I know it seems like a waste that we all burn so much wood every year just to keep warm. I have often gazed out upon my pile of firewood and wondered, Can you use firewood for woodworking?
You can use almost any kind of wood for specific woodworking projects, and that includes firewood. Firewood generally makes an excellent material for smaller items. The type of wood, how it was stored, and what you are building will impact the finished product.
Firewood is actually a fantastic option for woodworkers who are looking for an affordable alternative for building small things like boxes or frames. Firewood comes in a variety of mostly hardwood that is ideal for doing smaller carvings, shelves, boxes, or other items. We are going to go over some of the advantages and disadvantages of using firewood, give a brief description of the most common types, and explain how best to use this material for your woodworking.
Can You Use Firewood for Woodworking?
You can use all kinds of firewood for woodworking. However, you will probably need to dig through a woodpile to find the pieces that are clear of anything that might impede your tools. You should keep an eye out for high moisture content or any structural damage that might carry through the wood.
Look for firewood without splits, knots, or large cracks that may be evidence of deeper flaws. If you choose to make something like a scrap wood bench, you might need to go through quite a bit of wood to find enough viable pieces.
If you have the right equipment on hand, you can mill the wood to create nice blanks for you to start your design. They will probably be smaller than you are used to because you will need to discard some of the wood to create a geometric shape. Firewood is usually left sitting for quite some time which means that it will have been able to naturally dry out, and as long as it was stored correctly, you should have no problem using it to create beautiful wood projects.
MDF does make great firewood. See the truth I wrote about, can you burn MDF?
Should You Use Split or Unsplit Firewood?
Whether you are salvaging firewood from a pre-split pile or not, there are going to be some inherent limitations. Split wood will leave you with less wood to work with per piece, and even that will need to be pared down in order to achieve your desired shape. The splitting process is often messing and violent, which means that you will encounter a lot of chips, splits, and heavy gouges in the wood. However, depending on the size of wood you require for your project, those may be something you can remove to reach healthy fibers.
Split wood is going to be easier to evaluate in terms of usability because you will be able to see if any flaws are running all the way through that might cause problems. Any rot or other damage is also going to be visible, making it straightforward to determine which pieces will be the best quality. Split wood makes it easier to assess moisture content before you get started.
Cutting it to size is also going to be easier though you are going to be left with even less material to work with than you would if you were preparing round wood. There are pros and cons to both, but overall, split wood is the best option when possible. You can benefit from chopping unsplit wood at least in half to give yourself a better idea of what to expect from the quality.
Round wood is more dangerous to cut with a large machine and by hand because it is harder to clamp down securely. There is always the possibility it will roll at the wrong moment or slip out of your grasp and cause a problem. You can lower this risk by using heavy-duty clamps, but you will still want to be much more cautious when working with unsplit wood. There may be hidden knots that can cause power tools to rebound.
Another downside is the moisture content since you will have a more challenging time determining it through the thicker piece. When possible, it is recommended that you pre-split the wood before getting started. The good thing about unsplit logs is that you will have more material to work with overall, and the blanks you get out of it will match up in color and grain.
What Makes Firewood Good for Woodworking?
If you are new to woodworking, it can be helpful to have firewood on hand that can be used to practice specific cuts or as scrap wood. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a few pieces of high-quality wood hidden in a woodpile, but for the most part, you are going to be looking at mid-to-lower quality wood which does not necessarily detract from its usefulness.
Firewood is incredibly cheap and can often be found for free if you know where to look. Anyone living on forested land has the option of cutting down some of their own trees and then letting them sit and dry for a couple of seasons or removing the moisture using an oven. It also has the advantage of variety.
Most firewood will be made of hardwood species that are heavily sought after by woodworkers, even if the overall quality is going to be less than you would expect when buying from a lumberyard or hardware store, making it an attractive option.
The Pros and Cons of Using Firewood
Every type of material will have certain aspects that work better than others for your intended purpose, and firewood is no exception. Whether you are trying to find some scrap wood for a few odd jobs around the house or need some cheap material for a quick storage box, firewood makes a good option.
- Any split firewood is almost always riven, which means it was split in the direction of the long fibers, and this makes it easier to use for woodworking.
- Most firewood will have a natural moisture content of below 20% if it is stored properly before use.
- It is straightforward to find and is often reasonably cheap or free.
- You have a much smaller size to work with compared to longer boards which means you might need to use multiple pieces to make one item.
- You will need to prepare the wood before you can get started, including removing residual bark.
- It can take some time to find good enough pieces for woodworking while going through woodpiles.
- The wood may be discolored or damaged due to rough treatment or improper storage.
The Most Common Types of Firewood
You can get firewood pretty much anywhere, and that means there is a wide range of possible wood species that you might come across. However, commercial and traditional firewood mostly come from the hardwoods listed below because the majority of them tend to burn hotter for longer.
Apple wood is rot resistant making it ideal for storing outdoors as firewood.
Maple dries relatively slowly, meaning that if it has not sat in proper storage for quite some time, it may have too high of a moisture content and require additional drying to ensure it does not shrink.
Oak is closed-grained, which means it is both rot and moisture resistant, ensuring oak firewood is generally going to be in relatively good condition.
This wood has many excellent qualities and is highly sought after. Walnut is strong, flexible, durable, and easy to carve and shape.
Cherry wood works well for all types of projects and does not often shrink or warp.
You will need to carefully check the hickory’s moisture content if it has been left outdoors because it tends to accumulate water.
Birch is one of the easiest woods to manipulate with machines and tools. It is light, elastic, and suitable for smaller projects even if the moisture content tends to be rather high, leaving it prone to some shrinkage.
If you need a material that is strong, heavy, hard, and has a naturally low moisture content meaning it usually dries out faster.
Anyone living in the NorthWest is going to find pine is one of the most common types of firewood and easiest to forage if you are looking to make your own. Unfortunately, it is also not going to hold up as well as some other woods to outdoor weathering and tends to develop cracks, splits, and twists that can make it hard to work with.
Cedar is a very durable wood and usually has a lower moisture content meaning it takes less time before this type of firewood is ready for use in woodworking projects.
How to Prepare Firewood for Woodworking
Most firewood is not fresh and has been sitting for a period of time, meaning that it is ready for woodworking. You will typically not have to do much prep work to get it ready to use, although if it has been sitting out in the weather or is damp, you will want to make sure it is thoroughly dried before you try to cut it to size for your project.
Firewood straight from the woodpile will need some work to get it ready for your machine or hand tools. The following steps will help prepare your firewood for woodworking.
- Remove any residual bark or jutting branch joints.
- Use a wire brush to remove dirt and debris from the ends of the wood.
- Plane the sides of a split piece of firewood to make sure all the sides are flat.
Projects That Work Best With Firewood
We previously mentioned that the size of the pieces is going to create a limit on what you can accomplish with firewood. While you can combine elements by gluing or otherwise sticking them together, they are best used for either smaller projects or as planks for larger items like benches or shelves. A few of the common woodworking projects that you can use firewood to make include those listed below.
- Cutting board
- Small storage boxes or bins
- Wall shelves
- Small table
Firewood is cheap, usually quite sturdy and helpful for fixing up small things around the home. If you need to patch something or add some structural strength, firewood works great. Before using it on any project, you will want to check the moisture content to be sure it is not going to experience warping or shrinkage.
When to Avoid Using Firewood for Woodworking
There are some instances where you would do better to avoid using firewood as a woodworking material. If there is a large woodpile and you notice some have the following issues, you still might be able to find a couple of usable pieces, so it is worth checking to see if any can be salvaged. In general, if you encounter the following, then the wood is probably not going to be good enough quality to do what you need.
The majority of instances where the wood begins to rot or otherwise is too damaged to use will involve improper storage and close contact with moisture. Here are some examples of firewood you should avoid using.
- If the wood has been left outside in direct contact with the ground for a prolonged period of time.
- If there is evidence of dry or wet rot.
- If it has not been adequately seasoned, meaning the water content is above 20%
Can You Use Firewood for Woodworking Without Powertools?
Firewood can be used without the need for power tools, it will just take a little more work to prepare it.
The great thing about using firewood is that the size makes it ideal for working with hand tools. You can chisel and manually saw through a piece of firewood with no problem. When using machine tools, you will want to plane the sides first to have a smooth surface to balance it on. This will cut back on possible slippage or kickback.
A chisel and planer are all you really need to prep firewood for use on any number of projects. You can mill by hand, but it is going to take much longer than using a machine. The wood is also going to be quite rough and strong, which means at first you might have trouble shaping it, but with time and patience, firewood will work perfectly fine with hand tools.
What Equipments Works Best With Firewood?
Without a doubt, any kind of mid-to-large-sized saw device is going to make working with firewood a breeze. However, you will need to prep the wood before getting to work shaping it using power tools because it is going to have loose, rough edges that may catch, slip, or otherwise increase the risk of causing an accident. Find safe ways to secure it and plane the sides early into the process to make cutting using a machine safer.
I would recommend milling it to rough size with a bandsaw first and then run it through a planer.
How to Turn Firewood Into Hardwood Blanks
Milling firewood is very easy if you have the right equipment on hand or are able to rent it from a shop. It is safer to mill already split wood as sometimes rounded wood can shift unexpectedly and increase the risk of an accident. Always use proper safety precautions when working with power equipment. Round wood may have hidden knots and snarls in the wood fibers, which can cause it to react unexpectedly when being cut, so be sure to always secure it in some way.
You can create small wood blanks using the following method.
- Remove any lingering bark.
- Most split wood will be wedge-shaped, and you will want to cut out the largest square. This can make you lose a significant amount of wood. A medium piece of firewood might get you a six-inch square of wood you can cut into blanks.
- Measure and mark where you are going to cut.
- Use a clamp to keep the piece in place.
- You can use a table saw, miter saw, band saw, or you can cut it using hand tools.
Where to Find Firewood for Woodworking
You can get firewood from a great many sources. Usually, it is sold or given away by the cord, which is approximately 128 cubic feet. If you only need a couple of pieces, then you might be able to talk the wood owner into letting you forage through their woodpile for the choice pieces.
Your Own Land
If you own a wood stove, then you can always check through your own woodpile for any pieces that might make good woodworking materials. You can set them aside, properly stored, to season for a while. Anyone who owns forested land but has no personal need for firewood can search for choice wood species and cut them down for lumber.
Sometimes, it is unnecessary to cut down an entire tree, and you may find thick, felled branches that will work perfectly if you have a smaller project you are working on.
Most cities will have listings for firewood throughout the year, but they tend to pick up towards the end of fall when people are stockpiling for the winter. A cord of wood is usually around $150-$400 depending on the type of wood and where you live, but you probably will not need that much.
Sometimes people use free ad sites like Craigslist or Nextdoor to list free firewood they would like removed from their property, and this is an excellent opportunity to check the quality and see if it will work for your needs.
Home and Garden Store
You can also spend slightly more and buy smaller amounts at home and garden stores, where they are often sold for backyard fires. These are going to be smaller and not of the highest quality, but you can use them for practice pieces or hand carving