Sunday, December 12, 2010

Firewood for heat

   It is 5 degrees outside and blizzard conditions. I have to say I am very thankful for our firewood! It is work, but I think of it in a different way. Instead of spending eight hours working in a store or office to make money to pay for my propane or electric heat, I spend eight hours working in the woods cutting and loading firewood. It is more enjoyable to me to be out in the woods, especially on a beautiful winter day (not today).
   We wish that we could have a better source of energy to use, something better for the environment such as solar power. But, until we can figure that out and afford the costs involved in setting it up, we rely on firewood to heat our huge farm house. We hook up our largest tractor, an Allis Chalmers D15, to an old truck bed on two wheels that serves as our wagon. We take two chainsaws just in case we get one stuck in a pinch while sawing. A pinch is when the tree moves a little and pinches the blade of the saw. It takes talent to know when to cut on top, from below, avoid a pinch, avoid the tree rolling, and etc. Marty is our chainsaw operator. He has been cutting firewood for over 30 years and is very good at it.
   I'm the loader, or I sometimes think of myself as the pack mule. I load the wood into the wagon while he is cutting. It is physical work to be sure, but it is great exercise. We have some simple rules we follow to keep us safe. We wear ear protection all the time, are always aware of where the other person is, fell trees with two people around, don't pick up pieces that are too heavy but cut them smaller, and don't take off our coats and get chilled when it is too cold. We take a second saw in case of pinching, keep the tractor out of the way of where we fell trees, and we watch the tops carefully. The second person helps watch the tops. Sometimes the dry tree branches will break out as it is falling and we are careful that the chainsaw operator doesn't get bonked on the head.
   We only take trees that are already dead. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all we love living trees. Second, the dead tree is already dry so we don't have to wait weeks or months before burning it. Sometimes we will "ring" an undesirable tree. That means we will cut a ring around it through the cambium layer, about an inch or so deep. This is also called "girdling". It will kill the tree after a while as it cuts off the flow of sap going from the roots to the branches. Undesirable trees for us are locusts. They have thorns and are very prolific, coming up and shading out better trees such as maples (for syrup), oak and walnut (for furniture). Usually a girdled tree will be ready the next winter for harvesting for firewood.
   Our favorite firewood is red elm. It is nice because the bark peels off and it is pretty uniform around, easy to carry and stack. It doesn't leave a lot of ash in the firebox, burning clean. And, it burns hot so provides good heat. The elms are susceptible to a disease that kills them when they are smaller so there are usually quite a few dead ones every year. We also like ash, oak (although we don't have much of this), walnut, locust, and maple. We save all the smaller branches from the tops for the maple syrup making, as the evaporator uses wood to heat the pans and boil the sap into syrup. We try to save the nicest size logs of walnut, maple and cherry for furniture making. We use nice size logs of ash to cut 2x4 wood for building repair (although it is very hard to pound nails into!).
   Firewood is a great renewable resource for us, keeps us fit and healthy, and provides hours of enjoyment. heats twice. Once when you cut it and load it, and again when you enjoy the heat in the house!


  1. This post reminds me of a quote from Roger Deakin:

    "This is the pleasure of wood: that it warms you so many times over. first when you fell it, then when you cart it back to the woodpile and again when you saw it into logs. Then it warms you again as you cart it and stack the woodshed to the roof with willow and ash, and again as you barrow it to the hearth. Then, at last, the final warming in the front of the fire, the climax and finale of the whole exercise, the sum of so much work, so many hours lost in thought."

  2. Thanks for that great quote! He said it perfectly. I hadn't counted all the other times we were heated by our wood...more than I knew.