Construction and Renovation

Dry Firewood makes for a Warm Winter

I spend a lot of time during the winter months cutting and splitting firewood for my home. Traditionally residents of New England "cut wood" in the early fall. Unfortunately that is one of my busiest seasons - with fall clean ups, hunting and other winter preparations. 

My grandpa George Merrill always had a lot to say about a good supply of dry firewood. The first thing he'd say - as we always cut wood in late November, after everyone had gotten a deer - "good wood warms you three times; once when you cut it, once when you stack it and finally when you burn it." 

Another one of Grandpa's lines was, "a good wood pile is a status symbol." I was taught to stack wood by "cobbing" the ends and keeping a straight pile built on level ground outside to dry. We piled our wood within days after we cut it off the stump and split it green. The wood we'd stack wouldn't be ready until next winter, two winters from then if we were lucky. So the pile was going to sit for a while, and Grandpa knew his neighbors would notice his wood piles. So today when the majority of my neighbors are buying their wood by the cord, they're likely to burn their entire supply in one winter.

I noticed proof of this last summer when there was a wood shortage. What most people don't know is that the price of wood fluctuates with the price of heating oil. If heating oil is up, wood prices are up. Heating oil peaked in 2009 and I could sell a cord of seasoned firewood, ready to burn, for $315 - delivered. Early in 2014 a cord of seasoned wood was priced at $250. Oil prices were down and after a cold winter, smart consumers were looking to stock back up. Prices didn't have time to reflect demand and wood quickly sold out. By the fall, a cord of seasoned firewood was selling for $300 and up. So a thrifty New Englander could have bought a cord of "green" wood (wood that hasn't yet dried enough to burn) late in 2013 for $150 and by the fall of 2014 resold it as a seasoned cord for double the price or better. Wood is a fuel, which is a commodity. So what am I getting at with this? Firewood is the original commodity. It dates back to caveman times. A smart caveman probably only needed one cold winter to learn about keeping a stock of dry firewood. 

Now I understand that not everyone has the means or the capacity to go out back and cut up a reasonable wood supply on their own. If I'm making any point at all, it's that the value of something is always conditional. It was always assumed that my grandpa would trade a gold brick for a stack of dry firewood, having my own firewood now I'm sure he would have. So all this talk about firewood and commodities got me thinking about what made New Englanders so thrifty. Well it probably had something to do with firewood and the uncertainty of the weather here. 

Dry firewood makes for a warm winter. Whether you buy it or "work it up" on your own, you know the value of your cord of wood. Cutting wood has a special place in my heart and I look forward to it every winter. Some of my best memories with my grandpa were the days we spent with the chainsaws (that never ran right) and the splitter (that was slow and inefficient). So once I've finished this post I will be suiting up to go out and drop some trees in the woods, buck them up to cord wood length and then split anything worth burning. I'll stack it square and straight, free standing with cobbed ends. It will stand out back to season and be noticed until next winter when it will come inside to keep us warm on cold blustery days when the boiler needs a little boost. What does it tell you now that I don't only heat with wood? I supplement my modern HVAC system with a wood burning stove and heat my workshop with wood. However, firewood keeps me warm, keeps me active and keeps me comfortable.