Weather Forecast


Column: A pile of wood is money in the bank

With all the things that have to be done now that warm weather is here, it gets a little overwhelming. It would, all things considered, be a good time to take up serious drinking.

Since that doesn’t help, one must prioritize.

So. First things first.

There’s a pile of box elder logs out behind the shed that the neighbors at their place worked up last fall, and when they didn’t want them, I was unable to resist. After all, with the cost of btu’s approaching the cost of good whisky, a pile of wood is money in the bank. One could even call it an investment.

The wood. Not the whisky.

I didn’t have to saw it down. I didn’t have to either cut off or pile the limbs (which I hate). I did, however, have to travel half a mile and fetch what turned out to be some pretty heavy green wood. That investment has now thawed itself out of the pile of snow in which it spent the winter, and awaits me and my chain saw and my wood splitter.

A good bond fund would have been far easier, investment-wise. But it’s that time of year when, if you want to burn it next winter, you’d better get it cut up, split and racked.

First things first.

Since I have no experience with burning box elder, I Googled it for the btu’s per dry pound. As anyone around here knows, oak reigns near the top of the heat available per pound of dry wood. After that comes (as far as wood that grows around here goes) ironwood (a real chain saw duller), ash (very hard to beat) and here was a surprise, box elder, which beats out poplar (aspen in the charts) for heat available.

I haven’t burned much poplar. I remember when I first moved up here in the ‘70s. I called home to Iowa and told my parents about the farm here. Dad asked what kind of trees grew here, and among the ones which I told him about, I said popple also grew here.

He replied, “Popple! What’s ‘popple’?”

Maybe the Finnish language had trouble saying poplar, I don’t know. For whatever reason, it’s called popple here. Dad always got a bang out of that.

“How’s that popple coming up there?” he would ask. Then he’d snort.

Poplar is fine to burn, you just don’t want it to get too dry. It kind of goes up like kindling then.

How dry firewood is becomes more important once you understand that 5,000 pounds of dry wood, which is getting toward a full cord of oak for weight, really isn’t completely dry. It might be anywhere from 10 to 25- percent moisture.

A little math here brings this into focus when you realize that you have to turn somewhere from 50 to 125 pounds of water into steam. You know how long it takes to get a quart of tea water to boil on the stove, right? Well, a quart is less than two pounds. Burning green wood, or even kind-of-dry wood, is a lot like opening your stove door and throwing a bucket of water onto your fire. Good luck.

Hence that pile of box elder is a time challenge.

Mostly I burn Siberian elm, a persistent and very vigorous tree that grows around the farmyard here with a vengeance. It was imported back in the drought- and dust-bowl days of the 1930s, because it would grow even in those conditions and help stop the winds that were blowing topsoil away.

And grow it does. I cannot burn them fast enough to stay ahead of them. Mostly I think these elms are talking to one another at night, enjoying a respite from me sawing them down. They know I have to attack that pile of box elder first. So they’re getting a brief pardon from being Dead Trees Falling.

I need a different investment strategy. This one is a lot of work.