

    My advice is to avoid cutting down standing trees, or, at least, don’t cut problematical ones -- those too near to buildings, power lines, or people. And never cut when it’s windy!

  • Keep your eyes open as you go about your daily business. Many times you’ll see the local power company or a tree company at work. Stop and ask for the wood before they chip it all. Many times, it saves them work, and they’ll even haul it to your house, especially if their usual dump is farther away. (By the way, this is a good place to get wood chips for your organic garden, too!)

  • Free Firewood

    Pick it up at a mill

  • In our area, you can go to the nearest sawmill and pick it up, free. Short waste boards, mostly oak and poplar, are thrown into large piles, and it’s stove-wood size (more-or-less), depending on what you choose.

    Even though it’s green when they put it out, if you pick it up in the summer, it will burn well by winter.


    Generally speaking, wood falls into two categories, hardwood and softwood.

    Hardwood is heavier and tight-grained. Seasoned, it burns with great heat, and holds for a long time.

    Softwood is lighter and less dense. Seasoned softwoods make quick fires, and are especially good at getting the harder woods going.

    When wood is green, the rules change. Wet pine is a classic example: It is a softwood, and when dry, it’s light and burns quickly. But green, it’s heavier than anything, and nearly fireproof!

    Common Hardwoods and Softwoods

    OakYellow poplar
    BeechBox elder
    Black LocustPoplar (aspen or cottenwood)
    Yellow BirchCedar
    Fruit woods
    Osage Orange
    American Hornbeam
    Eastern Hophornbeam

    Many woods seem to straddle the line – red maple, redbud, walnut, and more. Hawthorn burns so hot (2,000 degrees!) that it was used to smelt pig iron in the Old World.

    Personally, I like black locust because it’s commonly available in this region, and, wherever you see it growing, there is bound to be lots of easy-to-get, standing dead wood that is sound as a bell. That’s why they always made fenceposts out of it...

    Not really sure about telling firewood trees apart?


    Keep it dry. Mostly, this isn’t a problem in summer. Many people stack it painstakingly, and it’s a delight to the eye, as well as saving space. That hasn’t been our karma. But, thrown into a pile, wood will dry out in the open.

    Just tarp it when the rains begin, later in the fall, and try to uncover it whenever the rain stops. Wherever you decide to put it, make sure it’s as close to your stove as you can get it. I have made the mistake of putting it too far away, and have also put it too close -- under a leaky gutter on a north wall!

    Inside, a woodbox is a necessity. It neatly contains the wood, and can even be filled from outside, if you locate it on an outside wall with a trap opening. If you don’t want bugs in your house, spray with rotenone powder (or liquid) from the outside after filling the box.

    As you learn to live with your wood stove, you’ll get more ideas on streamlining your firewood operation from tinder to heat.

    Keep warm!

    Please let me in - I'll bring in the firewood!

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    Dr. Sheila Miles is a Naturopathic Physician whom we know in Kentucky. She is Board Certified by the National Board of Examiners in Integrated/ Alternative Medicine and Natural Health Science, with a Doctorate in Natural Health Science. She is also certified in Nutrition, Homeopathy, and Herbal Preparations.

    We had the privilege of editing her new book, Healthy Choices in an Unhealthy World. It's an excellent basic grounding in nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, and we are pleased to endorse it here. --
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