Many of us are completely dependant on natural gas or propane to heat our homes, a fact which could leave us desperate and hopeless during power outages and times of rising utility bills. 

Having the skills to produce your own firewood is an essential aspect of living a more self sufficient and environmentally sustainable life. Unfortunately it is a skill set that has been lost by many families in our technology dependent society. This article will help you understand what can seem like a daunting task, the process of choosing firewood to cut right down to storing it for use in your home.


Choosing a Tree

The decision of what type of wood to cut for firewood should be based upon a number of factors.

First of all, consider the types of trees that are most common in your area. Cutting firewood is not easy or environmentally sustainable if you have to drive 70 miles to find a stand of hickory.


Once you have an idea of what trees are in your surrounding forests, concentrate your efforts on hardwood species.These species include maple, oak, locust, elm, birch, apple and many others.  Hardwoods tend to burn longer and hotter than softwoods, requiring less logs and less attention in your wood stove or fireplace. Softwoods are a great option for spring and fall when you don't need to warm your house as much as during the winter. It is wise to cut several species of wood so that one can burn different types of wood according to their heating needs at that time.

When you are out in the woods with your saw looking for a good tree to cut, consider the drying time that the tree will need before it is ready for use as firewood. It is a smart idea to target dead, standing trees first for firewood before cutting live wood. The reason is simple, all wood contains water and a freshly cut piece of wood can contain nearly 50% water. A tree that is dead and standing will have a lower moisture content, so it will be dry and ready to use sooner than a live tree. To season firewood, the wood should be cut, split, and left outside for roughly 6 months, after this time, you logs should have dried and will be ready to make a toasty fire.*

*If wood is not properly dried before use it will burn much less efficiently, putting off lots of smoke, while releasing acidic water in the form of creosote into your chimney. Not good considering all the effort you spent in getting that wood to your home

Cutting the Tree into Firewood Lengths

Once your tree is on the ground it is time to get to work cutting it up into firewood sized pieces. For most firewood duties I prefer a Husqvarna or Stihl chainsaw with an 18 inch bar and around a 50cc engine. Saws in this size range have enough power to drop and cut larger trees while eating up smaller stuff like limbs.


Begin by cutting away all the branches from the tree. I then proceed to cut my firewood into 18 inch lengths because I've found that it is a near perfect fit in my wood stove. You may need to adjust that length depending on the size of your fireplace or stove. While cutting your logs (rounds), be careful not to hit any rocks or bury your saw in the dirt, doing so will immediately dull your chain.

Splitting Those Rounds

Now comes the fun part (or the worst part, depending on who you ask).

You're going to need a chopping block, a chunk of wood 12 inches in diameter by 14 or so inches tall, and a maul. A maul is a tool used to split wood that looks like the outcome of a sledgehammer and an axe if they mated. Mauls come in different sizes but I prefer an 8-pound maul because I can swing it for a couple of hours without being too sore. I also recommend a maul with a fiberglass handle. When you first start splitting wood you will inevitably hit the handle against the wood you are cutting, a fiberglass handle will extend the life of your handle for those accidental hits.

Splitting with a maul

Take one of those 18 inch rounds you cut and stand it on your chopping block. Place the head of the maul on top of your round and stand back with your feet shoulder width apart. Now, if you're right-handed, grab the maul just below the head with your right hand, your left will be at the end of the handle. As you raise the maul over your head envision driving the maul head straight through to the bottom of the log. While the maul is falling toward the round, slide your right hand down to your left and bend your knees a little to save your back. Hopefully the round will split crisply in half and fall to the ground with a satisfying thud. 

You're Almost Done

Once you've split your rounds you have only one more step, storing your wood. This is a step that if improperly done can really hurt the quality of your firewood.

The ideal situation is to have a woodshed with a covered roof and open sides. This will allow air circulation to help dry the wood while the roof protects it from rain and snow. It also helps to keep your wood off the ground to prevent rot. Wood stored properly should last 3 or 4 years if necessary. 

stacked wood


Seymour SM-8FG 8-Pound 36-Inch Fiberglass Handle Wood Splitting Maul
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(price as of Jun 21, 2015)