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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

What It's Like Cutting Your Own Firewood in the Forest (With Video)

By Alyssa Craft

Tags: homesteading, off grid living, firewood, Alyssa Craft, Idaho,

Things have been very busy for us on our off­-grid homestead in Idaho these past few weeks, and one of the main tasks we have been focusing on has been cutting and stockpiling firewood for the winter. Our first winter on our homestead we just squeaked by with three cords of wood, so we knew we'd need to get a lot more for this coming season!

At first thought, gathering and cutting your own firewood sounds pretty simple. You cut a fallen tree into logs and load 'em up, right? We wish! In actuality, the process for us was much more complicated.

Interested in the steps necessary for gathering your own firewood? Read on for some helpful tips from our own experience!

cutting your own firewood

First Thing's First: Firewood Cutting Equipment

There are a lot of tools that make gathering firewood a lot easier. Below is a list of some of our best picks for this kind of job. This list is not all-inclusive, there are likely other things you may need depending on the situation but it’s a good place to start.

Pickup truck: Preferably one you don't mind throwing stuff in and beating up a bit.

Chainsaws: We always take two with us in different sizes so that we have a backup in case one acts up.

Tow chain: Useful for dragging trees that are already relatively close to the road.

Felling Wedges: Used for when you have to drop a standing tree in a certain spot.

Snatch block: Used for pulling logs longer distances than a chain can reach.

Axe: Can be used to get your chainsaw unstuck or to split round logs that are too big to carry.

Safety Gear: Bring your helmets, ear and eye protection, and thick gloves. Working with heavy logs can be a dangerous business.

firewood cutting tools

Finding Places to Cut Wood

The best option for us on where to cut firewood was to turn to the public land, or a national  forest. We needed permits to do this that came to $5 per cord which was more than reasonable for us. After buying a permit for eight cords of wood (as many as a household our size is allowed) we were ready to find some trees!

national forest road

Deciding on Trees

The best firewood comes from standing dead trees. Look for trees without any green leaves or needles to ensure it's actually dead, not just dying. For us to comply with regulations (they may vary by state), we have to look for trees that are no farther than 100 feet from the road and are at least 150 feet from a water source.

Take care to learn the species of trees that are allowed for harvesting in your area. Where we live, birch and cedar are off limits, but dead fir, pine and larch are all fair game. Windfall trees are also legal to harvest so long as they come from the permitted tree types.

Make sure you really know what type of tree you are harvesting because in our experience forest service personnel will come, ask to see your permit, and check to make sure you are complying with regulations.

Fighting Off the Competition

In our experience, there has been a surprising amount of competition for firewood from the forests in our area. Part of the reason for this is because the Forest Service has closed some of the roads through the forest, meaning that all woodcutters are forced to stick to the main highways.

This puts a lot of people in competition for wood, meaning that you have to be quick to get any good trees. Because any trees in the woods are fair game, some of our friends have felled trees and gone back to get them the next day, only to find that someone else has beaten them to it. This can be frustrating, but it's a reality when lots of people go after a relatively scarce resource.

gathing and cutting firewood in the forest

The Value of Gathering Our Own Firewood

After seeing all the effort we go through, some people ask us if getting our own firewood has been worth the effort. Even though it was a lot of work, our answer so far is a resounding yes.

In just a few weeks time, we've gathered enough wood to save us the equivalent of $900 in fuel costs and we've gotten a free workout as well. Both of us lost weight while harvesting our wood, and we didn't even have to pay to go to a gym.

firewood larch

Beyond that, we have been making memories together, enjoying the time that we get to spend outside and working together for the good of our home. In the sub freezing temperatures of midwinter, we'll look back at the sweltering 90 degree days we spent gathering wood and smile.

It's good to know our work now will help keep us warm in a few months. I’m sure cutting your own firewood is not the best solution for everyone, but for us right now, we’re young and happy to put in a little sweat to save some serious money, not to mention be self-sufficient when it comes to heating our home.

We hope this video and article serves as some sort of inspiration to someone that is looking to take the wood heat plunge! Gathering firewood is an experience like no other!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, getting started with solar power, building a wood-fired hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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