Building a Wood Stockpile on the Cheap

One of the survival supplies you rarely hear people talk about stockpiling is firewood. Yet, if you talk to most preppers about their plans, they intend to heat their homes and cook their food with wood. This makes a lot of sense, as mankind has used wood as our major heat source for pretty much all of human history. Yet it seems that few people understand how much wood it actually takes to heat a home.

firewood storage

There are still people in the United States today who heat their homes with wood. If you talk to them, you find that they go through somewhere between four to six cords of wood in an average winter. That’s good hardwood too, not just pine. Hardwoods have much more potential heat energy in them, due to their greater density.

Yet few preppers have even a single cord of firewood split and stacked, let alone several of them. Probably some of this is due to a lack of realizing how much wood they actually need; but another part of it is the cost. A typical cord of hardwood firewood runs somewhere around $225. This means that it would cost more than a thousand dollars to buy enough to last the winter. Added to all the other costs of stockpiling, it’s easy to see how firewood might not be at the top of most people’s list.

But what would you say, if I told you that you can stockpile all the firewood you need for almost nothing? I’ve done that. Even though I live in a part of the country where I only need to heat my home a few days per year, I have more than two cords of firewood split and stacked in my backyard; and it cost me no more than a few gallons of gasoline.

The start of my woodpile came about several years ago, when a large branch fell off of one of our trees during a storm. Rather than just hauling it out to the street to be hauled away, I decided to cut that branch up and save it. Since then, my wood pile has grown.

Not only is my wood pile made of dead tree limbs off of the trees on my own property, but I have ranged further afield, gathering my firewood wherever I can. With my chain saw and trailer, I am able to gather literally all the wood that I want in my spare time.

So, let me share some of my favorite free firewood ideas with you:

Fallen Branches After a Storm

This is my favorite, probably because I got my wood pile started this way. After any major storm, you can find fallen branches on the streets and in people’s front yards. All you have to do is drive down the residential streets in your neighborhood with a pickup truck or a trailer and offer to cut them up and haul them off. Most people will be thrilled by your offer, as they probably are thinking about how much they’ll have to pay someone to do just that.

storm damaged tree

Don’t limit yourself to homes either. Tree branches fall wherever you can find trees. Your local parks, shopping centers and other more public places are likely to have fallen branches too; especially if they have old trees there. Cleaning those limbs up simply makes you look like a public-minded citizen. Nobody needs to know your real reason.

Cutting Dead Branches & Trees

Speaking of people who don’t have the capability of cutting dead tree branches, most people hire someone to prune their trees or cut down dead ones on their property. This is another way of you finding free firewood. Keep your eyes open as you drive around and you’re bound to see some dead trees or tree limbs.

dead tree

Another way to find these is to put a notice on the supermarket bulletin board or on Craig’s List. People list services in both places all the time. The only difference is that you’re not charging, although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone offered you a little money for cutting down their dead tree. Just be sure to do a good job and not to damage anything felling a tree.

Watch the Trash

Of course, not everyone is going to ask you to cut their trees for them; some people cut their own. These people often haul the branches out to the curb and leave them there for the trash truck to pick up. Many cities either have a monthly truck or perhaps a seasonal one, just for this. All you have to do is beat them to it.

I also use this method for finding smaller branches to make mulch for my garden. I have a small chopper/mulcher, which can handle branches up to 1 1/2” in diameter. So I not only gather firewood from these curbside piles, but smaller branches for mulch as well.

wood chipper

Clearing Land for Building

Construction sites are another great source for gathering firewood, especially if you have a few friends who can get together on a Saturday to work at it. Contractors almost always need the site cleared before they can start working, so this is just another cost for them. if you spot a sign saying “coming soon” or “another project by XYZ construction” get the phone number and see if you can go in to clear the trees for them.


The only problem with this idea is that the contractor is going to want you to get the job done quickly. That’s why I recommended working together with a few buddies. You can get a lot done with a few guys working together on a Saturday and you won’t mess up the contractor’s schedule.

Be a Good Citizen

Talk to your city about being available to them for cleanup and tree-trimming services too. Your local parks department or public utilities department constantly has to deal with dead tree branches or branches that are getting in the way of something else. They’d probably love to have you take some of their workload.


It seems that everywhere you look, you’ll find people talking about making something out of wood pallets. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a bit rustic for me. I prefer to cut those pallets up and use them for firewood, especially since many of them are made of oak.

Every city seems to have at least one company who deals in used pallets. These companies have deals with companies where they collect pallets from warehouses and businesses, sort them out and sell them again. But the deal is, they have to take all the pallets that a company has available. That means collecting the good ones and the bad. The good ones can be sold, but what about the bad?

wood pallets

Every time I see one of these companies, I see a huge stack of busted up pallets. Generally they allow the stack to grow to a mountain and then they shred them. Since they don’t need them, you can usually talk them out of a trailer full of those busted pallets without much trouble.

A Word on Storing Your Firewood

A big mistake that a lot of people make is not storing their firewood someplace where it is out of the rain. Wood needs to be dry for burning, but dry wood soaks up water very quickly. So that dry wood becomes wet wood quickly when it rains.

If you look at log cabins from the days of our westward expansion, you’ll usually find that the roof has a huge overhang on one side of the house. This is so that firewood can be stacked there and be sheltered from the rain. Sometimes they would do this with the outbuildings too, allowing them to stack up even more firewood in a sheltered place, without using up space inside the buildings.

Granted, adding an overhang to your roof, so that you can have a dry place to store your firewood might be a bit difficult. But there’s no reason why you can’t provide some protection for your wood. Either build a shed roof to stack the wood under or spread a tarp over the top of it and tie it down. One way or another, keeping your wood pile dry will not only keep it ready for use, but will slow down any decay in that wood.



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