The annual struggle to complete the woodpile has so far resulted in a stack of about half the fuel we need for the winter. We burn through six cords of firewood, heating our 1700 sq ft house entirely with wood. We only use the backup electric heat if the temperatures dip very low or if we will be away for an extended period.
Good firewood has been allowed to dry, also called cure or season, for a good year prior to burning. Most years we are able to do that. This past year, the lumberjack (my husband) suffered from more than the usual amount of back pain and was not able to get as much wood on the ground as normal. Also, the long, cold spring forced us to burn several cords of wood we intended for this year. We have been cutting mostly ash which burns even when wet. The ash has had a chance to dry anywhere from three to ten months at this point.
Wet ash will burn with a lot of hissing of escaping steam and not produce as much heat as dry wood. To get the temperature up in our high efficiency wood stove, we must add a few dry pieces of wood with each load of ash. The best ready supply of dry wood is dead elm trees. The poor elms rarely have a chance to get large or old due to the continuing presence of Dutch Elm Disease. The fungal infection kills elms within a year, filling their fluid transport systems with thick hyphae growth. Because elm wood is dense and tough, dead trees can remain standing for many years. After a couple years, the wood is quite dry.
I scout around for dead elms. The driest ones have begun to shed their bark. Loggers call dead trees widow makers because the vibrations of sawing them can cause branches overhead to rattle loose and drop on the wood cutter. Luckily, with elm, the wood is so tough that widow makers aren’t a problem until a dead tree has stood for many years. We knock down the trees, strip off any remaining bark and split them up with our commercial size hydraulic wood splitter. The dry, tough wood is very hard to split by hand. Just one good piece of dry elm will bring the temperature in the burn chamber up enough to vaporize the moisture in five or six pieces of half-cured wood.