Wood Heated Winter


When it is so cold that even the doorway guardian needs a woolly hat, you know that it is time to cut wood. Lots of wood. Of course, an ideal time to top up the wood pile is way before winter, but up in the bush at Paul's place there is plenty of dry wood for cutting, and frankly, it is much more comfortable cutting wood on a cold day than in the heat of summer. So, into the woods we go with chainsaws.

Being a lumberjack in the bush is so much fun. At the same time as we are cutting wood we are also clearing tracks through the undergrowth. Don't worry, we are not cutting through untouched bush. Paul's land was cleared a hundred years ago for farming, and has since grown back into dense bush. We are clearing some of the more flammable undergrowth and attempting to restore it to the kind of park-like state that the Tasmanian Aborigines kept their hunting grounds for thousands of years. This is becoming increasingly important as the climate changes and dries out and bushfires are stronger and more common. As we clear out undergrowth it encourages the native grasses which encourage wallabies and pademelons to keep nibbling away and being our specially trained lawn-mowers and fire-retarding guardian angels. Plus, cutting wood and clearing fire tracks is a gloriously fun way to spend a weekend.

Paul has the big grand-daddy chainsaw, and I have the baby bear one. Paul bought this for me, because he knows that what women really want is chainsaws. This is a wee, battery operated one, mainly for pruning fruit trees on my gardening days. However, it is also perfect for cutting kindling.

Paul cuts giant logs for his giant boiler that keeps him warm and heats his water, and I come along behind cutting baby logs, which is handy because I have a tiny wood heater that needs small logs to heat up to keep our house toasty. I potter about the tracks cutting up limb wood that has dropped onto the forest floor.

At the end of the day we have a lot of wood sorted for the weeks of cold ahead. Happy winter's solstice to us, and to all, and thanks to the land that keeps us warm.

And happy summer solstice to all of you in the sunny North:)


Anonymous said…
Hi Jo. I think cutting and stacking firewood are some of the most rewarding tasks of all. All that outdoor work, the sore muscles and the resulting honest tiredness are enormously satisfying. When our children were young and we had a woodburner, we would take a chainsaw and a trailer to a rocky beach and spend the morning collecting and sawing up driftwood logs. When the trailer was full we would make a little fire on the stones and cook up sausages and billy tea for lunch. One year we took our Italian exchange student with us, and she was entranced by the whole process. I don't think she had ever done so much physical work in her life!

Linda in NZ
Anonymous said…
So lovely to see you’ve made a perfect match. Someone who knows what sort of gift you’d like and who works in tandem with you. I should visit in winter and we can sit and read in front of a fire and make each other cups of tea and eat cake. Lucinda.
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

You post was music to my ears! And yes, absolutely, women do want chainsaws, and can use them just as well as guys can. And I use the word 'chainsaws' in the plural sense. Although I have noticed a predilection for electric chainsaws with the ladies, and I must say that I'm rather jealous as to how the machines just start by plugging them into the solar power and pushing a button. All very civilised! :-)

Just for your interest, we fell in winter, but cut, split and store in summer when the extreme UV has worked its magic on the firewood. After burning out the steel in the original wood heater - because I was a numpty, I read a book about firewood and utterly changed all of the processes. Replacing the wood heater cost a small fortune! About 14% moisture content is what you're after, as anything wetter than that and the firewood doesn't combust cleanly and the acids in the smoke can damage the steel of the fire box. A good rule of thumb is that if the glass and flue are mostly clean, then you're doing all of the right things.

You'll turn into a proper farm lass, if you're not careful! ;-)


Jo said…
Linda, that is such a beautiful story. I bet your kids retain treasured memories of those expeditions. While I was reading it I suddenly remembered the joy of fires lit with driftwood, and the lovely blue and green flames you sometimes see with it.

Lucinda, oh, do visit again:) I will light the fire and make the tea and Posy will bake a cake:)

Chris, so interesting. The firebox baffle plates of my wood fire is completely ruined - great big cracks and holes in it. From your experience I suspect it has something to do with the not very dry wood I burned in it for the first two years I lived here. And I guess that even though the wood i am burning now is completely dry in the sense that it is dead, often the bark is wet.. hmmm, much to think on. Do you have the name of the firewood book you read?
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Some baffle plates can be replaced, and in fact are replaceable items.

The book is by Dirk Thomas: The Woodburner's Companion.

I recommend the book, but the basic gist is to get you firewood down to about 14% moisture content. For me, that means seasoning the firewood for two years to remove the sugars, and then storing it dried over summer where hopefully it is out of the rain.


Hazel said…
There is something very satisfying about chopping and stacking wood.
We sometimes holiday in France and you can tell the areas with severe winters by the huge woodpiles in the gardens. My husband always has to stop and admire them.
GretchenJoanna said…
My understanding is that, once firewood is seasoned-dry, it doesn't soak up much moisture from getting rained on -- you wouldn't want to use damp wood to start a fire, but after it's burning well, the wetness on any log you throw in will be gone in a flash. Am I wrong about this?

I don't have to cut wood, but during the winter I have to go outside and bring logs from the woodpile into the garage to refill a rack that I have there. It's a workout, and sometimes I do it in the rain. I put the tarp back over the stack of wood. I load up the little rack by the wood stove, and split kindling, clean out the ashes, lay a fire...

I am always surprised how invigorating this simple activity is; no matter how old I am feeling that day, it makes me feel younger and capable, and so thankful that I can still do something that doesn't involve any electricity, machines, devices or screens, but that does require exertion, lifting, carrying, braving the elements ;-). It's such an upper that my original impulse that drove me to the task, the desire to sit by the fire and be lazy, is forgotten, and once I have got the fire going I find it natural to start on other labor.

My stove has some problems, and if it fails completely, it is illegal in my county for me to install a similar stove, because of Clean Air regulations. I might have to get a gas fireplace, which of course would be convenient, but... I'm afraid it would contribute to my personal decline!
simplelife said…
Hey Jo, hoping you are just holed up keeping warm and snug by the wood heater.
I've missed your thoughts
Cheers Kate
Jo said…
Chris, thanks for that book recommendation plus overview. I think you are absolutely right, burning less than optimally dried wood has contributed to the demise of the baffle plates. I will be replacing over summer.

Gretchen Joanna, you are so right, wood wet from the rain isn't a problem. When we talk about wood not being dry, we mean it is still slightly green, which allows acids to escape and eat away at the metal of the firebox. A moisture metre measures the amount of moisture still internal to the log which is the remaining sap-level from when the log was a live tree. As Chris mentioned, it takes about two summers to get an optimal dry log for burning, and many wood merchants are not scrupulous in this regard.
And yes, like you I love all the tasks pertaining to running a wood fire, including splitting kindling:)

Kate, thanks so much for your kind little note:) Two reasons for absence: procrastination, and also, more recently, hand surgery. I am just now beginning to be able to type with two hands again, which is encouraging:) New post soon..
Jo said…
Hazel, here in Tasmania people out of town almost always have enormous woodpiles, stacked beautifully and often snaking along the driveway to the house. A well stacked woodpile is truly a thing of beauty!

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