Monday, January 17, 2011

Popple-ation control

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA, a public holiday. We're off work, although Aimee has driven in to confer with students.

I decided to spend the time more selfishly.

Our firewood pile has been declining at an alarming rate since the cold weather arrived. It does this almost every year, because we only have convenient storage space for about four cords, and we need a cord more than that if the winter is a cold one.

There's only really a month-and-a-half more of the very coldest weather. By the end of January, winter is half over, and by the end of February, daytime temperatures come back above freezing, saving considerably on heating.

But we'd used more than half our firewood, so I wanted a little more.

Unity College's Woodsman Team obliged. Right about when I needed it, they advertised firewood for sale. This is wood left over from woodsmen- and woodswomen sports, which are basically competitive elaborations on tradition lumberjacking.

Unity College has lots of useful student clubs and sports teams.

I'd has this firewood before. It's what Mainer's call "popple", otherwise known elsewhere as quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, which is deciduous, but doesn't really count as a hardwood. It burns well enough, but the BTU content is low compared to ash, cherry, or elm, the three species we have the most of on our woodlot.

Twenty-five dollars a pick-up load was not too shabby, though, and I'm probably well ahead on dollars/mBTU. One pick-up load in the farm truck with the new bed was about a half-cord.

Popple is 13.7 mBTUs/cord, whereas the white (AKA gray) ash is 21.6 mBTUs/cord. Elm and cherry are a little less than ash, but not enough that you'd notice.

But white ash costs $200 to $250/cord dried, whereas this popple is costing us $50/cord.

$50/cord divided by 13.7 mBTUs/cord equals $3.64 per mBTU

$250/cord divided by 21.6 mBTUs/cord equals $11.57 per mBTU

Pretty cheap per BTU, I'd say.

Of course, this isn't a fair comparison, since I cut the ash myself.

Don't ask me why Americans still use the British Thermal Unit as their preferred unit of home heating energy.

I quite like it myself, but it is a clunky kind of a unit.

I think I'll get at least another pick-em-up truck load of popple.


  1. Ash burns great eh! What about Maple? We don't burn "popple" much at all here.

  2. Maple is good, if seasoned:

    Beechwood fires are bright and clear
    If the logs are kept a year.
    Chestnut's only good, they say,
    If for long 'tis laid away.
    But Ash new or Ash old
    Is fit for a queen with crown of gold.
    Birch and fir logs burn too fast
    Blaze up bright and do not last.
    It is by the Irish said
    Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
    Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
    E ' en the very flames are cold.
    But Ash green or Ash brown
    Is fit for a queen with golden crown.
    Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
    Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
    Apple wood will scent your room
    With an incense like perfume.
    Oaken logs, if dry and old.
    Keep away the winter's cold.
    But Ash wet or Ash dry
    A king shall warm his slippers by.

    Oaken logs, if dry and old,
    Keep away the winter's cold
    Poplar gives a bitter smoke
    , Fills your eyes, and makes you choke
    Elm wood burns like churchyard mould
    , E'en the very flames are cold
    Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread -
    Or so it is in Ireland said,
    Applewood will scent the room,
    Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom,
    But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry,
    A King can warm his slippers by.

    Beechwood logs burn bright and clear,
    If the wood is kept a year
    Store your Beech for Christmas-tide,
    With new-cut holly laid aside
    Chestnut's only good, they say
    If for years it's stored away
    Birch and Fir wood burn too fast,
    Blaze too bright, and do not last
    Flames from larch will shoot up high,
    And dangerously the sparks will fly...
    But Ashwood green,
    And Ashwood brown
    Are fit for Queen with golden crown.

  3. I looked it up on google to see where it came from and it looks a UK and Ireland thing. This is the first time I have heard it! Kind of cool. Take your own advice, though: "Poplar gives a bitter smoke, Fills your eyes and makes you choke." HA!

  4. I think that might be what you get if you burn something like Lombardy Poplar, which is a popple-ular (groan!) ornamental in Britain. This being really aspen, not poplar, it burns ok. It has a lot less heat per log than our well seasoned ash, is all, just as the table predicted.

    I'm going to burn the ash this coming weekend. Twenty below is no time to mess around.


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