I’ve had woodstoves in two of the homes I’ve lived in during my adult life, and I can’t imagine living without one. Sure, they’re a lot of work, and I must admit that, at times, I get tired just thinking of splitting, stacking and lugging all that wood. I wish I’d kept better track of the money I’ve saved all these years, but knowing that I can get by on just 100 gallons year for my back-up kerosene heater says it all.
I’ve made it my mission these last few years to try to find free wood wherever I can. I have the good fortune of living on five wooded acres, which afford me lots of free wood from fallen trees and the billions of branches that fall each time the wind blows. But I’ve also managed to find free wood in other ways, and I am sharing this in the hopes that others who own woodstoves might benefit from my experiences, especially during these tough economic times.
Wherever there’s a factory, a manufacturing company, or a retail stores, you’ll find wooden pallets. Also called skids, they are used to store large amounts of merchandise that can be easily moved around in stock rooms and warehouses with fork-lift trucks. Most pallets are made of scrap oak, while others are made of either junk maple or soft pine. They are held together with nails or large staples, and are often left outside where they quickly dry and become weathered and brittle. While they are labor-intensive, they can be taken apart with a hammer and pry bar, or the narrow center boards can be cut apart with a Skilsaw. I cut the thicker ends, usually made of two-by-fours, on my radial arm saw.
The downside to pallet wood is that it contains a lot of nails and staples that end up in the ashes of the stove. It’s not a problem if you don’t use the ashes in your garden or compost pile, but if you do, you’ll need to screen them out before using it.
Junk wood is often left behind at transfer stations and town dumps. If you see any unpainted junk lumber that is not pressure treated lying around, just ask the station attendant if you can have it. It’s usually free for the taking, as this reduces the waste load that the station has to process.
Construction sites are also good places to find junk wood. Just ask the site foreman if it’s all right to take any debris lying around. Contractors are often all too happy to have someone else haul the stuff away.
I’ve also had good results by simply putting a “scrap wood wanted” sign in front of my garage. It’s not unusual to come home to a new pile of the stuff that a mystery donor dropped off. Again, it’s a win-win situation: you benefit from the wood and the donor benefits by having an easy way to get rid of it without taking it to a transfer station where dumping fees could be involved.
Of course, you have to be willing to do the work cutting the scrap lumber into usable stove lengths or splitting any large chunks of hardwood that end up on your donation pile. But staying warm during the winter months far outweighs any sweat equity you may have to invest, and knowing it didn’t cost you a dime only adds to that warm cozy feeling.