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''Squaw wood.'' Make a note of this old Indian term for a source of fuel that can take a bigger-than-expected bite out of home energy bills.

Admittedly, the term suggests male chauvinism - masculine contempt for the light sticks of wood that women of the tribe gathered up. But there was nothing contemptible about the way squaw wood kept the tepee warm at night.

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White settlers subsequently adopted the term to distinguish broken, dead branches and other forest litter used for kindling from the heavy logs that were cut and split to keep the home fires burning.

Now with the high cost of energy - even once cheap cordwood fetches top dollar these days - the significance of squaw wood is being appreciated by those who seek it out. Fagots, more common in Europe than here, are also being used. So are paper logs.

In short, owners of wood or coal stoves can take a healthy bite out of their fuel bills if they make use of certain waste products that are free for the collecting.

Squaw wood is readily available out in the country, and there is more available in the suburbs than is generally realized. Nearer town you can substitute the word ''scrap'' for ''squaw.'' And, as already said, there is always the paper log and a combination paper-wood log.

In recent years the use of squaw wood, scrap wood, and paper logs has kept my annual fuel bill down to almost trivial levels. Last winter I bought no oil or cordwood and used only a minimal amount of electricity to warm the bathrooms before taking a shower and keeping the temperature of the living room above 50 degrees whenever we were away from home.

A small but growing number of people are reportedly doing similar things.

What they have found is that the regular collection of scrap (tidying up the neighborhood is another way of expressing it) throughout the year translates into a significant number of free Btu when the snow is on the ground. It can cut significantly into the amount that must be spent this may seem to some.

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When it comes to fuel gathering as distinct from fuel buying, now is always ''the accepted time.'' This need not be an arduous task. Picking up a little wood each day is not time consuming.

Keep a saw handy wherever the free fuel is to be stored and cut it to size as you collect it.

Once after a fall windstorm, I cleared a quarter acre of the deadwood that had fallen from the trees. There was enough fuel for a whole evening of ''free heat.''

On another occasion I came across some tree prunings in my neighborhood, neatly cut and stacked in bundles awaiting the trash pickup truck. Instead they went into the trunk of my car, dried out during the summer, and added considerably to the comfort of our living room the following winter.

It has always amazed me how often I have seen a broken wooden chair awaiting the trash truck, yet there is a woodpile in the backyard. The motto should always be: If it's made of wood and cannot be repaired, turn it into winter fuel.

In Europe, where vast cordwood-supplying forests no longer exist, tree trimmings are regularly used in the wood stove.

What is known as pollarding is commonly found in Europe - a practice in which all the current season's growth is cut back to the trunk and a few thick basic branches. This produces some moderately thick firewood each year and a whole lot of thin branches that do best in the wood stove when tied into fagots.

Thin pieces of wood, such as tree prunings, placed in a stove will produce a quick flash fire but no lasting heat. Centuries ago, European peasants found that by binding these trimmings tightly into bundles - the fagots - they burned more like a log. This way the people enjoyed a conventional wood fire even when there were no available logs.

Tie the bundle with a thin piece of wire so that it doesn't fall apart the moment the fire gets going. Or you might do as I often do: Wrap the kindling up in 8 to 10 sheets of newspaper.

By the time it has been rolled up the newspaper wrapping will be several times as thick. On being lighted the newspaper forms a charcoal covering which holds the sticks in place until combustion is complete.

Certainly it does this very effectively in my wood stove, in which the logs burn from front to back.

Now let's consider the newspaper log, a principal source of fuel in my home. I used to roll logs by hand because it was quick and simple, but now I use a hand-operated machine that makes a vastly superior product.

On or around Father's Day last year, a Dahlstrom ''Wood Stretcher'' log-rolling machine came my way. At the time I wasn't sure I wanted it. It just seemed it wasn't worth the extra time it took to roll a log. I couldn't have been more wrong.

When I finally got around to using this one-of-a-kind machine, I found the iron-tight rolls burned like genuine wood logs. In fact, studies by the US Department of Agriculture show that the tighter the newspaper is rolled, the greater the intensity of heat it gives off and the less fly ash it produces.

Paper logs burn just like the wooden variety. The paper is first burned by the flames and converted into charcoal, which is then consumed. It is during the charcoal stage that the fire gives off its most intense heat.

A word of caution: Do not use coated, glossy paper in your rolled logs. These frequently contain a thin layer of clay that stops the flow of air to the rest of your log and prevents it from burning fully.

If you are interested in the log roller, write to R. O. Dahlstrom & Sons, 435 Second Avenue NW, Milaca, Minn. 56353.

Finally, if you wonder if the effort of fuel gathering is worth it, try this: Find out from a neighbor what he pays out each month to heat his home the conventional way, then subtract your heating costs from his. Bank the difference in a savings account. At the end of the season you will see just how much money you have saved.

Who knows, it may contribute significantly to your summer vacation!

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