It seems to me that, at this time of year with bone-numbing wind coming from the north and ice forming on our windshields, our thoughts just naturally turn to the vision of a nice evening fire in our fireplace. Oh, sure, most of the heat goes up the chimney, but we still get plenty to feel the effect, and the mere sight of those blazing logs is sufficient to provide a cozy, warm feeling. Moreover, the combustion process adds moisture to the air – it’s a natural humidifier.
This is the first home where we’ve had a fireplace and for a number of years we never used it because we spent the cold weather months in Florida. Once we sold our southern home and began enjoying the delights of winter hereabouts, I decided to exercise that heretofore unused option and start using the fireplace. Admittedly I was totally ignorant of the “do’s and don’t’s” of successful fireplace practices, but so far I have managed keep the fire and smoke where they belong – inside the fireplace. Fortunately I have been tutored by my son-in-law, Jeff, who has over 30 years of experience in fireplace and wood-burning stoves and is willing to share his knowledge – which he attributes to “the school of hard knocks”.
One of his very useful ideas is to place a piece of stainless steel mesh – such as that used for reinforcing plaster and concrete – on the grate under the wood. This keeps the pieces of kindling and wood from falling through the grate; provides an airway to assist the burning; and permits the ashes to fall through. Pretty slick.
Jeff has a basement workshop where he does a lot of woodworking kinda stuff and as a result he has lotsa what he calls “cutoffs” which are the odds and ends of wood left over from his various projects. Instead of throwing them into the trash, he tosses them into a five gallon bucket and when they visit us, he gives them to me to use as kindling to assist in starting fires. These randomly sized pieces do a great job particularly with the steel mesh holding even the smallest pieces in place.
He also makes me “fire-starters” that consist of strips about one inch on a side and about six inches long that he cuts from sheets of something called “homosote”, an organic insulator used for exterior walls and basements. When containers with tight screw top lids are available, he fills them with strips and adds some kerosene which is absorbed by the homosote. These fire starters in their sealed containers retain their combustibility for quite a while. He also provides me with “dry” strips which I convert into fire starters by adding charcoal starter liquid as needed. Either way, a couple of these strips are quite sufficient to start the fire.
I also had to learn about firewood – and I’m still learning. At first I used whatever was handy including discarded wooden pallets and dead trees from a friend who owned a farm. These efforts were moderately successful, but proved to be laborious and time-consuming so I began purchasing my firewood.
Buying firewood can be educational – for example, according to state rules and regulations, “Non-packaged firewood must be sold by the cord or fractions of a cord. One cord, when properly stacked, should be 8 feet long by 4 feet high and 4 feet wide (about 128 cubic feet). It is illegal to sell firewood by any other unit of measurement such as rick, rack, face cord or truckload.” Sounds pretty straightforward but finding a seller that complies with this requirement isn’t easy.
One popular measurement is the “face cord” which is a stack 4 feet high, 8 feet long, but only about 16 inches wide – that is, only about 42 cubic feet. You see, a 4 foot piece of wood is too long to fit in the usual fireplace or wood-burning stove, hence the shorter length. Other sellers offer a “pickup” load – but don’t necessarily identify the size of the pickup bed. A couple of years ago I bought a “truckload” with the truck turning out to be a dump truck. I’m sure I got my full cord.
We’ve already enjoyed our first fire of the year and have sufficient wood for several more but I intend to buy another cord which should last us through the winter – however, I’ve encountered problems. Some sellers require I pick up the wood which I can’t do; others provide only portions of tree limbs that are not split; and I’m out of the delivery area for others. A bit discouraging but I’ll keep looking.
You know, there’s something very satisfying about having a nice wood fire going while we’re looking out the window at that wintery scene – especially while it’s snowing. Kinda makes a body feel comfortable all over. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular Greene County Daily columnist and local area resident, resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.