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Omaha Magazine

The Best Woods for Stocking Your Fireplace This Winter

Dec 30, 2021 12:26PM ● By Patrick McGee
wood-burning stove in cabin

Photo via IStock

When winter lays a blanket of sparkling snow over the city and chilly temps settle in for the night, there’s no better way to bring a touch of hygge (a Danish term for cozy contentment) to your home than to start a crackling fire. And when it comes to wood-burning fireplaces, choosing the right fuel makes a difference in how long that warm comfort will last.

Melissa Bolejack, owner of Knotheads Wood Services in Omaha, said hardwoods make the best fuel for a fireplace. “They burn hotter, they burn slower,” she said, adding that denser woods such as oak, hickory, and locust are particularly good. 

Burning hardwoods also leaves less residue and waste. “Chimney sweeps will tell you that using hardwoods keeps a cleaner chimney,” Bolejack said. Coniferous soft woods such as pine put out a lot of soot and burn faster, while woods such as sugar maple contain considerable sap or pitch and aren’t ideal for fireplaces.

Wayne Chrisswisser, owner of Wayne’s Firewood in Louisville, Nebraska, said that mixed hardwoods including ash, hackberry, and red elm are also good for fireplace burning.

Readers who want to try their hands—or saws—at cutting wood themselves are a bit limited here in the metro, as no public lands in eastern Nebraska allow tree harvesting. For that, you’ll need to drive a few hours west or north. See the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service websites for details regarding permits to harvest wood on federal lands in outstate Nebraska and parts of South Dakota.

On private land, wood collectors will need permission from the landowners to harvest fallen trees. Following a July 2020 windstorm that took down thousands of trees and tree limbs in the region, many private owners may be willing to grant access the next couple years. 

Property owners clearing land for development may also be receptive to allowing access to harvest fallen trees, Chrisswisser said. Accessing live trees for harvest is trickier. Lots of timber are put up for bids, he said, but not often. He discouraged folks from ‘helping themselves’ to trees without permission, and even more importantly, warned them not to damage trees in public parks.Summer and early fall are the best times to get fireplace wood, Bolejack said, because cut wood needs several months to dry out and cure before burning. Wood cut in June or July should be perfectly cured to burn as the winter months arrive. 

Knowing how much to store depends on one’s burning habits, Bolejack said. Wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and fire pits all consume fuel at different rates. Those who heat their homes with home stoves will consume wood at a much faster rate than those who enjoy a roaring fire now and then. She recommended tracking wood usage for a few years to help gauge future needs.

Commercially, wood is sold by the cord (4’ x 8’ x 4’, or 128 cubic feet), or roughly half a truck bed. This wood is typically not split. Knotheads sells wood by the cord, as well as split wood in smaller quantities, such as crates and bundles. Crates measure slightly less than a half-cord. Wayne’s Firewood sells cords, half-cords, quarter-cords, and bundles. Chrisswisser said he’s seen wood sell for as low as $200 per cord and up to $700 per cord, depending on the quality and vendor. His mixed hardwood sells for $600 per cord. Knotheads’ crates cost $125 for hardwoods, and more for premium firewoods.

Firewood is best stored in a covered, dry place, such as a storage shed or detached garage where it will be sheltered from the elements yet accessible. However, if it must be outdoors and exposed, split logs should be stacked with the bark side up, so as not to trap rainwater in the u-shaped trough. It’s also best not to stack wood too close to a house exterior, as it may draw termites and other insects to the home.

Whether you burn wood for home heating or for cozy atmosphere, the quality of any fire truly depends on the wood. Spending a bit more up front may be worth it, both in time and money spent cleaning your fireplace and chimney and saved trips to the wood pile. And that leaves more time to enjoy some hygge. Happy winter!