By Jim Frohn, Grafton County Forester
It’s hard to believe, but firewood season is almost upon us, and, for some of us, has already shown up a few times. I built a fire in the woodstove last week to take the edge off the damp, forty-degree weather. I fired up the woodstove back in early June too, so last year was an extra-long heating season.
We use wood to heat a section of our house, but we have oil and propane for heating the other parts and for backup when we’re gone for a few days. So we process a lot less wood than some households do. Even though wood is essentially a partial heat source for our home, it does help reduce our oil use, and we simply enjoy heating with it.
For those of us who heat with wood, the passage of the year is not marked by the calendar on the wall, but by the size and condition of the wood piles. The presence of a pile of tree-length wood in my yard marks late winter or early spring. Once the snow is gone, I’ll go to work with my chainsaw, reducing the pile to sixteen-inch blocks. Following that, I’ll rent a power splitter for a few days, and process the pile into smaller pieces.
Summer is marked by piles of split wood in various stages of being stacked in the barn and the excess stacked outside on pallets. Hopefully, with the arrival of early fall and the first fits and starts of heating season, all the wood has been stacked and drying at least for a couple of months. And if we’ve planned well, the new stacks are next year’s wood.
Reducing a truckload worth of tree-length wood to split and stacked firewood ready for the stove is mindful work. To an observer, transforming a pile of tree-length wood to sixteen inch blocks may look fairly mundane, cutting one piece after another. But when taking apart a six to ten cord load that has been piled by a log loader, one needs to be fully aware of their surroundings. Logs can shift or fall unexpectedly, with the potential to pin you or crush a leg. Less seriously, but sure to create delays in the work flow, random stones or dirt in the pile can be waiting to dull your chain. The splitting operation also requires one to be attentive, in order to reduce the amount of lifting and moving wood and to avoid getting fingers or hands between the wood and the splitter.
Then there’s the need to be conscientious of efficiency. I like to plan the flow of wood from the tree-length pile to the splitter then to the where it will be stacked. To minimize the amount of handling, I try to plan how each block will fall when cut. I work from the ends of the pile so when a block is cut it falls to the ground, working my way toward the middle of the pile. If I can do so without the whole pile coming down, I try to cut bottom logs first in order to minimize picking up chunks off of uncut logs. (Some of that is inevitable, but I try to keep it to a minimum.) As I cut the blocks, I move them in the direction of where the splitter will be, a few steps closer to the final stacking area.
No doubt, there’s a lot of work involved in heating with wood, and unless a lot of equipment is used, it’s really not very efficient work, in spite of efforts to make it so (and I haven’t even mentioned the winter-long work of hauling wood to the house every few days). But there’s just something incredibly satisfying about handling and processing all of that wood, and providing warmth for your family with it. So despite the labor involved, I’ll tackle that pile of wood again. Besides, for someone whose job doesn’t involve as much physical work as it once did, and who hates going to the gym, it is great exercise.