Using Free Wood from Storm-Downed Trees

Reader Contribution by Douglas Dedrick and Healing Law
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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could heat your home for free?

Whether you use gas, or electric. One thing is for certain, heating bills are one of the most expensive utilities there is! So naturally, finding a way to cut heating costs is ideal. As a landscaper who doesn’t have full-time work in the winter, cutting winter expenses is crucial.

This year I was able to heat my home with free wood from storm downed trees. But, heating your home is only the beginning of what you can do with wood from storm downed trees.

Today, I wanted to talk about a few of the things I have down through the years with the storm downed wood. Including how I was able to use storm downed tress from Hurricane Dorian to heat my home this winter.

If you are looking for things to do with storm downed wood, or are just here to read something new. Here are some of my favorite ways to make use of storm downed trees.

The Great Breeze of 2019

When hurricane Dorian came through in late August, rain wasn’t the only thing that came falling down. By the time it reached Eastern North Carolina, Dorian wasn’t much of a hurricane. Yet it still took down a number of trees around town.

As Dorian continued north back into the Atlantic, storm cleanup began. After only a few days, there were piles of wood out in the streets ready to be collected by the municipality.

>Unfortunately, most of the downed trees just go to the landfill. But, there are so many uses for storm downed wood. Even the soft woods that can’t be burned.

A Windfall of Firewood

This year I finally have a wood stove. Ironically in the 7 years I was in NY I never had one. It seems as if more people have wood stoves and fireplaces in eastern, North Carolina where I am now, than in the area I lived in Upstate New York. Regardless there isn’t much wood on the property where I now live. In NY, I lived on 15+ acres, but now I live in on a tiny plot of land, less than 1/2 an acre. The little bit of wood that was here, I stacked and burned through earlier in the year.

Yet, after Hurricane Dorian came through, all around town there was piles of wood and downed trees. Seeing an opportunity I started up my truck, grabbed my chainsaw and started collecting. For about two weeks there was more wood than I could handle. My tiny yard was soon covered with wood ready to be cut to size and split.

In a two week span, I was able to harvest around 2.5 cords of firewood. Best of all, it only took me an hour or two each day to get it. When I have made firewood in the past. Downing the tree and dragging it out of the woods took a long time. However, when Dorian came through, the wood could not have been easier to collect. It was very easy to create a supply of firewood for the winter.

Yet, as much wood as I was able to get, there were still dump truck loads of wood being driven off to the landfill. Sure a lot of it was pine or other woods that couldn’t be used for the fireplace. But, there are certainly other uses for storm downed wood too.

The Downsides of Storm-Downed Firewood

There were definitely a few stumbling blocks I ran into when collecting the storm downed wood from around town. The biggest of them was difficulty identifying the wood I was collecting. Sure it’s easy to tell a hard from a soft wood, but there are still a number of hardwoods that are difficult to process. Finding the best firewood is harder when the tree isn’t standing tall.

One load of wood in particular was difficult to split. Splitting the smaller pieces was easy, but there were a lot that I just couldn’t split through.

Again, being used to 15+ acres in upstate New York, I tried to burn what I couldn’t split outside in my fire pit. When a crew of firemen came to my door and asked me to put it out, I discovered burning outside, even in a fire pit is illegal in the city I now live in. Fortunately, the firemen were kind about it. Apparently they get yelled at a lot for telling people they have to put their fire out, and were just glad that I simply put it out. 

The other downside to collecting storm downed wood, which is a problem with all firewood in general is the bugs. Some of the wood, in particular a pecan tree I found, was full of carpenter ants. Every time I would split it they would come pouring out! But bugs and firewood just go hand in hand. I treated the yard a few times with a lemongrass oil based pesticide from Lowes, and it really cut down on the amount of bugs I brought in.

Other Uses for Storm-Downed Wood

Firewood isn’t the only use for storm downed wood. Over the years I have made a lot out of wood from dead trees. When I was in Upstate New York there was a guy that you could bring wood to and he would mill it. Once, after collecting a truck load from ash trees killed by emerald ash borers, and some cedar that was downed in a storm. I took it to him and got it milled.

Having wood milled by a small mill is cheap too. For the truck load of wood, cut to custom sizes it only cost me about $30. And, it took me a few years to make use of it all. Most of it was milled into 1’ thick material because it is so expensive, and versatile.  

In fact, I made both of my desks from cedar wood I found from a downed tree. The ash I used to build raised garden beds and for shelving my books. You can see some of those shelves and my cedar desks in the photo above.

After hurricane Dorian I was lucky enough to find some ginkgo biloba wood. I still haven’t found a use for it. Worse case I can burn it, but ginkgo wood is good for a lot of fine woodworking and it is used in China and Japan for building religious furniture. Only time will tell what it will be used for.

Garden Beds and Mulching

For any wood that can’t be used as firewood or building material, you can always make use of in your landscape. From building raised garden beds from whole logs, to hugelkultur, or mulching. Any and all fallen wood can be utilized. Professional mulching machines can be rented in many areas, and they make mulching a breeze. Maybe your neighbors would want to share the cost.

As a landscaper, I find that it is important to keep any and all nutrients on the property when possible. It simply doesn’t make sense to remove material full of organic minerals from the land, just to add them back with some fertilizer, even if it’s organic.

To Wrap it Up

Whether a storm downed tree strikes your house or falls into the yard, why not make use of it? It definitely takes a bit of work. However, if you take the time to make use of the fallen wood around you, you can build a keepsake that will be around for years to come. Or at the very least, keep your house warm for the winter.

So many trees simply fall down and go to waste. All the while there are forests of trees being grown just to be harvested. Making use of storm downed wood may not have been in your plans, but I have always found that my life is better for making use of it.

You don’t need to be an expert in woodworking to make amazing things things happen with storm downed wood. I for one am certainly far from a master carpenter.

If you have ever made anything from storm downed wood, let me know. I “wood” love to hear your story!.

Photo credits: Krystal Blackmouth @kovacspistol on instagram

Douglas Dedrickis landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him atHealing Law, and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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