Dead trees, how long is the wood good?

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DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
I’ve been cutting firewood on my property for about 10 years. I’ve always cut down crappy looking trees, or cut up freshly fallen trees. Then I split, stack, and let the wood season.

Reading on this site I hear people talk about cutting up dead trees. I’ve read of people cutting up trees that were dead 5-8 years before they cut them down.

So I’m driving the tractor through the woods today looking at trees. There are dead trees that still have bark, there are dead trees that are loosing bark, and then there are dead trees that have no bark or limbs.

Now I know it depends on the species, but I would think a tree dead for 5-8 years would just be a trunk with no limbs. Are people cutting those down to burn?

Something I did grab was a dead beech. I think it’s about 2-3 years dead. Broken off in a storm but not laying completely on the ground. Missing about half the bark. I cut it up and the MC shows it’s about ready to burn now.

On my property I have beech, maple, red oak, cherry, poplar, birch (white and silver), hickory, and ash. Usually I burn just maple or ash unless I find one of the other trees down. I avoid poplar and white birch because they’re crappy burning.

Another question that I also wonder about is the dead ash. I assume it’s the ash borer beetle that’s killing them. About half the big ash are dead standing. Since those season (and rot) so quickly, how long do I have to process them before they are too far gone to burn? Right now if I cut down all the dead ash I would have a few winters worth of firewood.
They are kind of scary to cut down, since the branches break off so easily. Most of the time I make a decent cut with the saw and then pull it down with the winch.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,318
Northern NH
If its up off the ground, most hardwoods will last quite awhile. The big exception is white birch, its usually rotting standing. It can be nice wood if you cut a healthy one and get it split ASAP. I just leave my poplars in the woods as I have far better trees that need cutting. If you see any of the crown is dead plan on some rot. Beech that exhibits the end stages of blight (cankers) is usually not worth wasting you time on. Cherry can look rotten on the outside but the core is usually good for long time. EAB hasnt hit my area yet so the EAB Ash veterans can comment on EAB damaged wood.
 

jwoair23

Feeling the Heat
Oct 2, 2011
285
Ohio
If its up off the ground, most hardwoods will last quite awhile. The big exception is white birch, its usually rotting standing. It can be nice wood if you cut a healthy one and get it split ASAP. I just leave my poplars in the woods as I have far better trees that need cutting. If you see any of the crown is dead plan on some rot. Beech that exhibits the end stages of blight (cankers) is usually not worth wasting you time on. Cherry can look rotten on the outside but the core is usually good for long time. EAB hasnt hit my area yet so the EAB Ash veterans can comment on EAB damaged wood.
About 75% of the wood I am cutting/splitting/burning is dead Ash, unfortunately all the ash trees on my property have been wiped out. It varies wildly on the condition of the trees, some are completely solid, some are completely punky, some are some % of both. Can vary even between those that still have some bark, those that don't, and those that are fallen or still standing. With the recent wind storm that went through this weekend we actually had two standing dead ash trees come down.

You really have to cut into them to see, and I think that is true for any dead tree. I judge whether or not to burn it by whether its rotten or punky/feels like styrofoam. A lot of times a portion of the tree will be no good, but the top half is fine for example, or parts that touched the ground are rotten etc.

So I guess the short answer is - it depends! But all of my ~15 cords I've cut so far have been dead trees, so I assure you its worth the time!
 

shortys7777

Feeling the Heat
Nov 15, 2017
396
Smithfield, RI
I burn a lot of dead ash and some has been dead well over 8 years. Some fully bark, some bark had fallen off the bottom 20 ft. Stuff off the ground I see zero rot usually. Some are just falling year after year behind my parents house. Easy pickings. I've cut dead cherry, maple and oak too. Sometimes there is a little soft punky around the outside, but I'll still burn it as long as most of it is hard inside. Birch on the other hand at my lake house still standing I can put my fingers in once the bark is peeled if it's been dead for a while. Are you checking the moisture content with the wood at inside temps for a full day? It will probably read different than outside in NY this time of the year.
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
Thanks for the input guys. So it does seem like it’s on a tree by tree basis. And without cutting into it I won’t know.

I was in the woods today and cut up some dead ash. Part of the tree was good and the other part was too rotten. I guess cutting dead trees isn’t as efficient with time, but it is nice to use something that will just rot anyways. I know some dead trees are good for the forest, and there are plenty of those left out there.

Basically I’ve been trying to maintain my property in a sustainable way. I don’t cut down mast trees unless they’re already dead, and leave trees that are obvious homes to the forest critters.

I assume the ash borer beetle is in my area. I’ve looked for signs on the trees but don’t really see any. Besides more ash are dead or dying. I’m sure if I looked close enough I could see the little holes or whatever the beetles make.

Btw, I check my MC with the wood at room temp, and a freshly split face. The moisture meter thing is new to me. I learned about it on this site. It basically confirms what my dad and uncle had told me about how to tell If wood is ready to burn. But this way you have an exact number. I think it’s pretty cool.
 

CatfishHunter

Member
Dec 8, 2020
63
Minnesota
Just throwing it out there too, that you should leave the dead trees that you don't intend to use. They make great homes for woodpeckers, owls, and so many other forest creatures. Once it falls, it will still be a home to many creatures and will eventually decompose and feed the forest.

That said, sometimes the only way to tell is to cut something down. If I am cutting something in the woods on my property and I discover that it is rotted, depending on the degree I'll either harvest it for bonfire wood or just leave it wear it fell to decompose. The best trees are ones that fell on another or fell but had strong branches holding it off of the ground.
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
Honestly most of the dead trees I’m too chicken to cut down anyways. Some of those things are huge, and have lots of widow maker branches.

Right now there are a couple big ash trees that split off and fell on one another, and also on a big dead beech. If I could somehow figure out how to get them down I’d have a decent stash of firewood. I think it would be like dominos if I could cut the beech. But it’s big, my 20” chainsaw bar wouldn’t go all the way through.

I have 119 acres with some old logging trails running through it. For the most part the only trees I cut are within easy reach of my tractor winch cable.
I cut at most 20 face cords a year. Some of that is for my father and uncle.
 

walhondingnashua

Feeling the Heat
Jul 23, 2016
461
ohio
Some of them, especially the dead standing ash, I cut them down and find that the further up the tree I go, the better. I cut one up yesterday. As I split it, working down the tree, the lower 10' weren't worth splitting, so I just left it in the woods.
Any dead tree that seems to have fungus growing on it, I tend to leave alone. I have cut a few cherries and oaks that have some fungus growing on the outside, but found that it was only rotten in that area and not very deep. Got a lot of good wood that had some seasoning on it already.

To reiterate earlier statements, carefully with those dead standing. I have learned my lesson the hard way with widowmakers (and have been very lucky that it didn't end up worse). Get a helmet and have someone you trust standing behind you looking up. If a branch comes down, have them tap you on the shoulder to get out of there.
 
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DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
I do wear a logging helmet and try to be careful. I don’t have anyone in the woods with me though. Just the wife and kids back at the house.
My grandfather died from a tree hitting in the head. It’s something I think about when I’m in the woods. Of course it happened over 30 years before I was born, but it was something my dad always reminded me of when I wanted to do something risky in the woods.

My cousin up in Vermont has been trying to talk me into taking the Game of Logging classes. I guess he did them and said it increased his confidence and safety in the woods. Maybe one day soon I’ll get up there to do that.

Until then I’ll keep stacking up the wood. I was reading the thread about the 10 cord woodshed, and I’d like to build one. I think 10 full cords is a good number to have seasoning. I already have some places close to the house where my current stash of wood is drying.
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
4,555
Long Island NY
I always say that it's good to have (that I have) a little fear for some of the things I do. Not panic, deer in the headlights fear, just a bit of apprehension and respect for what could be the consequences if something goes wrong. Keeps me focused.
 

Longknife

Burning Hunk
Oct 12, 2016
156
Eastern Ontario, Canada
About 75% of the wood I am cutting/splitting/burning is dead Ash, unfortunately all the ash trees on my property have been wiped out. It varies wildly on the condition of the trees, some are completely solid, some are completely punky, some are some % of both. Can vary even between those that still have some bark, those that don't, and those that are fallen or still standing. With the recent wind storm that went through this weekend we actually had two standing dead ash trees come down.

You really have to cut into them to see, and I think that is true for any dead tree. I judge whether or not to burn it by whether its rotten or punky/feels like styrofoam. A lot of times a portion of the tree will be no good, but the top half is fine for example, or parts that touched the ground are rotten etc.

So I guess the short answer is - it depends! But all of my ~15 cords I've cut so far have been dead trees, so I assure you its worth the time!
I'd pretty much echo this.

I've been burning (mostly) dead ash since EAB hit here a number of years ago. If a tree has a single leaf of it, it doesn't get marked in the late summer (even though I know it's a goner). I have to prioritize somehow. There's likely hundreds of trees I won't get to in time.

Even still, I'm dropping ash that has been dead for 2-3 years. Some is near perfect, while some has varying degrees of punkiness throughout. None so far have not been worth the trouble. Some I can drop soon after the last leaf has fallen and it has punkineess, others have been standing dead for a few years and barely have any.
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
I was walking through the property yesterday. One of the neighbors a few houses away is having some logging done, and I just wanted to check and making sure they’re staying where they should be. Anyways, I found a few nice looking dead ash, as well as a nice looking dead beech.

I don’t really understand how the ash beetle works. Does it wipe out all the ash or just some? I still have quite a bit of ash left, and some parks I hike in locally also have a bit left. On my property it’s only the bigger ash that seem to be dying. Is this typical of the beetle?
To me it always sounded like the beetle would kill all the ash eventually
 

Longknife

Burning Hunk
Oct 12, 2016
156
Eastern Ontario, Canada
I was walking through the property yesterday. One of the neighbors a few houses away is having some logging done, and I just wanted to check and making sure they’re staying where they should be. Anyways, I found a few nice looking dead ash, as well as a nice looking dead beech.

I don’t really understand how the ash beetle works. Does it wipe out all the ash or just some? I still have quite a bit of ash left, and some parks I hike in locally also have a bit left. On my property it’s only the bigger ash that seem to be dying. Is this typical of the beetle?
To me it always sounded like the beetle would kill all the ash eventually
I thought the same for the first few years. Thought I was getting lucky, as lots was left untouched. A few hardy specimens may survive, but it's seems to pretty much take everything out eventually.
 
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DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
Then I’m going to have a lot of ash to burn. I’d say 10% of my hardwood is ash.

Honestly my plan 10 years ago was to harvest some sawlog size ash to cut up for flooring. I’d like to have ash floors for my house. Now only some of those trees are still alive. Maybe I can harvest the rest of the big ones before the beetle gets them.
 

Longknife

Burning Hunk
Oct 12, 2016
156
Eastern Ontario, Canada
Then I’m going to have a lot of ash to burn. I’d say 10% of my hardwood is ash.

Honestly my plan 10 years ago was to harvest some sawlog size ash to cut up for flooring. I’d like to have ash floors for my house. Now only some of those trees are still alive. Maybe I can harvest the rest of the big ones before the beetle gets them.
Yes, don't wait (in my opinion).

I figured I'd mill some of my nicer ash logs, but by the time I took them down, there was was enough rot in them to negate it. Very, very minor in terms of firewood, but veins of it that pretty much ruin it for saw logs. I got some through the mill, but a few of the best ones I had high hopes for were a no-go.
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
Man that’s too bad. I probably need to change the way I think about it. I still see a smaller straight ash and think, man that will be a nice sawlog in 20-30 years. Well that tree will probably be dead long before then I guess.
 

fbelec

Minister of Fire
Nov 23, 2005
3,320
Massachusetts
if it's anything like dutch elm disease you won't have long. guy around the corner cut up some elm and thru it in the woods behind my house early in the spring. my friend around the corner from him said to me that it would kill my elms. it started that summer and by next summer the bark was falling of the tree everytime the wind would blow. that was one year and maybe a few months. when i took it down this past summer it was full of holes.
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
From what I’ve read about EAB it takes 1-4 years for them to kill a tree once it’s been infested. I’m not sure how long it takes for them to spread.
The ash on my property is spread out in clusters. With some areas having a bit of ash and then there will be none for a little ways. I’ve just started noticing big trees dying this year, so I assume the beetle has been here for at least a few years.
 

walhondingnashua

Feeling the Heat
Jul 23, 2016
461
ohio
I know I've talked about this on another thread, but I have found that a handful of my ash are growing new shoots out of the bottom of the stump. They seem to be doing it more often (but probably just a coincidence) after I have cut the dead/dying tree down. I am letting them grow for a few years and then thinning them out to the bests one. The larva eat the cambium layers under the bark, cutting the trees circulatory system. If they have not worked their was around the entire trunk, part of the tree may still be alive (for now). I'm going to do my best to keep as many live specimens on my property as possible, even if they are small and hope for a miracle.
 
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stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
4,555
Long Island NY
Such shoots are also used in the chestnut restoration research programs. I've seen those in East Tennessee. (Also seen humongous stumps and 100 year old logs of chestnut- 6-8 ft diameter. What a sight that must have been...)
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
I’ve seen shoots that like on other trees I’ve cut down. I was actually just talking to my wife about that recently. I was curious if those can grow to be regular trees, or if they’ll have issues early on and die.

I was in the woods yesterday cutting up some dead beech, and I checked out a few of the dead ash. I peeled the bark back looking for signs of the beetle but really couldn’t see any. I’ve seen pics online of little cavities under the bark where the beetles have eaten back and forth. I really can’t see any other reason why so many big ash have died recently though. It must be the beetle.

Something else I wanted to ask about. There are trees that have a very similar bark to ash, and similar leaves. But when you cut it up the wood is much darker. I think this is hickory. Next time I’m in the woods I’ll take a pic. Obviously this time of year all I have is bark to show.

In 10 years of cutting on the property ive only just cut my first one this year. I thought it was ash until I made that first cut. Now that I look around there are quite a few trees like it.
 
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stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
4,555
Long Island NY
About the potential if the shoots; it is different from the chestnut because that was a fungus. I.e. it's in the shoots too but they can grow initially but die before they can bear fruit. Here it's beetles. Meaning that if no new beetles attack the shoot, it should be fine. After all nature makes these shoots as a survival strategy after the main part of the tree has died. That should mean these shoots should be able to bear fruit and be fully functional.

If there is a tree expert here, I'd be interested in a better educated view of the issue.

The problem is of course that the beetles will likely be around to kill the shoots too when they are large enough to be appealing to the beetles ...
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
Oh looks like I did take some pics this summer. Bark and leaves (I’m pretty sure these leaves came from these trees)

F889B88E-9333-4C2C-99B9-38AFD7E1AA68.jpeg 385AFE62-FD6C-4934-9694-790651F85B28.jpeg 468D2252-A9A6-4183-B862-501622523527.jpeg
 

DonTee

Feeling the Heat
Dec 1, 2021
353
Upstate NY
So that was my next question about the beetles. Are they here forever, just waiting for more ash to grow so they can eat it? Or is it a thing where they move through the area, kill most of the ash, and then are gone for good?