The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sycamore firewood

Sycamore firewood

Remember that locust tree I'd been saving as firewood insurance?  It wasn't what I thought it was.

Dead sycamoreBlack locust is considered to be top-notch firewood because you get 112% as much heat out of a same-sized log compared to red or white oaks.   In contrast, the most common trees Mark and I cut out of our woods give only 75% (box-elder) to 83% (black walnut) as much heat as oak, which means more work for less reward.  Effort aside, oak and locust fires are preferred because they keep going longer into the night and put off more heat in the process.

Unfortunately, I'm reanalyzing that standing dead tree and figuring it might be sycamore, which clocks in at only 80% as good as oak.  I'm not sure why I didn't take the multiple trunks into account before, which is a growth habit common in sycamores but rare in black locusts.  I guess I thought the way the logs were so darn tough to split meant they were locust, but it turns out sycamore has a spiral grain that makes splitting a bear.

Hard-to-split woodThe easiest way to guess how many BTUs you'll get out of a log of mystery firewood is to wait until it's totally dry and pick it up.  The lighter the wood, the less heat you're going to enjoy when the wood burns.  Bone-dry box-elder is nearly as light as balsa wood, and our mystery tree isn't much heavier.  Meanwhile, both box-elder and our mystery wood work great as kindling, which is another sign of low BTU --- harder woods are tougher to light, unless they're resinous.

The fact I've been burning light wood all winter would explain why we've been going through it so quickly.  Luckily, the shed's still mostly full, and Mark discovered sycamore isn't terribly hard to split if you wait until it's 20 degrees outside.  If we ever run out of fallen, dead, or in-the-way trees and start managing a woodlot, though, sycamore isn't going to be involved.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.



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I am a firm believer in burning whatever wood someone drives up and gives you for free. Here the road construction companies have to pay to dispose of any trees the mills won't buy. But they know they can give them to me and avoid tipping fees.

So I burn anything. I get some locust, LOTS of cedar, quite a bit of basswood, and to tell the truth- it doesn't really get so cold here that it makes a difference. If I have to put in five splits instead of three, and clean my chimney one extra time, I am OK with that. (And if you procrastinate as badly as me, it is good to know that cedar and cypress dry a lot faster than oak.)

In a perfect world though, yes, I would burn one or two year seasoned black locust and oak.

Comment by Eric in Japan Wed Jan 2 09:53:30 2013
If I ever get a chance to visit I am going bring you some Black Jack oak. I cut some 3 year old snags up for firewood today and had to sharpen my chain 3 times... It is some dense stuff!
Comment by Phil Wed Jan 2 20:12:17 2013





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