Full disclosure, Lee wanted to name this post something else, the twelve year old boy in him thought of all sorts of inappropriate titles, but I put my foot down. It is all about the wood though, for a variety of reasons that will become clear as you read through. First and foremost we love campfires and getting wood on the road has been a bit of a challenge. The bundles of wood that campgrounds sell are ridiculously priced, and usually not very good wood, so we try to carry as much as we can with us, purchased from local vendors. I’m going to let Lee pick up here though, because he has learned quite a bit about this process over the last year and if you like fires as we do I think you will find it interesting…
It’s not really that complicated, it just takes a little time and some research. I’m not an expert, but when I was a kid, I lived in a house that was heated exclusively by a couple of pot bellied wood stoves. I spent more time messing with stove lengths than I care to remember, and while nothing is as warm as a wood stove, when you’re a kid, it sucks. Every summer I had to spend countless hundreds of hours cutting, splitting and stacking wood. Sometimes stacking it so high I had to climb up on top and my brother would toss stove lengths up to me to stack them. If you don’t catch well, and I didn’t, you get hit with more of them than you catch. Wood is hard. It hurts when it hits you in the ankle or head. And you never want to be on top of a cord of when it collapses because you’re a kid and stacked it poorly so you could go play, by the way. Wood is hard. It hurts when it lands on you.
In the winter that wood had to be toted inside, in order to be of any use, and the godawful mess that it made, from the little itty bitty pieces of wood that were everywhere and constantly had to be cleaned up, and the ashes, and constantly pouring water into the cast iron pot on top of the stove to keep some humidity in the air. I hated it, and I swore that once I was an adult I would never mess with wood again. But it turns out that I enjoy campfires quite a bit, and I’m a cheap bastard, and some of the useless crap my Dad told me about wood when I was 10 stuck inside my head.
Whenever we get to an area I keep my eyes open for people who sell wood from their home, or if there’s a trailer full of wood parked in a parking lot along a main drag somewhere. Sometimes I just look on Facebook, or the internet. There’s always someone, somewhere, that sells firewood for people to use in their fireplace or wood stove. Usually they are selling it by the cord, so I call them and explain that I’m looking for a lot less than that, and once they understand, the prices come way down. Mostly they get a good laugh out of how I’m beating the system. They know that the “bundles” that campgrounds and stores sell is garbage wood and ridiculously priced. And generally these guys are selling very good seasoned wood; for people who heat their home with wood, they wouldn’t be in business for long selling bad wood. For anyone that doesn’t already know, seasoned wood is partially dried, and burns better than freshly cut wood. Unseasoned, or “green” wood is much harder to light, and doesn’t burn well, or very hot. The moisture content cools the fire. There are also difference in soft wood and hard wood. Soft wood is good for a nice little fire, but if you want heat and duration, hard woods burn much hotter, and much longer.
So how do you know if the wood is ready to burn? Some people will tell you how long ago the wood was cut and split, but that doesn’t really matter, because how well seasoned it is doesn’t really depend on when it was cut. For deciduous trees, sap moves to the roots in winter, so for those trees, if they are felled in winter they already have a low moisture content. And while soft woods take between 6-12 months to season, hardwoods can take up to two years. But a soft wood that’s two years old is too dry, and will burn way too fast. Surface moisture from a little bit of rain also doesn’t matter, all that matters is the moisture content of the inside. Wood won’t season well packed into a truck bed either. It really needs to be stacked loosely and in the open air to season properly, so don’t buy it green to save money thinking that it will season while you drive it around. And finally, split wood seasons much faster than rounds.
So, how do you know if it’s ready to burn? If you are using a moisture meter, 20-25% moisture content is ideal. Apart from using a moisture meter, there are some pretty reliable trustworthy ways to tell. First, look at the bark. If the bark is barely hanging on and loose, or falling off, that’s a good sign.
Next is color. Seasoned wood is lighter and paler than unseasoned. Also, look at the ends. There should be radial cracks from the outside inwards.
And finally, the wood will tell you it’s ready to burn. If you knock two pieces of it together, it should not have a dull “thud” sound, but rather a sort of hollow “ring” that holds for a few seconds. It’s hard to explain, but you can definitely hear the difference.
This wood is NOT seasoned. Closely clinging bark, rich color, no cracks.
Notice the difference? The color is light and sort of faded, there’s hardly any bark, and what little there is is falling off, and most importantly, nice deep radial cracks. This wood is seasoned and ready to burn! Pull up some chairs and some drinks and have a campfire.
And the best part is, buying wood in this way gets you WAY more wood than bundles, and it’s WAY cheaper. In our case, we have an 8 foot truck bed, but there’s a crossover tool box, and of course, the 5th wheel hitch, and a 45 gallon portable grey water tank in the bed as well. The crossover toolbox doesn’t go all the way to the bottom of the truck bed, so I can stack a fair amount underneath, and then I basically stack everywhere I can squeeze it in. It ends up being between 1/3 and 1/2 a cord of wood. We can usually get that much in for anywhere between $60-80. That might seem like a lot of money, but first, take a look at how much wood that is, keeping in mind that there’s two or three rows stuffed UNDER the toolbox.
You can just see the edge of the portable water tank at the bottom of the second picture, and on the upper right corner of the first picture, there’s a “hole” that we use to keep two milk crates full of bottled water. So that’s about 1/3 cord, and we paid $80 for this nicely seasoned hardwood, which is a pretty good deal. At our most recent campground, they were selling bundles for $8 that had about 6-8 pieces of what I would call junk wood, and it took about 4 of those pieces to make one of these pieces. Most stove-lengths are split so that the end looks a piece of pie, usually two splits per log, so it yields 4 pieces of stove-length. The junk you get in a bundle is usually split twice again, so there’s twice as many pieces, but they burn much faster, and have far less surface area. It’s basically kindling.
If you were going to buy this same amount of wood from a gas station or campground, by volume alone, I would say it would probably cost closer to $300. And it wouldn’t be good stuff, either. So this is one of those rare cases where just a little bit of work gets you more of something better for less money.
And finally, if you aren’t getting the wood delivered to you, when you go to pick it up, take a look at how it’s stacked, or just ask the person over the phone if it’s straight-stacked or cross-stacked. Wood is measured and priced by the cord, or cord portion; half cord, third cord, quarter cord, eighth cord. A cord is 4′ high, by 4′ wide, by 8′ long. That’s a volume of 128 cubic feet. Obviously wood doesn’t stack like bricks, so there’s some air, between the pieces. The actual amount of wood will vary, depending on the size and shape of the pieces, which is no big deal, that’s just how it is. But given that, the actual amount of wood in that 128 cubic feet is generally closer to 100 cubic feet, so part of the deal is that about 20% of what you’re buying is just air. How the wood is stacked before it’s measured is VERY important. Some unscrupulous vendors will cross-stack wood instead, as opposed to straight-stacking. Some will tell you that cross-stacking allows air to circulate through the wood and season is better. This is nonsense, most of the moisture leaves the wood from the cut ends, so straight-stacking exposes the cut end to open air. What cross-stacking ACTUALLY does is make it look like there’s a lot more wood than there actually is. By cross-stacking, you can easily reduce the wood in a cord from 80% down to as much as 60%.
This picture of cross-stacked wood contains about two-thirds the amount of wood in the second picture of straight-stacked wood.
As much as I hated cutting, splitting and stacking wood as a kid, that picture above makes me smile. That’s properly split, stacked and seasoned wood, and will make really nice fires.If you’re a full timer, and like to have lots of campfires, and want to spend the least amount of money, hopefully this has been helpful information.
Back to Trace….
It’s also all about the wood because I love wood. Wood bowls, sculptures, trees, they all speak to me and one of the best things about the Redwoods has been how much wood we have been surrounded by. We have been in every single place that was open in the immediate area and even though we only had one day left, I wanted to check out the Redwood National Forest. It was a two hour drive but I just couldn’t leave this area without seeing the National Park. The drive up was absolutely lovely because we had a perfectly sunny day and we stopped several times to run minor errands. We also timed it so we were in Eureka at lunchtime and I got to try the Vietnamese Restaurant Pho Lan Phoung, which is on 101 heading north before the Target. Vietnamese is my absolute favorite Asian cuisine and although the restaurant was not as good as my favorite restaurant in Massachusetts, it did not disappoint.
Afterwards we drove up the coast and stopped at the multiple Lagoon parks along the way. There is Big Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, and Dry Lagoon and each one of them had a beautiful view, plus lots of birds in the water.
Afterwards we moved a bit inland and drove to the Redwood National Forest. As a general rule, the National Park is always a bit better than the neighboring state parks, but in this case it was absolutely not the case. We stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Grove and although there were a few tall trees it had nowhere near the majesty of Founders Grove or even the grove where we are staying in Burlington. Honestly I would give it a pass, but I would definitely stop in the small town of Orick (pop 650) because there were several wood artisans there and we saw some amazing creations. At one of the places we stopped, Jim, the owner of Wagon Wheel Burl, came out and asked if we needed help. We started talking about the piece of wood we were looking for to replace the top on our little end table, and he immediately said “RVers?” We both perked up and he said he had similar requests several times and would be happy to help. He walked right into his workshop and found a beautiful piece of bird’s eye burl that was close to the size we were looking for, and when Lee explained the sizing he immediately took out a grease pencil, drew out the cut lines on it, and said it would be $30, cut and ready for us to finish. WOW. Other people we had talked to wanted to add $50-$60 for cutting and sanding, but he just said “No problem.” and spent 10 minutes quickly sanding and shaping. I was stunned, as it was our last day and I had almost given up but for $32 (including tax) we now are the proud owners of a beautiful piece of redwood. Lee is going to coat it and attach it to the table we have, but the hard part is done. So I absolutely, positively recommend going to see Jim if you are in the area. Not only was he incredibly nice, but his prices were reasonable, and most importantly, he solved my problem. A girl couldn’t ask for more. I actually wanted to hug him, but controlled myself!
And if all that wasn’t exciting enough, we caught the sunset on the way home at Clam Beach and as an extra surprise Lee took me back by Carson Mansion to see it all lit up for Christmas.
It was a lovely day and a great way to cap off our time in the Redwoods. Next up, Monterrey and some time with our baby girl Kay. The onto the Rose Bowl! I’ll try to keep up with the posting, but if I get a little behind it’s for a good reason…family time!!
Burlington Campground Avenue of the Giants near Visitors Center 3 out of 5 pine cones
Beautiful campground in an old growth Redwood grove. Very close to lots of terrific Redwood hikes. Not recommended for larger rigs because it is difficult to get to the smallish campsites. No services. Weak AT&T and Verizon signal. Clean restrooms, pay showers, friendly staff. Terrific visitor’s center next door. It is very dark in the grove so staying for long stretches of time can wear on a person. $35 dollars a night is pricey, but it’s well tended. Maintenance comes twice a day.
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That wonderful piece of wood was your reward for honoring your commitment and staying put even though you did have to put up with a lot of rain;o)) Can’t wait to see the finished table. Enjoy your family time!!! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
There was an interesting article in Reader’s Digest last month about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and how it is overdue for a major earthquake. Yikes!
Awesome tabletop, Trace!
Great information on wood seasoning. Barb and I heated predominantly with wood for the last 25 years and you can definitely tell when wood is not seasoned properly. Looking forward to seeing the final product with your table project!
Glad you took control of the title…..
Good wood info! Might want to just talk a bit about how important it is not to move firewood from area to area. In the northeast, it’s illegal. And you have to show a receipt from a local vendor at campgrounds. I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the insect issues and the laws, which will become an issue if they buy in bulk then get out on the road.
That’s a great point and we ran into some trouble when we went to Canada which I talked about. We recommend getting kind dried wood in New England which comes with a piece of paper showing its bug free so you can use it anywhere. That fully out west this is a complete non issue. Haven’t had a problem since we crossed the Mississippi.
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