It’s said the hand of the Creator can be found in many places, depending on who’s doing the looking or listening. Some see beauty or majesty in a sunset, or looking across the Grand Canyon, staring up at the roof of the Sistine Chapel or listening to a particular genre of music. Among other things, I find great beauty in a nice woodpile. Yeah, I said it — a good store of wood for the winter.
There’s just something comforting about seeing a winter’s worth of wood all lined up in neat rows under a lean-to shed roof, or along a fencerow, or even in a well-formed pile … all stacked just so, to allow for maximum air movement and drying (a.k.a. seasoning).
Countless books have been written on the many aspects of wood selection and harvesting timber and firewood. And firewood making tools have progressed from crosscut saws and axes to chainsaws to the popular gas-powered hydraulic splitters – some which nowadays split a single round into as many as eight pieces of firewood at a time, called firewood processing “systems”.
But for this purpose we’ll just focus on the process from woodpile to the fireplace, stove or furnace. No matter how you get it – cut and split, or buy it delivered and stacked – what matters is that you have a good plan and the right gear to get it to the stove safely and efficiently.
As a young man, I hauled my firewood from the stack to the woodbox using a wheelbarrow. We had bought a late 1800s fixer-upper home with a lot of improvement projects in the works. Money was limited and a wheelbarrow could serve several purposes – mixing and toting concrete, hauling dirt and landscape stones, and carrying firewood. While it worked, a more ideal tool for the job would have been a wood cart with two wheels and more capacity. I know some folks who use a fireplace for aesthetics as well as supplemental heat and they carry a day’s worth of wood in one of the nifty canvas firewood carriers or totes.
These days we’ve upsized to a large wood furnace in an enclosed sunporch. I move a day’s worth of sizable firewood with a yard cart towed behind my ATV … the same machine I use for hunting and getting around on the farm.
I buy most of my wood already cut, split, seasoned and ready to burn these days. But I still cut a few truck loads each year … primarily downed trees from storms or dying timber. Spending days to work up the wood with a crosscut saw sounds nostalgic, but with my busy schedule as a newspaper editor with a daily deadline and staff of reporters to manage and oversight on two weekly paper editors and their employees, there are few hours in the average week for working in the woodlot.
I cut just enough wood each year to allow me some “relax” time on the occasional Saturday morning, turning blocks into sticks with my favorite axe and a chopping block. I have three or four splitting wedges handy for the occasional knotty piece that needs more persuasion. I also have a splitting maul at the ready, but will admit I find it less enjoyable to use than the axe.
Anyone who has ever read any of my blogs or stories knows I’m nostalgic. I have my grandpa’s log jack which I use to roll a log in place for cutting or a heavy piece in place for splitting. If you like reading books about rural living or homesteading skills check out The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter by Dudley Cook. Another great book about wood is A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane. In fact, if you’re one who enjoys checking out specifics by reading before moving on a project you can find literature on all wood stoves sold by Lehman’s, which makes for an interesting way to pass time even if you’re not currently in the market for a new heat source. But if you are, or you’re even considering upgrading, you owe it to yourself to check out and compare the different makes and models available.
I use about eight pickup loads of wood a year, or about 12 rank. If I only kept a small amount of wood on hand for a fireplace, maybe storing it on a deck or under a porch, I’d use one of the log rack kits. As it is I buy a lot of wood by the rank so I have a series of t-posts driven in the ground eight feet apart and with four feet sticking out of the ground for quick measurement. I drive the post with a post driver, and when I decide to move my wood stack area, I use a post popper to easily pull the post out of the ground to reuse them. I’ve had some of the same t-posts for more than 25 years and have driven, pulled and moved and driven them again many times.
The only other tools I use to get wood from the stack in the back yard to the woodbox beside the furnace is a good pair of leather gloves. I buy quality gloves and still wear out a pair every couple years. A metal box with some firestarters and matches completes my stack to stove lineup of tools and supplies.
Like I said in the beginning, different people find their beauty in a variety of ways. For me one way is by seeing, building, or slowing using up a winter’s worth of heating wood. It’s been said, “chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” That bit of wisdom is attributed to Henry Ford. I’d say truer words were never spoken. That said, starting and maintaining a good heating fire is an art unto itself … to be discussed at another time.
First published in November 2015.