Acquiring Wood

Scrunching the sheets into a ball, I place the paper in the stove between the parallel logs.  Once the gap is filled, I cover with strips of cardboard and top that with charcoal remains from the day before. More logs go on top, each layer lying perpendicular across the one below.  With the flick of a lighter, the fire comes to life. Slowly moving across the tinder and kindling, eventually lighting the logs ablaze.  Such is the routine each morning now as winter begins to set in.  The season of the woodstove has returned and with it the reaping of the benefits of work done in seasons past.

In the far north, the woodstove remains unparalleled as a heat source.  It is immune to any disruptions in electrical supply and thrives in keeping the home warm in even the fiercest of cold snaps.  Nowadays, many people buy split cordwood, but for the enterprising households there is satisfaction and additional warmth in sourcing the fuel on your own. There’s a saying that wood heats more than once. It heats when you cut it, when you haul it, when you stack it, when you split it and finally when it is burned in the stove. Try that with your furnace or oil fueled stove.

Over the past year, Alana and I have cut firewood on a few occasions. The bulk of our wood we sourced last year from a burn outside of town.  For roughly a week, we’d drive out early in the morning darkness. Alana would buck up fallen trees and fell some that were standing.  I’d load up our sled with the ~4 ft logs and drag them back to the trailer. Again and again for roughly 8 hours before the sun set and we’d travel back in the darkness once more. Other days we’d stick around town and buck the logs into shorter lengths to fit the woodstove and stack them along the driveway. This went on for about a week until we accumulated nearly 5 cords of wood.

Throughout this past summer we fell many trees clearing the area for the garden and the area for the food forest.  What was fell in the garden was simply stacked in place and formed our current hugelkultr beds, while the larger trees in the food forest were bucked up into smaller sections for both firewood and building.  This fall, Alana began teaching a chainsaw instructional course on our property, felling a few more trees in the process.   As it stands, we have somewhere around 6-7 cords on hand.  With the size and type of construction of our home, we will likely only be burning around 1 cord of wood throughout the winter for our heating needs.  Suffice to say, we are well prepared.

Nowadays, almost all felling and bucking is done with a chainsaw.  Prior to the advent of chainsaws in the 1960s, crosscut saws and axes were the norm.  It was said that during the 1800s, the average logger could clear an acre’s worth of trees per day in the northeastern US with just an axe alone.  Interested in trying the tools of old for myself, I ordered a crosscut saw during the time I lived in Wiseman. I put the chainsaw to the side, using muscles rather than gas as fuel. With time, I found I could get the same results as before in almost the same amount of time, minus the noise, smell and increased risk.  I’d clear excess brush and trees by axe, swinging away at a few trees each day.  Each day I increased my confidence, grew stronger and calloused my hands further.

Alana telling Sean and I the principles of tree felling. Photo taken by Ryan

Going forward, I’d like to move back more towards the tools of old, felling trees by axe and bucking with a crosscut saw.  The traditional way brings on the added benefit of increased physical activity, serving as a boon for personal health.  Alana and I are hoping to attend a class this winter on how to sharpen crosscut saws, which would further increase the feasibility of such a goal.  Perhaps one day I’ll find myself like Dick Proenneke, ripping boards by hand and doing all wood work exclusively with hand tools.  Examining my skillset now, the road ahead is steep, yet I remain excited about improving and learning new skill sets in the winters and years to come.


1 Comment

  1. If words were food your article/food was delicious.

    It brought back memories of a much younger body cutting up an uncountable number of trees while clearing the land so we could start to build our homes on out near Livengood.

    Your words also evoked the wonderful memory
    of the smell of fresh cut wood, thanks.

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