Let’s face it, firewood can be expensive. Luckily, for the enterprising and motivated individual, there are several ways one can find free (or close to it) firewood. Ultimately, it requires resourcefulness and a willingness to put in some time and effort, but even so, there are opportunities abound. If you are one of the select elite dedicated to cheap fuel sources, here are the best ways to find free firewood.
Look on Your Own Property
This may seem obvious, but at the same time it is completely overlooked by most. The best place to find free firewood is on your own woodlot. Landowners underestimate the growth rate of their properties and avoid cutting trees out of fear of eventually clearing the property or depleting the resource. In reality, the average acre of forest in the US produces nearly .6 cords per acre per year. If you only need firewood for the occasional bonfire, you can easily sustainably cut your own firewood with only two acres of land by cutting a cord per year. If you wanted to cut your own firewood to heat your house, just bump that number up to ten acres. It doesn’t take much land to be able to produce an effectively limitless supply of firewood.
If you do decide to cut your own firewood, however, it is a good idea to keep track of harvested volume so you don’t over harvest. We have created a useful chart here to help you determine the volume of wood in every tree you decide to cut.
Visit Logging Operations
If you are a habitual user of firewood, it is an excellent idea to introduce yourself to a local logger or two. When trees are harvested, not all of the wood is able to be sold. More often than not, tree tops, which often contain a large amount of gross wood volume are either left in the woods or dragged back in the woods to decompose. Visiting a logging operation or giving a local logging outfit a call (or better yet, both!) can be a great way to obtain some of this waste wood. Particularly if you are only interested in smaller quantities, they will likely be happy to leave some waste by the yard (where they bring wood roadside) for you to come and cut up.
Depending on their contracts, they may obligated to charge a small fee on behalf of the landowner, but they will almost certainly be willing to work with you. Don’t be intimidated by the stereotype of gruff lumberjacks. Loggers are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and establishing a working relationship with them can pay great dividends.
Contact Your Local Sawmill
Sawmills are another piece of the forestry industry that produces a great deal of waste. a decent portion of any given log is not usable for lumber, and these portions can be classified broadly into slab wood and butts. The slab wood is the name given to the outer, rounded edges of logs that cannot be used for dimensional lumber of any kind. Butts are the bottom of a log that are often extremely flared, or otherwise of low value. These waste products can pile up quickly, and most sawmills will be anxious to get rid of them. This is particularly true for smaller sawmills, so these can be an excellent source to find free (or very cheap) firewood.
While butts are indistinguishable from any other hunk of firewood, slab wood may come with special considerations when cutting it and burning it. If you are interested in burning slab wood, read our article on the subject here.
Obtain Permits From Timber Companies and Public Land
As mentioned earlier, your own land can be an excellent place to find and harvest firewood, but what if you don’t have any land? Simply go to someone else’s land! Many larger forestry-oriented landowners and public lands (such as national forests and BLM land) will issue permits or leases that allow you to harvest your own firewood. While there may be a small fee involved, on a per cord basis, it is still incredibly cheap if you don’t mind a bit of hard work. Find a larger landowner in you area and call up to ask. It never hurts to try!
Ask a Forester
A great way to combine all of the previous advice is to ask a forester. Not only can they provide excellent resources and connections to loggers, sawmills, and landowners that may be able fulfill your quest to find free firewood, but they will likely be able to offer you locality-specific tips. For example, where I live in Maine, there are thousands of miles of private dirt road systems open to the public. If you contact a forester tasked with the management of those forest road systems, they will likely give you permission to collect fallen trees. Foresters are excellent resources for anything wood related, but they are often overlooked. Visit the Society of American Foresters website to find a forest near you.
Contact Local Governments
Another great resource for free firewood is your local government. Municipal offices have to deal with tree removal all the time around public lands and right-of-ways. If you call up your town office, they may be able to direct you to the location of recent removals where you can pick up the waste material. I have often seen entire trees left to rot on the ground after an operation to make room for powerlines. What a shame! It’s much better for a local to get use of these trees as firewood.
Assist in Storm Cleanup
If you know your way around a chainsaw, a good way to help your neighbors (and find free firewood) is to patrol your town after a big storm and offer to provide clean up for fallen trees in exchange for the fibrous bounty. In most cases, people will be relieved and ecstatic to take you up on your offer. There is nothing better than a win-win situation. Helping out after a storm can also be a great way to get out and meet others in your community.
If you don’t want to spend time patrolling the neighborhood, just make a post on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace offering your help. You may even find people looking for assistance without having to post anything.
To Find Free Firewood, Keep Your Eyes Open
Trees grow everywhere, and every tree contains firewood. If you are dedicated to finding firewood for free or as cheap as possible, you need only keep your eyes (and your mind) open. Opportunities are everywhere, but you have to look around and seize the opportunities presented. Though one should understand that nothing in life is totally free. Acquiring free firewood will likely come at a personal cost of time and labor. Is that a price you are willing to pay? If so, get out there and start gathering!