Appalachia

Gathering Firewood

man cutting tree for wood

We had a fire going for about a week, but once things warmed up we let it go out to save wood. This week the temps have dipped down to fire building weather again.

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 and every time you cooked, washed clothes, took a bath, and the list goes on.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke where a man says he thought his name was Git Wood until he was nearly grown.

Pap said when he was a boy some folks planned ahead cutting wood and ricking it up 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.

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. 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 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 firewood. Oak burns hot and doesn’t burn too fast.

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

One time somebody asked Pap what’s the best wood to burn for heat. He 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.”

Tipper

🎄 If you’re looking for something to jump start your Christmas merry making I have just the thing. I might be a little bit prejudice, but I highly recommend Pap and Paul’s cd “Songs of Christmas.” You can pick it up here.

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Quinn
    December 4, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    Winter came so fast and cold this year, I’ve had a fire burning in the woodstove non-stop for weeks. I can hardly believe how much wood I’ve burned this year, and it’s only the beginning of December!
    I’ve never heard of that smelly oak, but I’m really curious now as to what species it might be. I’ll come back and check the comments again to see if anyone mentions it.
    Right now I’m catching up on my blog reading, which has had to take a backseat to long chores lately. We had a bit of a storm up here in Massachusetts and I’m doing the chores on snowshoes because it’s the only way I can get around at the moment, the snow is that deep. It’s slow going, but I just happy to find I’m still able to get around on the snowshoes, truth be told!

    • Reply
      Andy Collins
      December 4, 2019 at 7:58 pm

      Might be post oak it always smells sour when cutting it and it usually has more water than red oak or white oak. I burn wood all winter and usually it takes about a tractor trailer load for me. My wife really likes to stay warm. Lololo

  • Reply
    Gigi
    December 4, 2019 at 11:22 am

    We do burn wood but we also have central heat. I love the warm heat from the wood. My husband and I cut a truck load the other day. We piled in along side the wall in the house . I’ve had to get wood all my life. My favorite wood is Locust and Ash. Oak is good too..love this Tipper.

  • Reply
    InTheWoods
    December 4, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Pap and the Deer Hunter are right. My additional favorite is cherry wood; it doesn’t burn quite as long or as hot as oak, but it’s easier for me to split and it sure does give off a rich smell.

  • Reply
    Allison B
    December 3, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    Enjoyed this reading…as always.
    My grandparents, like Miss Cindys…cooked on wood and electric stoves in their kitchens. My dad keeps wood cut and stacked. He has a large woodstove in his shed…as that’s their heat source. I believe he likes Oak best. Good to be reminded that it really can matter how cold you are, though ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    December 3, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    When we lived on the farm we used wood for heat, my Dad and I cut Oaks with a Cross Cut saw, this was a job as we cut it in sections and rolled it down the hollow above our house where it became my job to burst it with a Go Devil and wedges. We would usually find a straight grain tree which I could usually just have to use the Go Devil. I remember one day we received a terrible scare, when we cut the logs in rounds we would roll them down the hollow, they would usually hit another tree and stop but one day we had cut a large Red Oak on the top of the mountain at the head of the hollow, we turned a large round loose and listened as it continued to roll, my Mom was at the kitchen stove cooking which was just beside the back door. The round kept gaining speed and we heard it hit the back door with an explosion and heard Mom scream, terrified we had hit her we rushed down the hollow to find the door jamb and door laying in the kitchen floor where it had landed right behind her. we were glad she was only scared and spent the rest of the day repairing the door jamb, luckily the door was a solid Oak Door which survived the collision. However we weren’t very popular with Mom for a while. We were much more careful about rolling the rounds end over end so they were much more likely to stop before reaching the house. My Dad and I also cut enough Pine Logs with a Cross Cut on a steep mountain slope to build two barns. We used a Cross Cut or Bow Saw until I was grown when I purchased my first chain saw, this was some of the best money I ever spent but I still remember how to use a bottle of Kerosene with a rag wick to clean resin off a saw blade and sharpen and set Cross Cut Saw teeth which I doubt many of my generation can do.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 3, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Has the Deer Hunter ever cut any piss oak? That stuff is awful to smell. I’ve had to carry it back out of the house when I was coming up before. It will burn fine and not put off that smell while burning once it drys but you still don’t want to store it in the house. I’d have to bring it in and put it directly into the stove.
    I spent 36 years working in a warehouse that used primarily wooden pallets. As I walked around in my work I could smell the various woods that pallets are made from. Every once in a while I would encounter that distinctive smell. It might be just one board on one pallet but it’s odor dominated the whole area. I’d think to myself “Either somebody couldn’t hold it anymore or we’ve got us a piss oak pallet!”

    • Reply
      aw griff
      December 3, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      Ed, I’ve cut piss oak and it does smell awful. I never heard my Daddy ever tell a dirty joke or say a bad word so I was really surprised when he pointed out an oak and said the old timers called them piss oaks. Not only do they smell bad but they develop water pockets and the water really pours out when cut into.

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        December 3, 2019 at 6:14 pm

        My Daddy didn’t use bad language either and he knew his woods. He taught me it was piss oak so to me that’s what it is. Now Mommy knew lots of bad words and used them often except in Daddy’s presence. All she had to say about the wood was “get that stanking $#!+ out of this house!”

    • Reply
      Tipper
      December 3, 2019 at 6:49 pm

      Ed-yes he said he’s cut piss oak many times and like you he thinks it stinks to high heaven ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    LC BARN
    December 3, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    There is NO heat like the heat from a wood fire either in a stove or in a pile or pit. I still have a wood burning kitchen stove in my kitchen, it also still works, but it is much easier to push a button and get electric heat.
    but the smell of cooking with wood and the radiance from the stove still brings back memories of the GOOD OLD DAYS.
    In the goo old days we would use “liter knots” to start the fires in the fireplace and wood burning stove. ” LITER KNOTS ” were ” aged pine “, found in decaying pine logs or stumps. When rabbit hunting in the winter, when we happen upon a old pine stump, we would kick the decayed would away and in the middle would be a ROSEN rich “LITER KNOT”, we would put them in our coat and take them to use only to start fires.
    The kitchen wood stove NEVER went out, stayed warm between meals. My mom would place small orish taters in the oven, between meals, and they would bake to a soft crisp taste. them taters were our snacks !!!!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 3, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Tipper,
    I love the stories that you tell when Pap was a boy. My Daddy taught me to know trees for burning and like Pap, all my brothers were taught which trees were best for burning. My favorite tree to keep warm by is the Hickory or White Oak.

    When I was in High School we got an Electric Stove for the Kitchen, but we kept the Wood Stove in place. Mama could build a fire like nobody’s business and it heated the kitchen. Whole wood lasts better and if it is Dry, it don’t need bustin’.

    I hurt my back in 2015 and I got two Splitters, a horizontal and a vertical. I use more wood, other than Daniel Whitiker, who I went to school with, and at the beginning of this season, had already stacked 160 some Face cord, with Tin on top so rain wouldn’t get to it. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 3, 2019 at 10:42 am

    We had a big fireplace in our old fifties style house…It was nice to have a fire there in winter, especially in the early Fall and around Christmas…However, it really didn’t help heat the living area that much…We have lots of standing firewood on our place. Finally we bought a cast iron insert and fitted it into the fireplace opening. Every year we cut firewood and stacked it between two trees in the back yard…Always keeping some on the porch along with bags of kindling…The insert had an electric blower on it and could be adjusted. A few chunks of Hickory or Oak would last all day once they caught on…sometimes the heat would run you out of the room…Other than no pay for all the work cutting trees, splitting wood, etc., we saved a lot of money in those days heating most of our house…from wood on our land. Kinda helped getting some of the older not so straight trees down as well..
    We are just too old to do all that now…so we have reverted back to electric heat. Sure miss that warm wood heat.
    How true it is that good dry Hickory and Oak will burn a hot fire and last well in an enclosed cast iron space if flues are kept adjusted well…
    Thanks for the memories…great post Tipper!

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    December 3, 2019 at 10:41 am

    We have a wood-burning fireplace up here in Michigan. I insisted that the house we moved to have one. If I was gonna live in the land of ice and snow, I’d better have a real fireplace to sit by when I wanted to feel the warmth of a real fire. Something so comforting about the crackle of a wood fire in a fireplace. The heat is not as drying as a gas or electric heater. Sure, we still run our “whole house” heat, but sitting by the fire is my favorite place on a cold, snowy night.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    December 3, 2019 at 9:32 am

    I use to split a lot of firewood and my favorite wood to split was chestnut oak. A neighbor one time gave me a large black locust tree that was already cut into about 3 foot sections. I cut it into smaller pieces and split it by hand. It splits easy too. We never cut locust off the farm for firewood because it makes good fence posts that will last for many years. One time I cut a buckeye tree for firewood and it’s worse than poplar or sycamore. Also cut a sourwood tree ONE TIME and tried splitting by hand. It must be one of the worst to split. Never tried black gum for I was told it was too hard to split. Not sure about this but I think they use to make bee gums out of black gum. The only thing I know it is good for is squirrels cut the small berries.
    I would have loved to seen the large chestnut trees of years ago. I’ve watched several chestnut trees grow to as tall as fifteen feet but the blight always kills them. There are several sprouts on our old farm growing under a rock cliff. They are so shaded their growth is very slow. Growing that slow seems to make a difference in how long they live.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      December 3, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      We used to use black gum for our chop blocks when we split wood because it was hard to split. Black gum makes good mauls and mallets for the same reason.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    December 3, 2019 at 9:21 am

    I’m trying not to build a fire in my wood stove this year. I started allergy shots a month ago and have got to follow the doctor’s orders. My old chimney draws well and never allows smoke out in the house. There’s a rick stacked in a holder out on the porch just in case the power goes out. I sure do miss the cozy warmth in the living room that is nearly off limits in the winter due to it’s tall ceiling. My electric throw is working overtime.

  • Reply
    Dee
    December 3, 2019 at 9:15 am

    My parents had to cut wood in their growing up years and have it ready for the fire place, cook stove or under the old black iron wash pot. After they grew up, married and moved off the farm, it was just a couple years til my grandparents moved to town where they had a home with a fire place but they also had electric heaters, a bathroom inside the house, an electric stove and a wash house with a washing machine. I’ve walked over the old farm place and thought about my dear father’s mother who had to wash clothes for six children, five of them being boys wearing overalls. My father was her helper on wash day. He had to build the fire under the old iron pots, fill them with water, and help her transfer them from the hot pot to the battling board. She had an old type table where she laid out the overalls and scrubbed away. I can’t imagine doing that in the freezing cold but I hope the fire created a little warmth for her. Then in the summer, even in 100 degree weather in the shade, she had her wash to do. There being no insulation in their home out on the farm, it was mighty cold when one got up in the winter. They all slept under a lot of home made quilts which kept them warm. It was my father’s job to get up early in the morning and put wood in the cook stove and get it going. He said he thought he was going to freeze when he got out of bed and headed across an open hallway to get to the kitchen door. I’m sure my grandmother really appreciated the wood being started and warm in the cook stove when she got up which wasn’t long after daddy got the fire going. Many times I have thought of my grandmothers when I walked in and put a load of clothes in a washer and walked away being nice and warm in our home. I think my grandmothers were physically stronger than me but I’m thankful that they didn’t have to cut wood when they got older. I was told that cutting firewood warms you twice; once as you cut and split it, second as you build the fire and sit in front of it. I do enjoy sitting in front of a fire.
    My father told me about the native Chestnut trees dying out years ago. He said he would come across some little ones but they would only grow a short time and than die. I know they brought in Chestnut trees, might have been from Japan, that were resistant to the disease or fungus that killed the native Chestnut trees. It would be wonderful if the native Chestnut trees have developed a resistance and they would once again grow in our forests.

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    December 3, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Locust trees grow like weeds here in central Maryland
    Locust burns really hot. Oak, hickory and cherry are hot and last a while. I particularly like it when I find a big all- nighter that burns hot, even and slow.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 3, 2019 at 8:12 am

    It is said of wood heat that it heats you twice, once cutting, hauling, stacking, spliting, carrying in the house and then burning. Maybe it heats you six times.

    We had both an electric stove and a wood cook stove when I was a kid. Mom canned on the wood stove. It had a voracious appetite for wood. We hauled edgings and slabs from the sawmill (they were usually burned in teepee burners at the sawmill in those days) for cook stove wood.

    Locust is hard, heavy and dense. That makes for slow burning and lots of heat. Light and soft woods are a ‘flash in the pan’ kind of heat; fast but soon over. I did not know about chestnut burning when wet. A wood that will burn when green is ash. Still good to know these kinds of things if one barbecues with wood or goes camping.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    December 3, 2019 at 7:20 am

    I remember when just about every home had a chop block just outside the yard. Best cornbread came from those wood cookstoves.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    December 3, 2019 at 6:44 am

    I really enjoy a wood fire

  • Reply
    Steve Cox
    December 3, 2019 at 6:40 am

    A friend of mine who lives near Springer Mountain found a maturing American Chestnut tree on a hike a few weeks back. He contacted the American Chestnut Society and they confirmed his find. The society is also planting about 400 resistant American Chestnuts in the North Georgia this winter. It would be nice if our grandkids once again saw this great American tree in our forest.

    • Reply
      Eldonna Ashley
      December 3, 2019 at 8:54 am

      My grandma had an electric stove but she chose to use her wood-burning kitchen cook stove until her death in the 1960s. I learned much of my cooking and baking skills from her while using thar old range. It heated the kitchen in winter too, but I never had to deal with bringing in wood from the woodpile. In summer she cooked with corncobs left from shelling corn for the livestock. Corncobs made a quick hot fire that died out fast. In summer that was good because the kitchen cooled off a bit as well.

      By the way, the woodpile was protected from snow and rain by the hood of an old car. It was a big car hood. I wonder what kind of car it came from. I donโ€™t think anyone still around knows. The woodpile was in the barn lot. It was not allowed in the yard. Grandma was very particular about her yard. The woodpile was fairly close to the back gate. It was shielded from view by the smokehouse.

    • Reply
      Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
      December 3, 2019 at 10:37 am

      That is some very good news, indeed! I sure hope they flourish.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2019 at 5:34 am

    I’ve never lived dependent on wood but my grandparents did till they got an oil heater in the living room. Even after the oil heater in the living room they still had and used the wood cook stove in the kitchen. I always thought it was funny that they had two stoves in the kitchen and cooked on both of them, one wood and one electric.
    It has always seemed to me that wood heat was warmer than electric heat.

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