October 4, 2013

The Wood Shuffle

The arrival of the autumn foliage means that it's time for the annual firewood shuffle. I have about four or five cords of seasoned wood that have been drying in the shelter of pine and hemlock trees on the north and northeast side of my property. I'm in the process of restacking this wood on pallets on my back patio so I'll have easy access to it through the hatchway door come winter. Last year I burned about 3 1/2 cords of wood and ran out by late March. I should have plenty on hand for this winter! 

The seasoning area beneath the trees will be occupied shortly with freshly split white oak, maple, and hickory that will constitute next season's fuel. The wood burning game means I'm always stocking (and stacking) wood for a season or two in the future. I quite pleased to note that I've scavenged all of this wood for free from family and friends who have had trees taken down for various reasons. I've yet to cut down a tree for the sake of firewood.  With all this wood, I only burned 3/4 of a tank of oil last winter.  Burning wood is a lot of work but it keeps the oil man away!

Speaking of splitting wood, I've switched over to the Fiskars X27 splitting axe. I've previously used a standard splitting maul from the hardware store. The Fiskars axe is lightweight and has a razor sharp edge to slice its way through wood rather than bludgeoning the log like a maul. I can swing this axe for hours with far less muscle soreness. The trick is to keep the edge very sharp; Fiskars offers a slick little sharpening tool. Of course, the largest logs require the traditional wedge and sledge technique to make smaller chunks that I can split with the axe. I save the gnarliest and knottiest pieces for the hydraulic woodsplitter.

Here's the equipment I'm using right now.  I use the maul to drive the wedge, but a long-handled sledgehammer is probably a better tool.  Stay safe and get yourself a pair of safety glasses and work boots, too!  The Fiskars axe is worth every penny.  I've split about 5 cords with mine and I've been very pleased.

A season's worth of heat = homeland security.
Now, allow me the opportunity to wax poetic on wood splitting for a bit. I love it. I really love splitting by hand rather than using a hydraulic splitter. Why? First and foremost, hand splitting is quiet…I can listen to the birds in between chops with the axe. Also, hand splitting is highly meditative; much like motorcycling and backcountry skiing, complete focus is needed to do the task well. Each piece of wood becomes a silent puzzle…I become the Log Whisperer and read the grain to determine which way it wants to split. I look for knots and other features that might influence the direction of the split. The swing of the axe is a calculated application of inertia and muscle. I can step back for a moment and admire the remaining color in my fall vegetable garden and watch the evening sunlight play on the pines that tower above my chopping block. A few hours of splitting settles me into a slow rhythm of physical labor that is eminently rewarding as I sweat out my frustrations and the pile of split wood grows. 
Gabby dog supervises the stacking operations with a tasty pine cone.

It ain't just choppin' wood, folks!