Sunday, October 11, 2009

10 Ways to Find Free Firewood

Even in urban areas there is free firewood to be had!  Here are 10 ways to find free wood and heat your home for free (assuming you have a wood stove in good working order). This year the market prices for a cord of wood ranges between $150-$250.  An unknowing buyer can end up with a load of unseasoned wood which will not burn well.  There are unscrupulous woodcutters out there so beware.  Getting firewood yourself allows you to be sure whether the wood is seasoned or needs to rest a year.

First of all, you must be willing to do some work.  A chain saw, hand saw, pruners, ax, maul, wedge, pickup truck, wheel barrel and good back are really helpful.  Know how to use these tools and use them safely. Cutting and splitting wood is hard labor very fulfilling but does have an element of danger.  Do not attempt to use a chain saw without proper instruction or experience.  It is not worth a deep gash or a missing limb and I don't mean from a tree. 

Always ask the landowner permission before taking wood off any property.  Stealing wood can quickly add up and become a felony.

Here are 10 sources of free firewood:
  1. Storm Debris - After a storm there are branches and trees down everywhere.  Some lie in the road, in backyards and business parking lots.  Get out there with a chain saw or hefty saw. Let your neighbors know you will clear away and take away the big stuff while making the small stuff more manageable for them to handle.
  2. Dead Trees and Pruning - Someone has to do this job and it might as well be you.  It is a fact of life that trees eventually die and need to be taken down before they fall and do damage.  Make sure you know what you are doing before felling a tree.  There is a science to it and you don't want to cut into it with a new chain saw and have it fall on a neighbor's car.  Trees and bushes need regular pruning resulting in a mess to be cleaned up.  Our apple trees not only make good firewood but we save some of it for smoking meat and fish.
  3. Burn Piles - When lots are being cleared for construction, the trees are often cleared by professionals who take out the cash trees leaving behind scrub trees branches and stumps.  This wood is piled up with a bulldozer and left to age and wait to be burned.  Burn piles can provide truckloads of wood.  First ask the landowner or contractor and get permission.  Some will say no stating problems with insurance.  In that case, keep looking.  If you get the go ahead inspect the wood carefully.  Be sure it has not been covered with dirt or rocks.  Dirt and rocks will ruin a chainsaw blade quickly and end up costing you money.  Look carefully and harvest the hard wood first.
  4. Dumpsters - Construction sites often discard end pieces of wood.  Ask first then carefully pick out burnable wood.  Watch out for nails and pretreated or painted wood.  Pretreated and painted wood can give off nasty unhealthy fumes and is not recommended for woodstoves. Manufacturers who have goods and equipment shipped in wooden crates are also good sources for free wood.  We have gotten many perfectly good pieces of odd sized plywood from businesses.
  5. The Government - I figure since I pay taxes, public lands are great places to get free food. Sometimes a permit is needed or a small fee is required.  Check before chopping! Look over the area first and see if what is available is worth your time and money.  Contact the local highway department and public works department to find out where they are taking down trees and branches.  Often wood is left for the taking.  Maybe you can make a good connection and get a lead once in a while on thinning sites.  Military reservations, the forestry service,  the park service all have wood that is often available.  Just spend some time calling the local, state and federal offices found in the yellow pages.  Sometimes free just means a phone call. Call WA Department of Natural Resources  permit information. 
  6. Landscapers, Tree Doctors and Logging Companies - All of these professionals create wood capable of becoming firewood.  Sometimes their employees moonlight and sell firewood from work sites on the side. Call and ask if there are sites you can help clean and haul away their debris. Some wood professionals will decide is too small in diameter to be worth dealing with and it might be available.  Establish a relationship with these people and know where work sites will be. A good idea is to bring them coffee, lunch or a six pack once in a while to cement a relationship.  Maybe they will even deliver!
  7. Ads - Check the free advertising sites on the internet like Craigslist ,  Freecycle,   SuperPages,   City DataFree Ad, Trading Post  for postings for free firewood.  Also watch the local newspapers, supermarket bulletin boards, church notice boards and free ad papers. Don't answer ads that say bring logger truck and jammer.  Those jobs are for guys with lumber boots, high water pants and striped denim shirts.
  8. Pallets - Wooden pallets can be found everywhere. They are used to move materials in industry and   often are considered one time use only. Pallets can be heavy and are full of nails and staples. They can be cut up with a chain saw and as long as the nails and staples are looked for in the woodstove ash container they are safe to use in wood stoves. I sift the ashes before dumping them in the garden. Most often pallets are made from less expensive soft woods so they burn quickly and it takes a larger pile of pallet wood to match a pile of hardwood.
  9. Saw Mills - Sawmills, cabinet makers, furniture makers and wood manufacturers all create scrap    lumber.  Contact them and arrange to pick up end cuts.  Sometimes you will be saving them disposal costs. Collect saw dust in bags while there to use as kindling.
  10. Networking and Asking - This is the most important method of finding free firewood.  Tell people you are looking for free wood and will clean up wood debris, work sites or take away unused wood.  You will be surprised who will call you with an offer or tip.  Always be on the hunt.  Make up some business cards with name and contact information and pass them to friends, family, co-workers, contractors even people buying supplies in home improvement stores and staff at estate sales. 
The final element needed to complete the fuel storage for the winter is kindling. Fire starting material can be found by:
  • Asking neighbors to save their newspapers or walk around the neighborhood on trash day and collect papers from recyle boxes.
  • Supermarkets have free papers, real estate, rental or car booklets.  Take them home, read them then use them to start the fire.
  • Collect pinecones 
  • Pellets sold for pellet stores can be used in a wood stove to start the fire.  Watch for broken bags which can be gotten free or at a greatly reduced rate.
  • Cardboard is readily available.  All stores and business have cardboard and pay someone to take it away.  Offer to take it away free for them.
  • Walk the beach and pick up drift wood, walk in the woods and pick up sticks and squaw wood.  Squaw wood is dead wood on the lower branches of trees that can be snapped off easily.
  • Cedar shakes make great kindling.  Find someone who is reroofing and take away the old shakes.
  • Kindling Sources is a great article on ideas for kindling.
All the wood in our backyard was gleaned freely combined with the sweat off our backs. A few hours work can create a large woodpile. Just think you can also save the cost of a gym membership. You could save at least $25 a month and get real aerobic exercise! By collecting firewood I promise you will work up a good sweat and be rewarded with a warm toasty fire in your woodstove. Do it yourself and go find free firewood.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. -- Henry David Thoreau


The Frugal Fraulein said...

Since posting this article we have found free wood twice on Craigslist. First we got a truckload of seasoned Doug fir that had been sitting on the back of someone's property. The large rounds were brought home by Tim and he is now working on spliting them. Although we know someone with a spliter that we could borrow he likes the excercise of splitting and prefers to do it himself. The second load we got yesterday from a tip on Craigslist. When we arrived at the address we found 4 neat piles of construction ends. We picked up various sizes of 2x4's and some floor joists and filled the truck. The floor joist sections are large enough to fashion some new garden boxes! The man was thrilled we cleaned up his piles so he doesn't have to burn and said he will call us again to return when more is ready! All for some sweat.

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