Talk to any prepper living anywhere it gets cold that isn’t a complete green horn and you’ll invariably find they are passionate about maintaining their supply of firewood come Hell or high water. That’s for a good reason, since exposure to the elements is a sure and rapid killer.
Fire is among the most primordial of man’s tools, and though it is always fickle and never truly mastered, without it we are at the mercy of the wilderness and the long and unforgiving darkness.
Aside from warmth, fire provides light and allows you to cook when your electric range and microwave are down for lack of power. Fire allows you to boil water in order to purify it, or sterilize metal tools.
Fire is the first and in many ways best multitool you’ll ever have, so no matter if you plan on building a fire in a fireplace to ride out a blizzard with the grid down, or outside to cook under the stars, you’ll need plenty of firewood on hand.
Getting it is not always easy or cheap for some preppers, so in this article we’ll give you some tips and guidance for growing your woodpile.
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Now, firewood is one of those things that literally grows on trees. Well, it is trees, but never mind that.
You’ll rarely find it in any short supply anywhere trees grow unless times are such that fires are the only way to generate heating for homes, then suddenly you’ll see firewood vanish seemingly overnight and trees a-coming down round the clock.
You’d be surprised how quickly a sharp increase in need for fires and subsequently firewood to fuel them will deforest an area if people are left unchecked.
Even though you can find branches great and small and even entire trees fallen and ripe for seasoning and processing, you must not assume you can run around willy-nilly taking any wood just lying on the ground; fallen or not, it belongs to someone!
Unassumingly nabbing some downed branches from a barren piece of property can be both stealing and trespassing, serious enough crimes in plenty of places to see you land in prison under the worst conditions.
Even in a SHTF situation, you must not assume that anything goes; even in the rest of the world is giving in to its base instincts.
Someone might be relying on that wood to be there when they come for it, and if you are caught stealing, or perceived to be stealing, the penalty might be your life.
Now, this is not to paint too terrible a picture, as most people could care less about you taking away fallen branches or entire trees so long as you conform to a little etiquette and act neighborly about it.
We’ll go over some specifics in the rest of the article as well as how to get in good with folks that can keep you topped up with a nearly endless supply.
#1. Clear the Road
One of the least conspicuous ways to get free wood for your stockpile is to set out after a major wind event in your area and travel along roads you know are tree lined.
Invariably you will happen upon some major branches and even whole trees that have come down.
Now, any good citizen would take it upon themselves to clear the road for traffic, so if you should happen to have your truck or trailer and some chopping tools along for the ride you might go so far as to haul off the offending wood so the city or county teams don’t have to deal with it…
#2. Be a Good Neighbor
Another tried and true way to get firewood is to make it known to your neighbors that you are the man to call if they need large branches pruned back or whole trees taken down (within your abilities, of course).
If they have branches or trees down or damaged after a storm or some other event, don’t wait for the call; show up with your tools and offer your assistance. Most will be glad to save the money and have a neighbor’s help.
Another thing: don’t act like you don’t want the wood. Tell them up front you’d be happy to help them and you are also happy to haul it off since you are collecting firewood for seasoning.
This will give them more incentive to call on you, not less. Any good neighbor and friend should be eager to make an endeavor like this win-win.
#3. Friends and Family Hookup
Make it a point to hit up all your family members, all your friends and all your family members, friends and all your friends’ family members for a connection to sweet, sweet firewood.
They have properties of their own, and might even have a forested plot of land they will grant you access to, allowing you to pick all the fallen branches and trees you want.
They’ll be happy to have even this little bit of maintenance done on their property, as well as your saving them a trip to clap eyes on their land and see if anything is amiss.
And it does not ever hurt to ask if they have any trees they want or need taken down, a day or two’s work spent felling, processing and hauling off a good sized tree can give you more wood than you literally know what to do with!
#4. Uncle Sam
If you have any local, state or national parks with trees near you, make it a point to seek out and befriend any rangers or other caretakers. Some of their duties include keeping trails clear of brush and limbs, and many of them need to deal with the aftermath.
While you might not ever be allowed to pick your own, plenty of them will be glad to let you load and haul the offending tree debris away since it saves them a bunch of sweat and time.
#5. Quid Pro Quo
Look for firewood sellers. Those little yard or “bandit” signs you see on the side of the road for firewood are worth investigating.
Oftentimes you’ll run into a seller who is hocking their firewood as a way to supplement their income, or simply because they have too daggone much of it.
This is a prime way to get some preseasoned if you are willing to pay for it. If you aren’t, or can’t, barter! Everyone has something they need done that they don’t want to pay for or cannot do themselves.
See what kind of arrangement you can come to with the seller. Chances are you can work out a solution that will appeal to both of you.
#6. Grow your own!
If you are serious about prepping and have a great need of firewood, you must seriously consider getting a small plot of land with some standing timber on it.
Aside from the obvious utility of having a potential fall back, rally or bug-out location depending on where it is located, you will have your own regenerating supply of firewood so long as you manage it well.
Compared to improved property (land with structures, including residential homes on it) vacant land is far, far cheaper unless it is strategically sited commercial or industrial property, or one that is rabidly desirable for the view.
Being able to reliably go and cut down a tree when you need to begin seasoning wood for the upcoming cold season is a blessing. Grab some land!
#7. Go Pro
If you are handy with an axe and chainsaw, have a boom truck, like climbing trees or just like cutting them up, consider becoming an arborist.
In many places it is a year round profession, and aside from fulltime gainful employment and an unending stream of wood for your own use, you can use the skills as a hedge against unemployment or to supplement your existing income on a part-time or gig basis. Specialization is for insects; it is the adaptable prepper that will survive and thrive!
#8. Hit Craigslist
You’d be surprised what people will just give away. From cut-it-and-haul-it offers of free wood to people simply giving away surplus wood for free, you can find everything on the internet these days.
Craigslist is still one of the busiest and most traveled community “classifieds” sites on the internet, and should be your first stop if you are looking for an easy score of firewood.
Remember, as always, to exercise caution and good judgment when meeting any stranger for any purpose: it is a rarity, but plenty of people have been bushwhacked, even killed, after arranging to meet a stranger to sell or buy off of a classified ad.
#9. Solicit Help
The reverse of the previous entry, you should definitely put up a “services offered” ad for free haul away of trees and branches on neighborhood forums, social media and online (or paper) classifieds.
Friendly, fast service will see you recommended to others, and if you play your cards right you might be able to keep your stocks topped up off this endeavor alone.
It should not have to be said, but I’ll say it anyway, make sure that you take care to investigate what liability you have for engaging in this activity as it might fall under local or state regulation.
#10. Yard Waste on the Curb
The beginning of Fall usually sees all kinds of homeowners doing yard work on and around their properties, including pruning back branches and picking up limbs from around their yards.
These limbs are deposited on the curb for trash or dedicated yard waste pickup in some jurisdictions, and so are prime candidates for you to get kindling and even some firewood.
Now, technically, taking something off someone’s property might be stealing, even though they set it out to be thrown away so if in doubt, ask first.
Firewood only comes from one source but there are all kinds of ways to get it, either by relying on your own initiative, commerce or networking.
Use the methods above to start cultivating your “dealers” and pretty soon you’ll be up to the eaves in firewood. It will be too late when the days get short and cold.