My husband and I spent the weekend harvesting firewood, although we call it “lumberjacking.”

My husband and I spent the weekend harvesting firewood, although we call it "lumberjacking." He does the cutting and splitting (he is an incredible splitter!) and I do the hauling. (I know you may think I have the easy job, but I have to haul all of the firewood up hill and it is one steep hill!)

Believe it or not, this is truly one of my favorite ways for us to spend time together. The weather outside is always cold, it is good exercise, and builds great camaraderie. At the end of the day, we have a big pile of firewood to get us through some grand fires.

If you cut your own wood on your land, just use the chain saw safely, use safety equipment, and never do it alone. If you do not have land with trees, always (always) ask for permission and double-check boundary lines wherever you are. Standing dead trees are the best because they have had time to dry out and have not lain on the ground to begin rotting. However, insure they do not have nest holes or cavities before you start cutting; these are called "snags" and are very important for wildlife nesting. Next best are fallen dead trees, they also have had time to dry as long as they are not "punky," (which means kind-of soft and spongy).

I've had many wonderful experiences around a fire and cannot fathom living in a house without a fireplace. To me, a fireplace is the very heart of the house. Whether you are enjoying fires inside the house, or outside around a campfire, you may want to be aware of some of the differences between the woods and the qualities they offer.
Most people know that if properly dried, hardwoods provide more heat because they are denser. Hardwoods that contain the highest energy content include Osage orange, hickory, locust, oak, ash, and hard maples. The rule of thumb is the slower growing the tree, the denser the wood. Less dense woods that have a lower energy content, and therefore a lower heat emission, include basswood, cottonwood, cedar, pine, silver maple, elm and sycamore.

Heat is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. This is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. The range of BTUs in woods is 30.7 with the Osage orange to 14.7 with basswood – roughly half of the heat value. Most foresters will recommend that Osage orange (or hedge apple, or hedge tree) burns so hot that you should only put one log in the fire at a time and mix it with other woods. I have also heard others say to never use it in a stove because it burns so hot, it can crack the stove!

Not only do hardwoods burn hotter, they also split easier and don't spark or smoke as much making them safer and more enjoyable. Nothing is worse than sitting around a campfire that is smoking so much you cannot even enjoy it.

Although, fireplaces create the charm we all desire, when it comes to adding heat to the home they lose. In actuality, more heat goes up the chimney than into the room. Adding glass doors can help a lot, and a good fireplace insert can maximize your fireplace's energy efficiency while still being able to enjoy the ambiance. For true heating, a good air-tight wood stove is the way to go.

I hope you are able to enjoy some good fires this year with family, friends, or just a good book.

Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.