Most preppers plan on using wood to heat their homes and cook their food, in the event of a power outage. Wood is a renewable resource, as well as being pretty much the only fuel that you can harvest from nature without a lot of special equipment. Perhaps that’s why people have used it to heat their homes and cook their food for millennia.
That doesn’t make wood a perfect heating fuel, but it does make it the best one we have available to us, especially for a long-term survival situation. The only problem, as with everything else we need to stockpile, is paying for it. It takes between four and six cords (full cords, not face cords) of good hardwood firewood to heat a home for the winter. If softwood is used, it takes about double that amount.
In case you’re unsure of the terminology, a full cord of firewood is a tight stack, 4 ft. by 8 ft. by 4 ft. It’s actually pretty rare to find anyone selling a full cord, so you want to make sure that you check what’s delivered to you, if you buy firewood. Many will try to sell a face cord (4 ft. by 8 ft., but only the thickness of one 16” long split logs) or a double face cord (two face cords, stacked together, to look like a full cord, but only 32” deep, rather than 48” deep), calling it a cord. They can get away with that, because most people don’t know the difference.
But that’s only if you’re buying firewood from someone who harvests and sells it. You can do much better harvesting your own, if you’ve got a chain saw, some way to haul the wood, like a pick-up truck and some free time.
Even if you live in the city there are always places you can find firewood to cut, if you know where to look. People actually pay good money to have people come in, cut their trees and haul off the wood, whether it is to have the trees pruned, to remove dead trees or to deal with storm damage. All you need to do is tap into that as a source.
Where Can You Find Free Firewood?
Free firewood is available for a little work, if you know where to look… or rather if you know how to get people to look for you. There are always those who need tree cutting services, but most of the time they have to pay someone to do it. What I’m suggesting is that you offer that service for free, with your pay being that you get to keep the wood.
There are three free ways of advertising this, so you can find customers:
- Putting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to cut and remove dead trees, branches or deadfalls from storms.
- Put the same sort of add on the bulletin board in your local grocery store.
- Put a sign on your truck.
Regardless of which of those you might use, it would be a good idea to make up some flyers as well and keep them in your truck. That way, if you pass a house with a dead tree or a limb that was blown down in a storm; you can leave a flyer on the front door, offering your services. Driving around your neighborhood or town, you’re likely to come across a lot of homes with wood just waiting for you to harvest it.
Some other places you can get your free firewood from:
- Drive around after a storm, looking for houses with limbs down from their trees. Homeowners are responsible for any branches down in the street and the city will be glad to fine them for it, so they don’t have any time to waste. Downed branches are easy to cut up and you can stack whatever you don’t want on the curb for pickup.
- Do the same for local parks and other public spaces. While you might catch a little flack for cutting up branches without permission, you can just say you’re a public-minded citizen who is trying to help.
- Look for signs announcing new housing developments, shopping centers or other construction. If that is on land with a lot of trees, the contractor might appreciate someone clearing some of those trees off for him.
- Construction sites for highways can be another source of free firewood. They will probably just knock the trees down with a bulldozer, but you can help them by hauling them off, saving them the trouble.
- Find your local pallet recycler and check with them. Most try to salvage all the pallets they can, dividing them up in categories, by condition, for sale. But there are always those pallets which are bad enough that they can’t sell them. Those usually end up in a huge scrap pile. Offer to haul some of it off and then pick through the pile, looking for the oak ones. They burn longer.
- Check with your local landfill. Most have an area for “green refuse;” basically trees and brush that have been cut down and collected. They’ll usually allow you to take whatever you want, no charge.
When cutting your firewood, your best bet is to ignore cutting logs to the standard size of 16”. Most fireplaces and wood-burning stove are wider than that. Measure yours and then take two to four inches off each end, to make it easier to put the logs in. Then cut yourself a measuring stick to that length, so that you can mark the logs and cut them to the ideal length for your needs.
Once your logs are cut, hauled home and spilt, you’ll need to stack them for drying. One common mistake people make is to not cover their firewood, which allows rainwater and snow to get to the logs. That water will soak into the ends of the logs easily, making it so that the logs won’t burn as well and will create a lot more smoke as they burn. Dry wood is better.
In olden times, people either stacked their firewood in a wood shed or had wide eaves on their homes to stack the wood under, giving it some protection from the weather. If you don’t have either of those available, you can protect your wood by stretching a tarp over it. Don’t tie the tarp tightly around the wood though, you want to stake the corners out, away from the wood pile a bit, so that there is good air circulation under the tarp. This will help the cut and split wood to dry better, readying it for your fire.
Keep in mind that wherever you put your wood pile, it needs to be close enough to the house, that it’s not a major problem to go out in the cold to get more wood. At the same time, a wood pile is a great home for mice and bugs, so you don’t really want to have it up against your house. Better to have it a few feet away, so that you aren’t giving any critters easy access to your home.