"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

"There is no 'try'...there is only do, or do not." ~ Yoda

Preparing myself, my family and my friends for the Fourth Turning.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Soggy Days and Firewood

Not completely satisfied with the choices available for format of this blog, but as its free, I don't see I can complain much. 

Today has dawned soggy and rainy - it rained most of yesterday, and through the night, and is raining now.  This limits my activity.  It's not that I particularly mind getting wet - although the colder it gets, the more I mind - it's that this can be a messy business, and living in a one-room Abode with no running water and only generated electricity poses challenges to cleanliness and hygiene.

There will be no digging.  This simply invites more mud.  I am regretting having begun the stone wall around the Abode, as I am now left with piles of dirt, slowly clumping to mud, near the entrance.

Instead, I think I will spend the afternoon in the wood yard - lots to do there.  A number of smaller logs to be cut to length and stacked, much splitting to be done, decisions and work to be done regarding staging of log piles, preparing and driving end posts for the stacks, develping a system for keeping them off the ground.

Although it has been some time since I have lived in an environment where we heated exclusively with wood (29 years), the principles are fairly simple to understand.

One the one hand, one can purchase wood, or wood equivalents, such as wood pellets, in much the same way one purchases electricity, or natural gas, or heating oil.  One is simply trading dollars earned via one's labor for energy that will be principally used to provide warmth.

Or, if one is fortunate, one can exploit one's own resources, apply one's direct labor, and produce what amounts to a capital good: fuel for warmth during the winter (and, potentially, for cooking, heating water, etc).  This can be done as simply as picking up forest litter for an open fire (such as many nomadic tribes have historically done); or it can be as complex as forest management coupled with machine-assisted harvesting, processing and storage.

There is quite a range of techniques in play up here.  A good deal of scrounging occurs - wood can be expensive, and purchasing wood, when it may be obtained for free, is viewed somewhat askance - it's a cultural thing.  Unless of course, one is of the upper-middle class or higher - in these classes, self-sufficiency can be less of a motivator than in the laboring class, where dollars are dearer.

To run a proper woodyard, planning is needed.  First, one must anticipate the quantity needed over a given period and do so accurately: there is no joy in realizing in the depths of February's bitterness that the woodpile will not last and further provision must be made.

Many people tend to overstock.  This carries risk as well:  wood will decay if left for long periods exposed to the elements.  Decayed wood will not burn.  Therefore, one's investment, be it in labor, barter, or cash will have been lost.  It saddens me to see piles of rotting logs that will clearly never be burnt - I am certain there is some family in the area that would have made good use of that wasted resource.

The approach I intend to take is to have two year's inventory of prepared or near-prepared wood close to hand at the closing of each summer.  Now, this is more complicated than it sounds.  I can't just go out in July, cut down a live tree, log it, split it, stack it and be done.  I'll end up burning green or partially green wood all winter.

This produces a fire that must divert some of it's energy to driving off the water in the form of steam, robbing me of valuable thermal radiation.

So, in Year One (this year, as I write), I must either girdle the trees I plan to use next winter, or cut the logs outright, yard them, and later next year cut them to size and split them.

To girdle a tree, one first selects the tree one intends to use for firewood.  This tree should be carefully selected, using criteria (which I won't go into here) that promote sustainable forest management.  Girdling is the removal of bark in a strip all around the tree.  Since bark is essential for the survival of the tree, this will kill the tree.  It should be done in the fall.

The following late spring, one will have a nicely dead, nearly dry tree to harvest.  The tree is then felled, bucked (removal of branches and limbs), cut to length (six to twelve feet), hauled to the yard, and left to dry further.

Over the course of the summer, the tree is cut into stove-lengths.  Stove length is dependent upon the capacity of the stove - the larger the capacity, the larger the log the stove will accommodate.  This is important for several reasons. 

First, larger logs obviously require less processing.  If I need merely cut the log into lengths and then shove the entire stove length log into my stove, it saves me the process of splitting the log. My neighbor's wood boiler can accommodate an un-split log several feet long, for example.

Second, placing several large pieces of wood in the burner results in a longer time between refueling events - provided one is judicious with the drafting, and does not overfire the stove. No one wants to get out of bed, where one is warm and toasty, curled up next to their gently sleeping spouse, and have to go shove sticks in an iron box.

Finally, large chunks resist decay better than smaller chunks.  The ratio of the surface are to volume presents fewer opportunities for water, microbes, and molds to enter.

Anyway, in the fall of Year One (Y1) I girdle the tree(s) for Year Two's (Y2's) winter. In the late spring of Y2 I fell the trees from Y1.  In the summer of Y2 I process the wood from Y1 Trees for Y2 winter use.  In the fall of Y2 I girdle the trees for Y3. And so on.

(As a long term alternative to girdling and felling entire trees, particularly if one has a smaller patch of land, one can pollard or coppice one's trees.)

As an alternative to girdling, I can fell green trees in the fall, cut them to manageable lengths, haul and yard them, and leave them piled to dry.  As I have a large number of logs remaining from the driveway clearing project, I have no need to girdle trees this year.  I estimate I have sufficient wood for at least next winter, and possible the following.

Firewood Left from Road Clearing

The Nascent Wood Yard

In our particular case, we won't really know our annual consumption until at least one winter has passed - and then it will at best be an estimate based upon a single heating season. 

For this reason, I anticipate having to prepare ten cords of wood for the winter of 2011, double what I anticipate needing.  Of course, I must also prepare the wood I will use this winter, when I am here managing the building process.

As for the wood yard itself, one can think of this is a production line.  As with any production line, we want to handle each piece in the assembly process as few times as possible - every time I pick up, move, cut, or otherwise manipulate a piece of fuel, I am expending energy and time.  If I am inefficient, I will expend more energy and time than is needed.

So I want a system where the logs come in one end - preferable away from the house - and out of the other end comes stove ready wood - preferably as near the house as reasonable.  My wood yard location is approximately 40 feet from the planned mudroom entrance; it is also near where our shop will be. In fact, the wood yard is directly between the Abode and the planned shop (which will have its own stove).  To the rear of the abode is the woods from where fuel will in the future be obtained.

Bear in mind, we will have three fireboxes in our home: the primary heat source in the masonry heater, and two wood stoves, one on each floor.  As these will be sized for different purposes, that may require different size fuel.

The process involves taking the logs cut to manageable length (six to twelve feet, perhaps longer if mechanical haulage or a horse is used to bring them to the yard) and cutting them to stove length: generally, sixteen to 24 inches.  If the resulting piece of wood is of sufficiently small diameter to ensure easy handling and a good fit in the stove, my cutting work is done, and I can stack these logs ready for use.

The location of the finished wood piles is important as well - it is from these piles that fuel will be hauled to its point of use.  One wants convenient access and a clear path to the home, and the point of entry at the home should provide provision for storage as well.  Usually, this is on a porch near an entrance. 

Inside the home, each burner should have it's own provision for fuel storage, as well as kindling, tinder, and ignition means.  The preparation of kindling (smaller pieces ignited by the tinder) is also important, and should be kept in mind throughout the process.  As one is processing logs, certain logs will clearly be more suited for additional processing into kindling than others.  These should be set aside in a separate pile.

Generally, logs with straight grains, no branches, no forks, and of easily ignited and hot burning species make good kindling.  Ash, maple, beech - even some pine, if used sparingly (I prefer to retain pine for outdoor fires, where the buildup of creosote is not an issue).

Anyone with a clothes dryer has access to one of the best sources of tinder available to man: dryer lint.  I carry wads of this stuff when backpacking.  In our new home,  I intend to keep a mason jar stuffed full of dryer lint, a box of long matches, and this pine sticks at each firebox as the ignition system.

Flint and steel work very effectively in conjunction with dryer lint as well, as I know from long experience.  However, there is no need to completely abandon technology. ;->

If one wants to make even more effective fire-starters, as opposed to purchasing commercially made ones, it is a simple task: get a used eight-by-eight cake pan, pack it full of dryer lint, melt your leftover candle ends (carefully), and pout the resulting liquid over the dryer lint. 

When it hardens, cut it into sticks.  Each stick is a home-made fire-starter.

So, today, I will be taking the messy pile of logs left adrift in my yard by the logging process and continue to process and organize them. 

That said, I'm off to the yard, my chainsaw, my maul, and my axe.  Enjoy your day.


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