How to Find Free Fuel for a Wood Burning Stove
Beat Economic Woe, Recession, and the Energy Crisis
Wood-burning stoves are increasingly popular and are a great way to be green and to reduce energy costs at the same time. The easiest way to get wood, if you can afford it, is to pay for it to be delivered. The price obviously varies according to where you live and local market conditions. A typical price in the UK for wood cut and split ready to burn is around £50 ($75) for a small truckload or £150 ($220) a ton. In the US and Canada it is often measured in cords. One cord is a pile 4 ft by 4 ft by 8 ft (128 cubic feet) which typically costs around $300.
The good news is we can get firewood for nothing. Yes, free wood! Whilst buying wood is cheaper than oil, gas, or electricity, the best solution is to find it for free.
So Where do You Get Free Wood?
Well it depends where you live: Which continent and country, what your local terrain is, and whether your surroundings are urban or rural.
I live close to the ocean on the southern coast of England. So here is one radical suggestion. In 2009 a container ship shed its cargo of timber along our coastline. Of course, you would need a truck to pick it up. However, collecting cargoes from wrecked ships is an ancient tradition in the UK.
Unfortunately, Ramsgate is around 100 miles from my home and I don't own a truck. On the other hand, I live in lightly wooded suburbs and my house backs onto a wooded section of the local golf course.
1. Search Woodlands
I therefore scavenge the woodland for fallen branches. There is loads of fallen pieces in different sizes which I can carry or drag back to my house (luckily, I have a back gate that opens onto the golf course).
There is a good variety of deciduous trees, from oak (which is a hardwood and is long burning) to birch (which burn quicker and are better for starting the fire). The great thing about this approach is the only energy expended in creating the fuel is my muscle-power and I can certainly do with the exercise!
2. Tree Surgeons
Call up local tree surgeons and offer to take unwanted material off their hands. Generally they will keep and sell on hardwoods such as oak but are happy to offload softwoods such as pine or smaller branches and may even be prepared to leave it in your driveway.
Otherwise they need to dump the waste wood and, in the UK, the local authority makes a significant charge for accepting trade waste. It will often end up in a landfill site; a tremendous waste of good fuel.
Builders, when demolishing or refurbishing buildings, often have to dump or burn old timber in the form of joists, floorboards, cladding, etc. Phone them or visit the site and offer to remove unwanted wood.
4. Timber Merchants and Wood Manufacturers
People who cut up timber or use it to manufacture things like furniture often produce unwanted offcuts. These have to be taken away and dumped. If you phone them you may find they have skips behind their premises where the public can remove the unwanted material.
There are now lots of websites dedicated to recycling. These are often run by charitable groups or volunteers. Typically people advertise things they want to get rid of and either offer them for free or for a small payment. You'll often find either scrap timber or wood from tree pruning being offered free as long as you are prepared to collect it.
Sites like eBay or Craigslist also offer timber for collection or delivery but typically there will be a price to pay.
6. Pallet Suppliers
Pallets designed for handling by forklift trucks are often recycled. Businesses that do this will find a proportion of the pallets they handle are damaged and these get thrown away. These businesses are another potential source.
7. The Dump, Skips, and Recycling Centres
If you visit your local dump or recycling centre you may encounter people dumping burnable wood. Why not ask if you can take some of it away to save them dumping it?
If a neighbour or local business is having some building work done and there is a skip outside the premises, then this is another useful source. Ask if you can remove any burnable timber. Hopefully they say yes as it leaves more room in the skip for other waste.
8. Spare Wood at Home
If you're like me then you'll have lots of odd bits of timber in your garage, yard, or garden. Why don't you sort out what you aren't going to use and them turn it into firewood?
Old fencing burns well, as does an old wooden shed. Perhaps your trees need a prune? Get thinking and you'll probably find you have plenty of free wood in your own home.
If you then extend this search to family, neighbours, and friends, you'll find that your woodpile will grow rapidly. Some friends of ours rang me recently because they'd taken their old shed down and wondered if I wanted some of the material.
From Cut Branch to Firewood
So how do you convert a huge tree branch into burnable fuel?
- First you need to cut it into lengths that will fit in the stove. A chainsaw is ideal for this. If the diameter of the branch is more than around 4 inches, then you'll also need to split the wood along the grain into 2 or more pieces using a splitting axe.
- Finally you'll need to store it for around a year to allow it to 'season' or dry out.