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Easy Firewood Processing for My Tiny House Homestead

It’s fall here in North Idaho.  That means you’ll likely find me processing firewood from our homestead for another winter season in our tiny house. Last year, we ran out of wood before the winter weather was gone and had to scramble to heat our tiny house.  This year, I’m determined to be well prepared and I’m doing it as easily as possible.

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Heating Our Tiny House with A Tiny Wood Stove

Our family lives off-grid in a 560 square foot tiny house.  We removed the axles from and put on a pier foundation and built a deck for it.  Our Dwarf 5KW Wood Stove is our sole source of heat.

Next to the tiny house, we built a storage shed, a greenhouse, and our solar panel array.  On the outside of the storage shed is our main woodshed that holds about a cord of processed firewood -mostly from our homestead.

 Our property is five-acres and has a natural spring, wildlife, and is covered with trees.  Most of the timber on our property is pine and fir with a little tamarack here and there.  We burn, roughly, a cord of wood per year.  There are a number of standing dead snags that fall on our property during windstorms.  These snags make for easy firewood.  But first, a little safety.

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Safety and Processing Firewood

The last thing I want, when processing firewood, is to be injured.  Firewood preparation can be dangerous because of the tools being used, the weight of the wood, and the physical nature of the work.  Good safety ensures that I can easily collect the wood I need for winter and still be safe.

 Here’s a quick list of gear I always use:

  • Eye Protection
  • Ear Protection
  • Chaps
  • Gloves
  • Close-toed shoes

Since I usually process fallen snags, this is typically all I need for easy, and safe, firewood processing.

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Firewood Cutting Dimensions for a Dwarf 5KW Tiny Wood Stove

Typically, I like to cut my wood into 8 - 10 inch rounds.  The Dwarf 5KW can fit slightly longer pieces but the 8 - 10 inch pieces are the easiest to work with.  If I’m buying firewood, I usually cut the 16” - 18” pieces into three pieces.  Shorter rounds, like this, makes splitting and hauling much easier than traditional wood sizes for large wood stoves.

Easy Firewood Processing

Firewood preparation is a lot of hard work.  The method of chopping the wood can determine how tired I get.  The quality of wood determines how long it will burn.  The moisture content of the wood determines the quality of fire I have in my tiny wood stove.  I break this process down into three easy categories.

 The BTU Content of Wood

The amount of heat that a particular type of wood can produce is related to the density of the wood.  Hardwoods are denser than softwoods and burn longer, hotter, and cleaner. I grew up in Kansas where there is a lot of Osage Orange which burns at almost 33 BTU’s per cord.  There is a full chart that gives details on woods and their BTUs.

 Here in North Idaho, we have mostly softwoods.  On our homestead property, we have pine (17 BTU’s per cord), Fir (14 BTU’s per cord), and Tamarack (20 BTU’s per cord).  If there’s anything the off-grid and tiny living communities understand it is making do with what we have.

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 Moisture Content of Wood

A freshly fallen tree can sometimes have a moisture content of 50%.  This means that up to ½ the weight of the wood is water.  Wet wood doesn’t burn as cleanly or as hot because the water in the wood suppresses the burn.  

 When I process my firewood, I always check the moisture content of the wood.  A good range for moisture is between 15 - 20%.  To get a precise measurement, I use a moisture meter.

 For a general understanding of the wood’s moisture content, I listen to the wood as I chop it.  Wood that is good for burning usually chops with a cracking sound and without too much effort.  Wet wood is much more difficult to split and usually makes a thudding noise when chopping or hitting other chunks of wood.

For wet wood, I set it aside in storage to cure for a season before burning it.

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 Easy Firewood Chopping

Chopping firewood is probably the most physically challenging part of my firewood preparation process.

 My Firewood Processing Tools

When I choose tools to process firewood, I look for reliability, ease of use, and how I can utilize what I already own.

 Saws

I have two chainsaws.  I have a gas-powered Husqvarna saw that I can use for any cutting application.  It is a great reliable and quick saw.

 This year, I purchased a little electric Dewalt chainsaw.  It uses the Dewalt batteries that I already have a lot of for other tools.  I thought I’d get this little chainsaw to help clear trails on our property because it is small and light.  This little saw surprised me and I’ve actually ended up using it for most of our firewood cutting this year.

The Splitting Axe and Hatchet

I’m a huge fan of the Fiskars line of axes, splitting axes and hatchets.  Their splitting axe is my preferred tool for splitting my wood rounds.  The solid handle design and quality ensure that I have a tool that will withstand all of the use I need to fill my woodshed for many years.

The Fiskars hatchet is also super handy and easy enough to use that my children can use it to chop kindling for our tiny wood stove.

Traditional Chopping of Firewood

The typical way to chop wood is to have a full round sitting on the ground and then place the round to be split on top of it.  Once that round is chopped, I pick up the remaining pieces, put them back on the full round, and split them again.  There is a lot of bending over and over, and repetitive lifting.  It gets the job done but, if I do it for a day, it is exhausting.  This is why I prefer the strap method.

Strapping Firewood for Chopping

Strapping firewood is done exactly as it sounds.  I take my trusty ratchet strap and tighten it up around a bunch of wood that is ready to be split.  I keep the strap low on the rounds so that my splitting ax doesn’t damage the strap.  Once the strap is snug, I repeatedly swing away at the mass of rounds splitting each one - often more than once.   

Why I Like The Strapping Method

The advantage of the strap over the traditional chopping method is that I don’t have to reposition the wood over and over.  The strap, for the most part, contains the split pieces and keeps them positioned for multiple chops and splits without having to rearrange the wood.  As a result, it is less physically difficult and faster to chop wood with a ratchet strap.

Another reason I like the strapping method is that a strap is compact and portable - a big plus for tiny living.  Plus, the strap can be used in multiple ways.

Another Popular Alternative to the Strapping Method For Chopping Firewood

When we lived in our Airstream RV, I could chop wood at any location we traveled because I had a strap, my splitting ax, and a hatchet.  They took up a minimal amount of space and made the process easy. 

An alternative to the strapping method is to use an old tire.  Wood can be chopped in the hole of the tire with the same outcome.  I still prefer the strapping method simply because I can chop larger bundles than a tire can contain and my strap packs away into a small space.

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My Backup Firewood Plans

Last year, I prepared about ½ a cord of mostly pine and fir firewood for winter.  We ran out of that wood before the cooler weather was over and that found me scrambling to source wood to burn.  I burned up scrap pallets, bought some compressed logs, and burned whatever I could to heat our tiny house.

This year, my woodshed is completely stocked with a full cord of wood from our property.  I have purchased a pallet load of Idaho Energy Compressed Logs to use for long overnight burns, and I have a few caches of firewood set aside to cure for a year.  In a pinch, I could use the wood in those caches to heat our home too.

Using my method of processing firewood, I’m able to keep our tiny home heated as easily and quickly as possible.  This year, I hope that my better planning and additional wood storage solutions will also help us be able to heat longer into the cold season.

Thanks for reading!

  • Nick

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