I have set out on an experiment in heating my home that has been interesting and is important to relay to other readers as their are many questions about using Soft Maple as a heat source. My experiment follows nearly a lifetime of wood burning, tree felling, splitting, chimney cleaning lifestyle and is of course not from a “professional”, so ask a professional when experimenting with home heating.
I have used wood only heating in my current home for five years with 100% safety and 1,000% enjoyment. Before that, I had 11 years of consistent home heating by wood. I ran into a project on my property that involved felling some gigantic Soft Maple trees in order to adjust fencing and grading issues. These trees also became a looming headache about falling on my building. This past early summer was the project.
The trees were about 48″-to-60″ in diameter. With all the overhead limbs that were as big as most trees appearing to start to hollow out, I felt it necessary to drop these trees with a large tracked excavator. In this scenario, we ripped the roots out from around the tree on three sides with a gigantic frost tooth/ cement tooth attachment. After ripping through the 16″ diameter roots, we used the machine to drop the trees by guiding them to the ground with the hook. I could not justify being under any one of those limbs while felling the tree as it would have been instant death upon impact.
Now that this job was complete, it was saw time. I had everything cut into lineal length for the saw mill in two days and the brush cut and stacked for burning. There was no way I could fathom attempting to split the wood with the enormity of the trunks. I decided early on to sell the largest logs to the mill and “deal with the limbs” at a later date. When talking to an old boy at the mill, he recommended against all other advice. He said to split the wood late season and burn it right away. Conventional wisdom would tell you to never burn un-seasoned, (wet) wood in a stove/fireplace or dangerous deposits of creosote would form in the chimney causing a chimney fire. I decided that with my project I had over three years supply of soft maple right in front of me, so I might as well try it given my understanding of how important it is to monitor the burning, I felt completely comfortable with this experiment.
I started heating intermittently in October, exclusively with soft maple. Here are my observations:
-It starts amazingly well given an air space under it. In fact, I have been able to rekindle the fire without any matches for most of the winter by using the bark from the soft maple placed directly on the very small coals and propping up what I would call “Extremely large tinder”, (i.e.- 2” – 4” odd split off fall), give it lots of air and it is going.
-Given its properties, it does not overheat my chimney near as often as hardwood, but did not lend itself to any signs of buildup in my chimney. For the first month and a half I would add “anti-creosote” granules when the chimney was warmed up to keep things clear.
-With fewer BTUs than hardwood, I have gone through about 10% more wood than the previous winter of hardwood burning and have used my electric blower about 20% of the burn time compared to not needing it with hardwood. This was for comfort, not necessity.
-I have cleaned out the ash box and chimney 3 times as much this year compared to hardwood burning. These ashes seem to quickly choke the coals if not monitored when you first get up in the morning.
-I have decided to not use the granules any longer and keep monitoring the chimney. For the past month I have not noticed any change in buildup in the chimney. It is amazing how clean my chimney is for burning a softwood. It has yet to truly need the brush this year, but I have as habit.
-If a long burn is needed, it is imperative that you stack the wood in the fire box in a manner that would not aid in air flow to the fire. In other words, try to stack wood exactly upon itself in the exact same direction creating very small places for the flame to lick out upon the upper wood which allows the wood to smolder in the ash below and keep a more consistent burn albeit at a lower temperature. At least when you get home you have coals and a comfortable abode.This experiment has been fun as I am glad to not waste that much cordwood. I have not cut up the additional logs that were limbs from those trees yet as I did not want it to dry up and not create any heat next year. I will monitor the results and fill you in when that season is upon us. I hope that in 20’ lengths of logs, that it will still retain its moisture without rotting. Soft Maple really does not do well for any outdoor exposure in lumber form.
I wanted to share this experiment as it is against what I have known and could prove useful to someone else when dealing with a soft “nuisance” tree like Soft Maple. Please understand that other soft woods don’t share this property to my knowledge. Cottonwood plugged my chimney faster than I have ever seen before. But Cottonwood and hardwood mix allowed me to get some benefit out of that tree that could not be used at the mill. (I don’t recommend using Cottonwood, after that experiment).
A tidbit of value before cutting up your tree post-SHTF. After felling a tree, look at the rings. If you notice a sizeable, (thumb size or larger) deposit of graphite toned discoloration, then you have a tree with metal inside. Maybe it’s just a nail, but maybe it is a fence post! This is extremely important if you own the sawmill or you don’t have spare chains or teeth for your saws and you can’t get them without UPS [parcel delivery service continuing] as we know it. I would venture this to be very common among fence row trees on the property lines or near pastures of yesteryear. Avoiding that part of the tree could mean the difference between keeping your home heated for the year, or looking for a new saw at the barter faire!
Last bit of advice, the sawmill was happy to see that I over sized the logs by 5” to allow them to trim the ends. They were also glad to see the large logs compared to most customers who split the trunks and sell the limbs. What a mistake as the profit lost could put food on the table! The limbs burn 30% longer than an equivalent size and weight log that is split. I love burning round stock that is properly cured!
In my project, I did have logs that were too big for the mill’s equipment. In those cases I had to saw the logs in half. I guess that is better than trying to axe a 48” diameter log, or roll that widow maker up onto the log splitter!
A little asking around might serve us all better before the need arises. This well seasoned man just heated my family this Winter,…. Maybe he’ll heat yours too! All the Best! – The Wanderer