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

Small-diameter firewood

Small-diameter firewood

I suspect that in most parts of the world, firewood looks a lot more like the photo above than like the big split rounds most Americans are familiar with.  These were some of the smallest trees we cleared out of the newest pasture this spring, and they taught me a lot about the pros and cons of using small-diameter wood for fires. 

On the plus side, the sticks were easy to carry home full-length, allowing Mark to cut them with the miter saw (which feels safer and cleaner than the chainsaw).  We left them uncut in a pile in the yard for most of the summer (due to pure laziness), so they went into the shed later than the other logs, but the wood appears to be just as dry (or drier), probably due to the large surface area per unit volume in the thin branches.  And they're very handy for me to use since I don't need Mark's help splitting them --- it's easy to feed the little branches into the stove whole.

Coppiced box-elderThere are downsides, of course.  You'd need an awful lot of small-diameter firewood to add up to much heat, and they tend to burn up quickly (due to that big surface area, again), so they won't last the night.  Plus, they're harder to start a fire with since the unsplit wood seems to repel the first tender licks of flame.

But (especially in our wet climate), this type of firewood would be very sustainable to grow.  I've been watching our powerline cut ever since the electric company whacked back the big trees in 2006, and most stumps sprouted several new stems that became large enough to use for firewood within two to four years.  Now those branches are actually getting a bit too big to cut with the miter saw, but we never harvested them because we always seem to be awash in firewood simply due to clearing areas for new projects.  If you had no wooded acreage, though, and needed to heat your home, an area of coppiced trees like those in our powerline cut might do the trick nicely.

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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 have some OP-367 hybrid poplar trees. They grow from 2 bud cuttings stuck into sandy soil, take off like rockets and coppice easily. I highly recommend them. They say that you can use an acre to heat your home from the fifth year by spacing them 6' apart, and harvesting 100 6" diameter trees per year. They don't have a lot of BTUs, but this is one time quantity has a quality all its own.
Comment by Eric in Japan Mon Oct 28 19:22:18 2013

I enjoy your blog so much, with all the information you daily give and also the insight sharing of your lives. Is it just me or do I see 'eyes' in this photo of the fire and logs. vivian

Comment by vivian Mon Oct 28 21:26:09 2013

profile counter myspace

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