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Burning Wood

Shortages and high cost of conventional fuels have encouraged many people to turn to wood. Too many, probably, for this country's wood supply to service over the long haul unless disciplined forest management is practiced. This seems to be an unlikely prospect until there are shortages of wood too; cord cutting is a quick profit business. It obviously takes a lot less time to cut and burn a tree than it takes to grow one. How many of you who burn wood plant trees? Of course, you can justify using "downed wood," but that is taking needed soil nutrients and it deprives certain wildlife of necessary shelter and food. You can burn "slash" cuttings and stumps left over from lumbering — but this is definitely a limited resource and it smacks a bit of secretly condoning the awful lumbering methods that result in slash. Rather like not thinking about where your hamburger really comes from. A great many wood burning Civilizations have completely destroyed their forests (old China, for example) and many others are well on the way (India and many South American countries.) In this country we plant approximately one tree for each one cut, so we area't safe either. Wood may be renewable but it isn't inexhaustible unless managed. Even that holds a possibility of soil depletion over a long period of time.

Whether you are going to be honest about it and manage a woodlot (or buy from a managed lot), or whether you are going to transfer a fossil fuel attitude to wood burning and ignore the real issues as long as you are warm today, it will pay to use as little wood as possible. This means good insulation and a weather-tight building (rarely seen in a rural setting) and good equipment. Tradition isn't always a good indicator of efficiency either. Our forefathers saw the forests as inexhaustible and if their high ceilinged houses leaked a lot of heat, they just put on another log. Look at the gigantic size of many colonial fireplaces! Even the famous "Franklin Stove" is an energy hog, though Ben Franklin's original was not. What we have today are cheap imitations of the cheap imitations of his day. . . in any case, an in creased use of wood as fuel is going to add pressure to an already overloaded environment as the demand for trees increases and as air pollution is increased from the burning. Such concerns make wood burning not quite a simple fire in the fireplace on a rainy night.

In the hardware department also there is controversy. "My Ashley is better than your Trolla! and every possible other combination of brand loyalty, myth, and unfounded claim is heard these days. Professor Jay Shelton, one of the authors of The Woodburner's Encyclopedia, has actually run tests on many stoves under laboratory conditions in an effort to settle some of the arguments. I don't know whether he has settled them or not. Now I hear, "Yes, but his lab is different than my adobe," and like that. It's clear that there will have to be a lot more research if we are really going to know what we are doing. I'll guess that certain stoves are best for certain structures, weather, and wood type. Best is probably to ask around, as there are many local problems. For instance, did you know that burning driftwood just eats the hell out of steel stoves? The salt. (I can hear it now. . . "But our stove has been fed driftwood right here in Coos Bay for 35 years and it's just like new!") Ah well. Here are some books on the subject, and some stoves that our readers seem to like. We haven't had any letters on what readers dislike. Probably because it's too embarrassing to spend $300 on a turkey. For sure you should shop around. Many stoves are heavily discounted. And keep in mind what you're doing to our trees....