Firewood : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

We have a chance to cut up a huge box elder tree that fell over in my neighbor's yard. We also have been invited to scrounge firewood from other downed trees, but often we don't even know what kind of tree it is. I do know what the best firewoods are (oak, hickory, etc.) but my question is, are other types of wood worth the trouble, for free? Free except for the work, that is. I know the stuff has to be cured, etc., and I know not to bother with pine, but what about the assorted other trees that are common here in MI? Anything I should just not even bother with? This is for household heat, and wood is all we use, and we are very broke ($) right now! Thanks for advice.

-- Shannon (Grateful Acres Animal Sanctuary) (, September 17, 2000


What is a weed? Anything my cattle won't eat. What is firewood? Anything which will burn.

While ideally you could put up a winter stock of oak and hickory, softwoods, such as box elder, will do fine also. They just won't burn as long, and wouldn't be suitable for banking a fire overnight. Use them during the day while you are there to keep feeding the fire and then use your hardwoods at night. One nice aspect about softwoods is they are far easier to cut and handle.

In a country setting it shouldn't be too hard to locate free firewood. I have probably a pickup load by the fencerow from threes which had to be cut out, or which fell. I can't even give it away. Maybe I should put an ad in the paper: FREE FIREWOOD: Will cut to your length specifications, deliver and stack, feed your fire during winter and clean out and dispose of ashes. Ask around at places which have a lot of acreage. Chances are they have some trees they would like removed. Perhaps put an ad in the local paper for those who need a tree in their yard removed.

Box elder story. When I first moved on the farm I cleaned out a spring run. It contained a fair number of box elders. Cattle love green box elder leaves. After a couple of days whenever my bull heard the chainsaw, here he came. Wouldn't leave until I cut him down a box elder.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, September 17, 2000.

We have 80+ acres and we a;ways have enough wood for the next winter and people are always calling and wanting us to come and get trees that are down! Free to cut up and haul away. Lots of people in town know nothing about tree removal or they don't have the saw or truck! Some woods burn hotter and faster than others. Do a trial run on some of the ones you cut! Stack all one tree together.That way if it burns slower you'll know to use it at night and if it burns faster/hotter you'll use it for cooking and during the day!

-- Debbie T in N.C. (, September 17, 2000.

Why not use pine? I know about creosote build up but if I didn't use pine I would be trouble. Around here, that is mostly what the trees are and beggars can't be choosers. It is mostly pine and cotton wood. Not much choice. I just have the chimmny cleaned regularly.

-- Cheryl Cox (, September 17, 2000.

We burn locust,walnut,oak,poplar,wild cherry,bean tree,etc.-just about anything but cedar,pine and water maple.We ask alot of farmers around here if we can cut dead trees or if they need fence rows cleaned out.Usually,we get so much that we sell the excess!

-- nobrabbit (, September 17, 2000.

Pine, cedar, and so on may not last as long in the fire, and pine may throw some sparks once in a while, but they make excellent kindling for starting the fire. We've always burned pine, spruce, or whatever was available. When we were living in Tok, Alaska (coldest inhabited spot in the state) we heated the cabin with poplar (which really IS poor firewood) and a mix of green and dry spruce -- and sometimes at fifty below, we would have to open the door for a while to cool the house off!! Use whatever you can get, as long as it isn't poison ivy!

-- Kathleen Sanderson (, September 17, 2000.

Hmmm. No one seems to have mentioned elm. My family and I cut down an elm that had been allowed to grow up too close to the house. I saved the wood, stacked, seasoned, etc. It didn't burn worth a darn. Yes, it did burn, but very slowly, and with very little heat output. I have read that elm makes "a cold fire" and now I know what they mean. I guess I'd burn it if I had NOTHING else, but it was almost as if burning it was only a way to dispose of it, not that it produced anything like heat. Admittedly this was in a fireplace, but compared to any other wood I used, very little heat.

I'm in Wisconsin, so have similar trees to Michigan. I imagine there are elms in Michigan. The American elms have be virtually wiped out by Dutch elm disease, but there are others around. I know it wasn't a Siberian (also known as Chinese) elm. Box elders are in the maple family, so I would think they would burn okay.

-- Joy Froelich (, September 17, 2000.

If it is close to home, sure cut it up and use it. It will help to keep your fire going, but will not put heat out like the hardwoods will. When I get a little short of firewood I keep an eye out for shipping pallets. A lot of them are made of oak. Sometimes I mix green soft wood (like box elder) with pallet wood. Sometimes there is some free wood around sawmills. I live in Southeast Ohio and I must admit that I am spoiled for oak firewood, which is readily available here.

Another idea, when short of cash some sawdust can be added to the fire to help stretch the firewood supply. I usually add one or two 3# coffee cans to the stove on top of a slow fire (listen to me talk about a 3 pound coffee can. Really showing my age, it's been a long time since a can of coffee had an actual 3# in it).

If your income is low you probably qualify for a voucher from HEAP (home energy assistance program). Fereral funds, administered by the states, and distributed at county level. In my area a person can get an emergency voucher good for a two and a half cord load, in addition to regular HEAP assistance. Here the wood will usually be 50% or more oak. Check at libraries, banks or senior citizen centers for applications.

-- Ed Copp (, September 17, 2000.

Another source of wood is (I read this along time ago)that National Forests will let you cut all ready downed trees for firewood.I know we've heard chainsaws when camping.I don't know if state parks and forests will or not.

-- nobrabbit (, September 18, 2000.

Just curious (we burn madrone whenever possible). Isn't box elder a species of Maple? Hence, a hardwood? I realize there are lots of kinds of Maples, and assume they are all different in their BTU contents, but at least they aren't full of pitch, like SOME kinds of pine are. Are they?


-- jumpoffjoe (, September 18, 2000.

Yep, box elder is in the maple family, and it doesn't have pitch. I know that there are hard maples and soft maples, though, so I am guessing that box elder would fall into the soft category.

-- Joy Froelich (, September 18, 2000.

Box elder is in the maple family, and supposedly can be tapped like a sugar maple although I've never done it. I know the animals adore the leaves and branches. If I could only harvest one tree and had to decide between a box elder and something like a hard maple or an oak, it wouldn't be the box elder. However, we burn a lot of box elder. No point letting it go to waste. While there are better trees, the box elder will burn just fine, rather fast, not as many btu's and it won't be good for overnight banking, but you can deal with it.

I don't know just what kind of trees you've got in your area, but as a general rule of thumb, the evergreens are the worst for sparking. You might have a deciduous tree or two in your area that also sparks. But even then, as long as you realize that you'll need to pay a bit more attention to your roof, it would beat freezing. "Sparky" woods are frequently good for getting a hot fire going quickly.

About the only things I'd avoid would be any tree that has a toxic smoke (I burn waste walnut with no trouble), is really bad about mucking up your chimney (burn it a little at a time with other woods and keep checking your chimney), and punky (rotted and soft) wood (I'll burn a piece or 2 of punky wood every few fillings during the day).

I'd ask around for specific information on what is growing locally that might need to be avoided or burned in controlled amounts. If the trees you're being offered are downed, they're already starting to dry for you. You might be able to burn some of them yet this winter (later on). Again, add a piece or 2 of "bad" wood to the fire box whenever you load during the day. Gerbil

-- Gerbil (, September 19, 2000.

hwew in the Oregon coast range we have mostly alder, maple and doug fir. know your woods and how to use them. pine/fir types for kindling, alder for the middle fire, maple for overnight. someone mentioned madrone, which i think is the ultimate wood for BTUs. hotter than oak. it burns long hot and silent. no popping. it's too wet for it to grow on this side of the hill, but over in the willamette valley an dinto southrn Oregon they're more plentiful. it's a cool windy morning here and i just lit my first fire of the season after brushing out the chimney. I LOVE WOOD HEAT! i better, it's all we have! :)

-- Juno redleaf (, September 22, 2000.

Hi Shannon, If it's free and fairly easy to get, go for it. We burn the less efficient woods in the fall when all we need it a quick little fire in the morning and another in the evening. If there's any left we use it the same way in the spring when the days are warm but the nights are cold. We save the "good" wood for the really cold weather.

-- Peg (NW WI) (, September 22, 2000.

Thanks for the info here on Madrones, I have a bunch of them that are growing into my Doug firs. I was wondering if they were good for firewood. Hey Juno where in the coast range are you? I live near McMinville.

-- Glynn Pennington (, September 23, 2000.

Glynn, it's especially important that madrone be really dry. It contains a lot of water when it's green.

On the other hand, it cuts like butter when green, and pretty hard when dry. Splits easy when green, harder when dry, and hardest to split when it's only partly dry.

Like all woods, I suppose, it dries a lot faster after it's split. I'd give it at least a year from green to dry enough to burn.


-- jumpoffjoe (, September 23, 2000.

well the university people told me years ago its all about the same btus by dry whieght.i burn anything i can get with an eye to quality when i can get it there is plenty of wood in this are being cleared and wasted burned to get it out of the way on construction sites.i cut locust post yesterday and today on lunch time they were too good for the fire wood hunters to get :) i rarely cut wood at home its easyer and it helps when i sell a little . it all makes ashes for the garden and the fields when its done .oh remember you are never! desperate enough to burn treated lumber!the smoke caries the arsnate and cadniums and the ashes concentrate them .there are plenty of trees and nontreated scraps and palletts out there.oh and if anyone can afford one the outside woodburning furnaces are the way to go i heat the trailer and the greenhouse +the hot water with the system and they are designed for poor quality wood.the guy who installed mine put in a big unit that is fed with round bales of hay and used to dry corn. my unit is rated at300,000 btu per hour but the greenhouse is why i have one that big and when it is at that level it uses some wood!

-- george darby (, September 23, 2000.

We scrounge a lot of wood around here. But one thing we will not bother with is cottonwood! Impossible to split and not worth the effort to burn it.

A huge maple tree was taken down in my mom's neighborhood last week. A sign was placed next to the pieces: free firewood. I was SO tempted to go load up my truck, but I had been working long hours and was sore as all get-out from landscaping all day. The rounds were about 3 feet across and I think I would have had to get a crane to lift them. Oh well! One opportunity lost; another one to be found...

-- sheepish (, September 24, 2000.

How funny, sheepish, we don't have any trouble with the cottonwoods around here. Again, they're like box elder-if we can only take one tree.... Cottonwood (and box elder) are good for getting a fire going and burning during the day when you're around to keep restoking. And Peg's right, use the lesser quality woods in the fall and spring.

A pound of wood is a pound of wood, and you get the same number of btu's from a pound of wood. The difference is that a piece of oak and a piece of box elder that are roughly the same size are not the same weight. So if you were to weigh a stack of oak, and figure the btu's available, then try to achieve the same number of btu's with "trash" wood, you're going to need a much larger stack of "trash" wood to end up with the same weight.

Also as has been brought up already, some woods are just plain hard to split, others split better green, some split better dry. Some will dry down rapidly, others take a lot longer.

Some other things to consider. This box elder is down. Taking down a tree is really the hardest and most dangerous part of firewood cutting. And expensive if you manage to drop the tree somewhere you weren't planning on. We once took a walnut tree out that was in a really miserable location between 2 houses. We were all experienced tree cutters, we recognized that it was going to be trouble, and we THOUGHT we had worked it out. We limbed that tree to a stub, we had chains running to some big trucks, we had a winch(tow) truck on it to help control the drop, and as soon as we finished cutting loose the base we knew it had all gone sour. There was nothing to do but run. I don't think any tree has every gone down as slooowwwlllyyy as that sucker did. Fortunately the neighbors were awfully good sports about the whole mess, and stunned when we kept our word and came back right away the next morning and did the repairing, reshingling, and repainting.

The other thing to consider is that you'll "earn" yourself other trees if it becomes known that you'll cut firewood. Just clean up your messes and try not to put the trees on people, animals, buildings and vehicles. When we cut in people's yards, we always rake and shovel up as much sawdust and small littler as we can, then use the rake to scatter what we can't get up around the area. Really impresses folks for some reason. Must be some real slob tree cutters out there. Gerbil

-- Gerbil (, September 24, 2000.

Anyone have an opinion about sycamore as firewood?

-- skeeter (, November 29, 2001.

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