Warm and Toasty

Last Friday marked the first fire of the season. We might have pushed it a bit but there was enough of a chill in the air that at the time it felt justified.

Two winters ago I bought a used woodstove and had it installed in the chimney of the main family room. It came equipped with a blower and for the past two years has effectively replaced one of our two furnaces during the winter. In the next year or two I’d like to install a second stove in the other half of the house. I love everything about heating the house with wood.

Here in Alabama firewood is pretty easy to come by. I haven’t paid for firewood in three winters. Everyone knows me as the “firewood guy” and for two seasons I even sold firewood.

They say that the great thing about firewood is that it warms you twice, once in the cutting and then in the burning. I find the whole experience of firewood to be immensely rewarding.

I started three years ago when a friend of Nana’s had an ancient oak fall on her property. There was no real damage and as such no insurance money to remove the tree. I would go out and whittle on this giant oak on the weekends and take home manageable rounds to split and stack for firewood.

This tree was easily 300 years old and took me several months to cut and clear. I sold nine full cords and kept two or three for myself.

Which brings me to an aside and a peeve.

A cord of firewood is a stack four feet by eight feet by four feet. What’s sold today by most sellers if you order a cord is technically a “face cord,” which is a stack four by eight feet by whatever the length your firewood is. In most cases this is really a half cord at best, providing that you buy two foot sticks of firewood. Your average seller takes full advantage of the fact that you don’t really know what a cord is.

My other peeve is that most sellers sell “green” wood. There’s a guy who has a set up on my way to and from work. I’ve watched his operation over the years. In fact his was the last load of firewood I bought.

He has an arrangement with a tree service that come October will start delivering the trunks of trees they’ve cut down. This is advantageous for the tree surgeons as they otherwise have to pay to dispose of the trees. This firewood seller then spends his weekends busting the trunks down into firewood for immediate sale. These trees are days from being alive and sold like this will not make satisfactory firewood.

As a consumer of firewood I recommend you buy next year’s firewood this year or better yet cut it and stack it yourself.

Green wood will burn, but you will be frustrated by it. Green wood is slow to light, is very smoky and requires a hotter fire to keep burning. In addition to this, the smoke contains a higher concentration of creosote which lines your flue and increases your chances of chimney fires. I have burned green wood in my stove before but found it a much more “high maintenance” endeavor. Seasoned wood is best.

I try and cut firewood during the spring and summer months. An Alabama summer is plenty hot enough to dry out split firewood in a month or two. Wood I cut in July is sufficiently dry to burn in November.

Many folks will try and tell you it has to sit for a year, but that has not been my experience here. I split my wood while it is green and stack it for maximal airflow. Sometimes, like this year, I’ll even cut and set aside wood in October as a back up for the end of the season, just in case I run out early or cold weather extends further into March.

At present I load my firebox three or four times a day. In the morning, as I’m the first to rise, I open up the air vents and fill the firebox. Last night’s coals quickly catch and I run the box at full blast to get the house good and warm for everyone else. When Samantha leaves for school she makes sure the box is full again and closes the air vents to minimal airflow. This keeps the fire going and the box hot enough to keep the thermostat driven fan going. That evening we reload the box and if it’s cooler open up the vents. The final load is right before bed and the vents are closed again to keep the fire burning slowly through the night. Our thermostat on the gas furnace on that side of the house stays set somewhere in the high sixties during the winter and it rarely ever kicks on.

Few things are more satisfying than the feel of warmth that hits you when you enter our house on a cold winter’s day or sight of smoke drifting from the chimney. It warms the house and my soul.

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