Does Slab Wood Make Good Firewood?


Slab wood is the edge pieces of a sawn piece of timber.

One of the largest problems in the forest industry is the waste products produced. Every tree that is cut leaves limbs, and every board that is sawn leaves saw dust and slab wood. Slab wood is the name given to the edge pieces milled from a saw log. With the exception of rustic fencing or other niche products, these pieces are usually considered waste, as the rounded edge makes it difficult to salvage a usable piece of lumber from the material. Even for owners of small sawmills, these pieces can pile up fast and create a headache, so sawyers can find themselves desperate to find a use for them. The most obvious use is as a fuel, so sawmill owners wonder if they can heat their home with their waste, and opportunistic lumber buyers wonder if they can find a new, cheap fuel source. But does slab wood really make good firewood? Yes! Slab wood works great as firewood, provided it comes from a suitable species. There are, however, a few notable differences that make burning slab wood different from burning normal firewood, and these differences must be understood.

Slab Wood Has a Higher Percentage of Bark

Natural to being an edge piece, slab wood has a higher percentage of bark compared to normal firewood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but bark produces less heat as it is burned. If too much of a given cord of wood is composed of bark, it may be noticeable in the amount of heat the fire gives off. In some cases, slab cases is so thin, most of the bark will fall off as the piece dries, but this is largely dependent on species and the thickness of the bark. Stripped bark can be used well as kindling to get fires started, so it does have its benefits.

Slab Wood’s Higher Surface Area Means Faster Drying and Faster Burning.

Relative to its volume, the surface area of slab wood is incredibly high. If properly stacked and aerated, it will season much faster than traditional firewood. However, the same high surface area will cause the pieces of slab wood to burn much quicker than traditional firewood as well. More heat is consequently released in a shorter period of time. Thus, if you plan on using slabs as your sole source of fuel, depending on your stove size and the effectiveness of your damper, you may find yourself restocking the woodstove more often, and you may find more inconsistent temperatures. You may need to supplement with larger pieces to keep good coals overnight. In most cases, this shouldn’t be to much of a problem, especially with the efficiency and highly-controlled air flow of modern stoves. It will likely take some experimentation to find the right mix of wood volume, damper, and piece size to get the best results.

Modern wood stoves should be able to burn slab wood as well as traditional firewood.

Slab Wood Can Be Difficult to Cut and Handle

Because the pieces can be thin, flimsy, and incredibly inconsistent in shape and size, they can be difficult and even a bit unsafe to handle and cut. The pieces can be thrown around by a chainsaw chain and get caught in the dog spikes, among other things. It is by no means an insurmountable problem, but it takes appropriate preparation. Prior to being cut, the wood should be bundled or consolidated. This can be done manually, but it is far more efficient to use a sawbuck like this to hold slab wood pieces and secure them for easy cutting. The thicker the slabs are, the less this will be a problem, so take that into consideration when contemplating your own situation. As always, be sure to equip yourself with the best chainsaw safety gear to protect yourself against accidents and any stray wood pieces.

Where Can You Get Slab Wood If You Don’t Own a Sawmill?

Even if you don’t own a sawmill, slab wood can be bought from many larger local sawmills. As mentioned previously, waste products are a constant source of headaches for the forest industry, so most mills will be happy to sell them to you at a great price. It may even be possible to get slab wood for free, depending on the local market. Visit your local saw mill and ask if they have options available. Even if you don’t find what your looking for, you may make valuable connections to a business that can sell you local lumber and buy your logs!

Just remember: The greatest factor in the quality of a firewood is the species. Hardwood lumber mills are going to produce better slab wood for firewood than dimensional lumber mills that saw mostly softwood. Regardless of whether you burn cord wood or slab wood, you should aim to burn oak, maple, hickory, or another high-quality species.

Zachary Lowry

A forester from northern Maine, I spent my early career working for large timberland owners, managing forest land and investments in the form of managing timber harvest operations as well as planning and managing precommercial thinning, planting, and herbicide application programs. These days I work on my own land and help timberland owners large and small manage theirs.

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