Keep warm as winter unfolds

Margo Hansen

The snow was ushered in this year just in time for Christmas. Who does not love a white Christmas in this part of the country?

It was the extended bitter cold that came right on the heels of Old Saint Nick that spoiled many fun outdoor winter sports to end 2017. I remember many bitter winters doing chores on our dairy farm in the 1960s and 1970s. We always left the house bundled up and warm only to return several hours later chilled to the bone.

Our drafty old farmhouse had a coal burning furnace, which ran constantly trying to keep us and the water pipes from freezing at night. It was the old Franklin stove in the kitchen that added the much needed heat to thaw out our frozen fingers and toes.

Heat from a fireplace or a wood burning stove gives off a penetrating kind of warmth. Sure it was work cutting and splitting firewood in the fall but it was worth it when those winter winds began to howl. Dad would drag dead tree logs with a tractor to the farm yard for us to chop up and split when time allowed. We burnt all the twigs, bark and logs he brought from the woods. He never paid too much attention to what kind of wood we burnt. “As long as it burns wood is wood,” he would say. I learned years later when cutting and splitting my own firewood that there is a big difference in the amount of heat and ash you get from different types of trees.

The production of firewood is a thriving business all around the world. There are all types of wood used for cooking and heating on this planet. Hardwoods have less resin and burn slower and longer then softwoods. The amount of heat produced coincides with the density of the wood. Dense woods like Hickory (density of 50), White Oak (density of 47.2), and Red Oak (density of 44.2) have higher recoverable heat values of 27.7, 25.7 and 24.0 respectively. Less dense wood like Cottonwood (density of 24.8) and White Pine (density of 26.3) have lower recoverable numbers of 13.5 and 14.3 and produce less heat and a lot more ash.

There is a right way and a wrong way to start a fire in a wood burning stove; trust me, I have done both. To start a fire — start small, crumple some newspaper, add some cardboard followed by some loose bark and small twigs. Once the small fire is burning add small logs of low density wood like Cottonwood or soft Maple.

At this point the heat in the stove is around 575 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the logs are self-burning add the denser wood such as oak or walnut. Now the wood is burning slow and long, producing the most efficient heat between 900 and 1,100 degrees. Heat produced is measured in BTU’s, which stands for British Thermal Unit. One BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water one degree.

Firewood is sold by the cord. The term “cord” comes from the early 1600s when wood was sold by a bundle you could carry home on your back. This bundle was tied with a cord hence the term “cord” of wood. A cord of wood today is a lot larger measuring 4 foot high by 4 foot wide by 8 foot long, cut and stacked. A full cord of hardwood properly dried can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and a cord of softwood up to 2,500 pounds. So dad, all wood is not created equal.

Margo Hansen is the director of programs with Bickelhaupt Arboretum/Clinton Community College.

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