The past couple of weeks for Jesse and I have been 99.9% consumed with cutting firewood and preparing for winter. Last winter, we barely got by with three cords of mill ends (mostly bark), so this year we were determined to get a head start on things! As a firewood cutting rookie, I didn’t really know what to expect, and thought the process would be a no-brainer but that just wasn’t so. I learned quite a bit that I thought I would pass on to someone who also is new to the idea of wood heat and gathering their own firewood!
To watch some of this information in the video, check it out below, but read the post as well for maximum effect and information!
When Jesse first told me that we were going firewood cutting, I envisioned that we would drive up to a tree, cut it down, limb it, cut it into wood, and toss it into the car. I thought the entire process would be relatively simple and that we would have our firewood for the season in no time!
In the end, getting our firewood for the season (plus some) in two weeks isn’t bad at all, but it was a lot more work than I thought it would be and required A LOT more thinking and stretching my mind.
If you are completely new to firewood cutting and either want to learn or you are interested in having wood heat in your future, keep on readin’!
Cutting Firewood in National Forests
The first question you might as is “Where can I cut firewood?” and the easiest answer is a national forest, or public land.
Firewood Cutting Permits
You do need a permit to do this so be sure to check at your local Forest Service station for more information. We paid $5/cord and bought the maximum number of cords we could for our household which was eight. That’s $40 for maybe two seasons of firewood for us – not bad! You need to carry this permit with you and update it every time you pull wood out of the forest. Forest service does drive around and does
request demand to see these permits.
Which Trees Are Okay to Cut Down?
Once you are in a national forest (be sure to look at a map because some forests have private land sprinkled throughout), you’ll need to keep an eye out for standing dead trees. If a tree still has green needles on it, it’s not dead, even if it’s obviously dying. These trees are okay to cut down for firewood so long as they’re not more than 100 feet from the road and not within 150 feet from water.
Permits exclude certain species of trees so be sure to check for your area. For us, we can’t cut down birch or cedar, but other trees are okay if they are dead such as pine, fir, grand fir or even larch. Trust me… you’ll get to know your species well!
You can also take home windfall since those trees are not standing anymore, provided they are not an excluded species. However, if the windfall is fresh, the trees won’t be seasoned or dried out yet so they may be very heavy, and they also might not have time to dry out prior to winter.
Firewood Cutting Competition
The last thing we want to touch on here is that we feel there is a high level of competition for firewood cutting. This may just be our experience in one particular spot of the forest.
Lately, the Forest Service has been closing forest roads that were once used as firewood cutting roads among other things. They say it’s because of the grizzly bears here but you can draw whatever conclusions you like from this.
That said, everyone is forced to stay on the main highways to cut wood which isn’t always convenient, and the good trees are snagged up quickly. The only larch we found was windfall that wasn’t visible from the road, we found it by luck, and it was still a lot of effort to get it home.
We have had friends drop a tree and return the next morning to cut it up only to find it gone. If it’s in the woods, it’s fair game to everyone.
This does concern us slightly moving forward but we will see how it plays out over the years to come. We hope that we never have to resort to driving 40 miles one way just to get a cord of wood, but it is something to be aware of in your area.
If anyone has other thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear your opinions! Are we crazy?
Equipment We Needed for Firewood Cutting
Next, you’ll want to be well-equipped when you go into the forest. We choose to take our pickup truck with us that we bought specifically for such purposes, that way, we can abuse it, beat it up, and haul heavy loads without worry about much.
We have a lot of equipment we bring with us to ensure that we can grab almost any dead or down tree that fits the bill including:
Chainsaws: We bring both our Stihl 660 and 251 chainsaws with us. The two different sizes helps and also gives us a backup chainsaw if one of them is having issues. Be sure the chains on both of these are sharp and also be sure to bring a chain sharpener since you will need it.
Felling wedges: These will come in handy when dropping the trees down and can help them land where you want (critical!).
Axe: Helpful for getting your chainsaw unstuck if it’s pinched when cutting down trees and it’s critical for splitting any rounds that are too large to carry back to the truck.
Tow chain: Some tree sections are close enough to the road that you can tie a chain on, hook it to the truck hitch, and pull it up to the road. Every little bit helps so that you minimize the amount of labor you need to do!
Snatch block: This tool is absolutely critical if you will be pulling log sections or trees longer distances (longer than what a chain would be capable of reaching which isn’t all that far). This is a helpful component to set up various styles of rigging and is a real life-saver.
Cables: We have cables in the sizes of 1/4″ and 3/8″ in lengths of 50′ and 100′. We have three cables total, and this is a pretty good number. At a minimum, these cables are capable of pulling 840 to 1300 pounds, so when we cut our trees into sections, this is no problem usually.
Ratchet strap: We don’t go anywhere without ratchet straps, but the best one for firewood cutting has been our 2,500lb ratchet strap. It may even be more than that.
Fire extinguisher + shovel: It’s typically required by the Forest Service that you carry a fire extinguisher and shovel with you in the summer. This is a great rule of thumb even if you aren’t cutting firewood. We leave ours in a visible place outside of the car so curious Forest Service personnel can see at a glance that we’re following guidelines.
Various fasteners: You will need a variety of high-strength fasteners to hook up your rigging system. For us, we had multiple threaded links, shackles and carabiners, and extra because we broke some by pulling logs that were too heavy. Shackles proved to work the best for strength.
Measuring tape: To cut your wood or rounds to a specific dimensions, be sure to have a measuring tape. Also, it may be wise to measure your wood stove before you go so that you don’t cut rounds that are too large!
Toolbox, gloves, etc.: Keep a toolbox with generic tools with you (never know when you may need them), gloves, and things like that. I guess this is an obvious for any type of labor job.
Safety gear: We bring with us helmets, ear protection, eye protection and even safety chaps. If you don’t have it then you can’t use it.
How to Cut Firewood
The “how to” is almost the least of your worries! There are a couple great guides on cutting firewood here and here, but the basics are as follows (once you have identified the tree you’d like to cut down):
- Cut down the dead tree and try to drop it in the most convenient spot possible.
- Limb the tree with the chainsaw.
- Measure out your rounds (for us we measured at 16″) and mark those spots for the sake of time.
- Cut rounds.
- Roll rounds to truck or, use the axe to half or quarter them if the rounds are too large to carry. We always lean on the side of extra trips to the truck rather than extra weight. Don’t take risks with your body… you only have one!
Like I said, this list looks pretty simple, but you’d be amazed at the roadblocks you may face in the field, or you at least could be surprised that even if it is straightforward, it could still be a lot of sweaty, dirty work!
Is Getting Your Own Firewood Worth It?
This is the big question that many have asked us on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. If cutting firewood in the forest is so labor-intensive and at times dangerous, is it even worth it? Is it better to just have electric heat or to buy firewood from someone else at say $150/cord?
I think that’s a question we all have to answer for ourselves because we are all at different stages in our lives.
For us right now, the answer is an absolute yes! In two weeks, Jesse and I collected a full six cords of firewood which means we made the equivalent of $900. This is “money” we created out of thin air, and that’s more than some people make in half a month at work. We weren’t working full-time either, but worked half-days and even took a few days off in the two weeks’ time to do other things.
On top of that, if we were to have to earn the money to get the wood, we would be paying 30% extra due to losing taxes immediately out of our paychecks, or up to 50% being self-employed.
On top of that, we consider it a great workout! We’re relatively young in the big picture, and we enjoy working out anyways. However, rather than going on a 3-5 mile run, we’re getting firewood and making money in a way while we do it. Jesse lost at least a full size of clothing in two weeks’ time, and I dropped a few pounds as well at least temporarily. Instead of paying money to workout at a gym, we’re making money working out in our own backyard.
We also don’t feel that getting firewood is that dangerous… there is all the reason to be on high-alert when working with trees, logs, cables and chainsaws, but once you know what you’re doing you can do a lot to mitigate risk. With every firewood gathering session, we’re learning more about the limitations of our equipment, which tools are best for the jobs, and how to really communicate with one another.
Even though getting firewood is hard work, especially in 90+ degree heat Fahrenheit, we have enjoyed the experience and look forward to doing this for years to come. When we are older, we may find ways to lower our risk such as finding some young folks to help us out in exchange for something the old farts can provide! We’ll see how it all plays out over time.
Last point… even though there is a lot of competition for firewood, we like knowing that there will always be trees to cut down (even if they are live) to keep us warm. This isn’t really an option with electric heat… wood stoves and wood are never antiquated and never stop working!
If you are a newbie like myself, what questions do you have that we didn’t cover? If you’re a firewood expert and have been doing this for years, what did I miss in this post? What have been your biggest firewood cutting revelations, and how do you feel firewood cutting has changed over time? We really, really want to hear your thoughts on this! Tell us the good news!
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