Appalachia Pap Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Firewood When Pap Was A Boy

When folks burned chestnut trees in appalachia

The Deer Hunter and I only have to worry about wood as a source of heat. When Pap was a boy wood was needed for heat in addition to every time you cooked, washed clothes, took a bath, and the list goes on.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke-in fact Kenneth left a comment about it a few days ago-where a man says he thought his name was Git Wood until he was nearly grown.

What wood works best for heat


Pap said when he was a boy some folks planned ahead and cut wood for the future with it ricked up in cords around their house and barns. When they needed wood it was already cut and stacked ready to be used. Other folks, like Pap’s family, got their wood from day to day. They had a wood pile near by, but someone had to go out and split what was needed for the day and carry it in the house or at least onto the porch.

Best wood to burn for firewood


There were still native Chestnut trees when Pap was a boy-not living ones but skeletons of Chestnut trees that were killed by the blight. Pap said wood from them would burn even if it was wet with no kindling to get it started. He said women especially liked chestnut wood because it was so easy to start a fire with it. Back in those days, Pap said, every once in a while he’d come up on a big dead Chestnut back in the mountains. He said he always thought they looked like white ghosts shining through the woods.

Much like today, when Pap was a boy, oak was one of the top choices for wood to burn. Oak burns hot and doesn’t burn too fast. Other top choices when Pap was a boy were locust, hickory, and just any other wood that was handy.

The Deer Hunter likes to use locust-which is almost impossible to find around here, oak, and hickory. He thinks poplar burns too fast to do any good and pine is full of creosote.

A few months ago someone had me ask Pap what was the best wood to burn for heat. Pap rattled off a list much like the one above and then said “But the answer to that question really depends on how cold you are.”

What wood did you or do you like to burn?



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  • Reply
    January 14, 2012 at 8:01 am

    My Dad always said he was 16 before he realized his middle name wasn’t Getwood. LOL
    For the fireplace we try to get and burn oak. All of the pine is left for the bonfire outside.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Several years ago I spent one winter living in an old farmhouse built in the early 1800’s. It had a wood burning furnace. It gave off such a nice even heat, I miss it!
    What I don’t miss is fooling around with wet wood! At the time I moved in there, it was a bit late to gather wood and age it. I swear I got to the point where I was so skilled at making wet wood burn, I could have almost burned water itself!
    In my limited experience, oak, ash and locust made the nicest, warmest fire.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 11, 2012 at 6:51 am

    A wood that burns good but which I’d not use unless it was from a diseased tree is dogwood. It has a lot of energy per unit volume, and in many cases, you don’t have to split it – although it splits easily if you do need to. It’s a great wood to put in the stove before you turn the damper down and let it coast overnight. By the way, unsplit wood lasts longer, in my experience. I’m not saying it is better for heating – just that it does a better job of lasting through the night so that you’ve got good coals in the morning to crank things back up quickly.
    Two other woods that I’ve used which have good heat content are ironwood and mulberry, but both of them are also hard on saws.
    As I think I told you, I love good-splitting wood, and ash is about as fine a splitting wood as you’re going to find. It’ll almost split if you look at it right. It doesn’t have quite as much heat per unit volume, but it’s also lighter than hickory, dogwood, ironwood, etc.
    Interestingly, I had a comment along the line of Ken’s about black gum. That stuff just flat out will not split; it is contrary enough to qualify as a hillbilly. I can’t speak to what it would do to a hydraulic splitter, since the only splitter I’ve ever owned is the one that I’ve swung (I’m partial to a triangular headed maul that weighs 10 or 12 pounds, and I guess you’d call what I do more like dropping it than swinging it, but it does the job and you just about can’t get that thing stuck).
    But I did try splitting some black gum that I cut down one time. I tried it in 20-inch lengths, and the maul just bounced off. So I went down to 1-foot length. Same thing. Finally I cut a piece about 6 or 8 inches long. It was maybe a foot in diameter. I took a few whacks with my go-devil and all it did was leave dents. So then I got me a wedge and after five minutes of tapping on with one hand swinging a sledge hammer while holding the wedge up with the other – trying to get it in far enough to hold, I finally took a saw and cut a little channel so the wedge would stand up and I could give it a good whack. I proceeded to drive it completely through that block, and it just left a hole, without even a hint of a crack in the wood. Like I say, that stuff is as ornery as a hillbilly from Cherokee County.
    Birch and beech are pretty good woods, but you sure better cut them in the cold of winter.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Gosh I don’t know, we always had wood heat when I was a kid – I grew up in North Pole AK and now I wonder what wood we used as I remember the trips into the woods to collect wood. I loved those times but they ended as my Dad got older and we moved into a house with electric heat. I wish we had wood heat, I miss it greatly.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Oak and hickory, if I remember correctly. And yeah, never evergreens of any kind; they gunk up the chimney!
    God bless.

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson (USA)
    January 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I love the smell of a fire! You have me thinking of my wood stacking days in the 70s, when I was a kid.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    We don’t have a fireplace, so I don’t have a favorite wood to burn. We used to have a Buck Stove and we used both coal and wood in it. We had a big wooden box on our porch that held the wood.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I was discussing the firewood post with DH and he said he heard that “farwood” was goin’ for $80 a rick for Oak and Hickory!…What happened was when we went into town to the doctor this morning, we saw a sign for “farwood” on a truck sitting by the side of the road…It said $65 dollars a rick..It weren’t cut and split too purty either…I said, “Good grief look at the price of farwood!” That’s when he told me about a friend of his’n talking of the price in West Knoxville…Lordy!
    He said it almost made him want to get in the “farwood bidness,” ifn’ he thought he would feel like cuttin’ it by hisownself!..LOL
    Since I quit helpn’ him use the crosscut, it’s hard fer me to manage the rollator and saw at the same time!….LOL
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    We have central air and heat and don’t have a fireplace anymore. I sure do miss having a wood fire.
    When I was growing up my dad kept wood ahead. He liked to cut red oak the best. He didn’t like to burn green or freshly cut wood, because he said that it would not heat as well. He would cut and split it and stack between trees like a big old fence for it to dry. We used to go to the woods and gather rich lighted pine to start the fires with. Our family would make a day out of it and have a picnic lunch out in the woods. I love sitting in front of the fire on cold windy days. It is so cozy.
    I wish I still had a fireplace!

  • Reply
    Tim Cuthbertson
    January 10, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I prefer hickory for cooking and either hickory or oak for firewood. I live in the suburbs, though, so I mainly just use hickory for smoking meats.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I don’t use wood for heat anymore. At one time we did and used oak since that’s about all we have around here besides pine and you sure don’t wantto burn that. It’s nice to sit by a wood fire but am glad i don’t have to clean up the mess it makes.

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    January 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    On getting gas logs.
    I kind of miss the clink and tink
    of chunks and specks
    of oak and hickory
    flying up the Electrolux hose.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Thank you-you made my day with your sweet comments : )
    Have a great day!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Hickory is my favorite wood to burn, but like locust it don’t
    split very easy. And most folks
    I know don’t like to use it for
    the cinders it leaves. I let my
    stove draw wide open to avoid
    this problem. But when I was
    growing up we had to have wood
    for cooking the year round. The
    cookwood mama preferred was dry
    laurel and we had plenty of that
    stuff along with applewood. Any
    kind of seasoned oak is good, but
    years ago I learned my lesson on
    blackgum. It will even stall a
    splitter, has no true grain.
    I still love to play in the wood-

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

    We used to buy oak for the fireplace. Now we have vented gas logs.
    My grandpa had three stacks of firewood. One stack was split smaller for the cook stove, one was regular for the fireplace. One was for logs to put on at night to keep smouldering until new wood was added next morning. He kept fat lightwood (he called it lightered) on the porch for starting fires if needed.

  • Reply
    kathryn magendie
    January 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Locust and a mix of other woods – mostly what’s around the cove here!
    Love the Pap stories!

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    January 10, 2012 at 10:11 am

    When we had heat as our main source, locust and oak were our favorites, but poplar was good in the mornings to heat the house up quickly if the fire had died down.

  • Reply
    Pam Moore
    January 10, 2012 at 9:58 am

    We like oak for our fireplace. It burns clean and lasts. One year someone gave me a big pine fatwood log. I spent days in the yard splitting it into firestarters. It was great, but I haven’t found another since.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 10, 2012 at 9:23 am

    We used locust for firewood too but only if it wasn’t big enough or straight enough for fence posts. My Daddy and Uncle Wayne rigged Mommy’s Rome Eagle wood cookstove with pipes that ran through it into a tank that held hot water. That was the only water heater we had until I left home. Any other water had to be heated on top of the stove.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

    oops almost forgot. i use pine cones as starter fuel. no lighter wood. the resin is 500 times deeper and that would kill my smoke pipe. thanks

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Good Morning: I too heat my house with wood. I don’t have central heat and air. My choice is oak. Seems to burn hotter and longer. Try to save my pecan for smoking or bbq. Love you site but I tell you that a million times!!!

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    January 10, 2012 at 9:01 am

    I think we went by Pap’s philosophy: it depended on how cold we were. We knew about the pine and the poplar, so we tried to get something better. I have an old black and white picture from the late fifties, or early sixties, of me and my next-oldest brother dragging poles down off a mountain. I only have to look at that picture to know I do not want to go back to the “good old days”!

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    January 10, 2012 at 8:52 am

    We burn a little of everything…actually its especially good if its “free”. 🙂 I use oak, hickory and poplar (Deer Hunter is right about poplar) but I was able to get a lot this year because the power company did a right of way clearing and cut a couple of big ones. I burn a little locust, but it definitely burns HOT. I’ve heard of people putting too much in a fire box and the steel glowed red. Funny, even though we’ve not had as much cold, it seems like I’ve burned a lot of wood this winter. Where’s that snow anyway?

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    January 10, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Horace Kephart notes in his “Camping and Woodcraft” that his experiments with wood burning determined that locust was the best heat producer and lasted the longest in a camp fire, followed by hickory, then oak, so I’d listen to the Deer Hunter.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 8:26 am

    when we lived in Kentucky we used coal for our fires and for heating and some cooked with it. the coal truck would come and run a long slide into the window in our basement and all that coal would rattle down there to wait for POOR me to walk down the steps and carry up the coal bucket to the living room. we heated a 9 room house with one coal burning stove. no chopping wood, but hauling coal. i remember seeing the wood piled up like you describe

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 10, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I’ve never burned wood for heat so I don’t have knowledge about fire wood.
    However I do have memories of my grandmother’s house.
    She had a fireplace that heated the house till they got an oil heater in the living room.
    Her fireplace was not a big ornamental thing like you see now it was small with a grate for the firewood or sometimes coal to burn in.
    In the kitchen there was a wood cook stove. It was also used for heat. But with the coming of electricity an electric stove was added to the kitchen. Note that I said added. It was in addition to the wood cook stove not a replacement. For all my memory my grandparents had both stoves in their little kitchen and both were used for heat and cooking.
    There was a woodshed behind the house where the wood was stored after it was taken from the wood pile and split. This was close to the cellar door so that wood could easily be carried in and up the stairs. Of course there was always a wood box near the stove that my granddaddy kept full.
    That is a really different lifestyle than we live today. We flip a switch for everything. Those folks worked for everything!

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    January 10, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Tipper I agree with the deer hunter I prefer locust also another really good wood is O’sage Orange (hedge apple) as it is known as here it sure does throw lots of sparks when you open the stove door though. I have an out door wood furnace that we have used up until last year and it would work good with any wood even sycamore.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    January 10, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Cliff has a wood stove in his shop. Lately he’s bringing in a lot of walnut because loggers came in and took our walnut trees for logs, leaving the huge tops. Of course, it will have to cure until next winter to be much good.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 10, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Don’t need it here in South Florida, but I remember when my folks had their house in East Tenn, Dad got a cutting permit for a few dollars a year from a company that had vast land holdings where they harvested pulp wood (actually mostly pronounced “pup” wood) for the paper mills. The hardwood mostly got in their way, so they were happy to have you come on their land and harvest hard woods, so Dad’s fire was usually hickory, ash, maple, etc. He could take whatever he wanted as long as he left the trees alone that typically don’t make a good fire anyway.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    January 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Around here oak is the top chioice most ofthe time, of course, it is the most plentiful here in our area, so that may have something to do with it.
    I remember when we were kids, picking up pine knots and having a bin full of those kept to “help get the fire goin’ “, especially when it was just a chilly morning and you would not need heat “up in the day”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 10, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I remember those dead chestnut trees from the 50’s and 60’s. They were light and easy to split. Sometimes you could just push them over. We would have a short piece of rope with a handle tied on it that we would loop around the tree and snake it in. You could pull a pretty big chestnut just using boy power. And Pap’s right, they were easy to spot in the woods. I love reading about people grew up like I did. When I was young I thought it was just hard for us. Now I’m reading about a lot other people were in the same boat.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 10, 2012 at 7:15 am

    When we used to burn wood for heat my husband liked hickory and oak the best…We have an abundance of oak and hickory so it was easy to lay down trees about the right size to split for a good four piece section of firewood…making it pretty easy to get even sized loads…
    My Grandmother had a black locust in her yard…she hated that tree and always warned us to stay away from its trunk…It had thorns and deep grooves up and down the trunk…Finally, someone cut it down for her…This was when she lived outside Canton…I don’t know what happened to the wood..It is supposed to be very hard wood…fine for wood stoves..
    She used a small wood stove in the kitchen for heat and cooking sometimes…she loved that little stove…so that big box of kindling on the back porch may have come from that tree…the stove wouldn’t hold logs…
    Thanks for the memories…

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