A pile of free wood

Free wood - pre chopping

It’s that time of year when the nights are drawing in and it’s getting colder in the mornings. OK, so we have just had a week that was drier and warmer than most of August, but if this was a normal year we would all start thinking about those long nights at home, and if we were lucky enough we’d start thinking about curling up near the fire!

We have been using our open fire for the past 5 years; wood is a great source of zero-carbon heating and can even help to cut your gas bill by supplementing your heating (more on that in a later post). Of course you need to know what to burn, and you need to know how to burn it, but first you need to know how to get it and store it.

Actually the very first thing you need to do is have your chimney checked and cleaned by a chimney sweep (every year, in fact the Fire Brigade said to us recently every 6 months). Next you need a source of cheap wood.

Image of a log with bark partially removed by knife

Using a survival knife to remove the bark

We have all had wood left over from DIY etc, and it is tempting to burn it, but in most cases it’s been treated with some very nasty chemicals and it’s not a good idea (especially with an open fire). The best wood is straight from the tree and thankfully there are lots of places to get it for free.

Other than making paper logs we are lucky enough to have fire-bote rights associated with our home, and if you live in an older property it’s worth investigating if you have any estover rights. In our case this means we can collect fallen dead wood for heating our home from a particular local wood.

Of course that would take ages and even with our infrequent use of the fire we would need to collect an unsustainable amount of wood from what has become a very small copse during the last 200 odd years. Instead we use Freecycle; you need to keep a daily watch but pretty regularly someone will have a tree cut down and invite people over to collect the wood. You will have to reply to about 4000 posts before finally getting there first, but you will normally have to collect a huge amount of wood so you only need to get lucky once or twice.

Nobody told me how to make a wood pile (why would they, you just make a pile don’t you?) so I worked it out myself over the last few years. The first thing to remember with freshly felled timber is that it is green; it won’t burn very easily so you will need to weather it, and that is the primary function of the wood pile (as well as a sensible place to store wood).

Log with the bark removed

The finished article

When you get your wood the first thing you should do is cut it to size; this will increase the surface area exposed and speed up weathering (a little). Also there is a good chance that when you get the wood it will be summer and working outdoors will be something enjoyable (rather than having to do it in the pouring rain when all you really want to do is start a fire). When green it is also very easy to peel the bark off, which can be dried separately to form tinder/ kindling and will increase the surface area exposed to weathering. Of course the time taken to peel the bark off, vs the time taken off the weathering process is minimal; it makes more sense to use newspaper etc (to light your fire), but peeling bark off with a survival knife is great practice for when, erm…… OK it’s just fun some times to do stuff with a survival knife.

Your wood pile should ideally be outdoors (for the weather bit of the weathering) in a sheltered corner of your garden. “Proper” wood piles have a roof with an open front; in my garden I rely on a very sheltered corner under some evergreen’s. Your wood pile should be raised off the ground (to stop damp leaking up into the wood) and you should stack it so that air passes on all sides. My wood pile is between a tree and the corner where two fences meet, so I use lengths of arris rail to space it away from the fences and some old plywood sections to space it away from the tree and to form a little roof. It might not sound like much but our wood pile is almost always dry and even if it does get wet it’s only a little surface water.

A very small wood pile

A very small wood pile (as I said in the post I was sick... honest)

So there you go, how to heap wood. I had hoped to now have a picture of a huge pile of wood that I had cut myself, sadly I have a nasty chest infection so I only got part way through cutting this years wood before I had to stop (hence the tiny heap), why post now you ask? Because when I am back at work I expect I will not have time too….