Archives for posts with tag: heating with wood

It’s how it was when I grew up. The guy handles the chain saw, the gal carries and stacks the firewood. Not that I couldn’t do the chainsaw part, I did when I was single. But it just works out that way and I go with the flow. Both roles are strenuous–nobody is coasting here. I think Rick worries if I have a chainsaw in my hands. I am very careful, but I do have a reputation for being clumsy. And, from a gender perspective…it’s a control thing. (Shrug.)

On Sundays, we make wood. It’s a lovely ritual, weather permitting. It reconnects us to the forest and the land. We are finally in the position that we are cutting “next year’s wood,” that is, this year’s wood is already, for the most part, cut and stacked. We have a little splitting to do–but we are ready. So now we’re clearing and harvesting deadfall for winters yet to come. This, to me, is real wealth.

There’s a rhythm to it, and we have worked out a coordinated approach. When a tree falls there’s a lot of it that we won’t harvest. To us, anything less than three inches in diameter is “slash.” Not that it couldn’t be burned, but it’s not efficient for the way we harvest and burn wood. So any downed tree must be limbed, and cleared, before we can begin cutting in earnest. Rick cuts, and I drag the slash away from the work site to a spot where it can decompose naturally. It’s important to tidy up first, because those who  jump ahead to cutting, without first clearing, find themselves tripping on the spiderweb of branches around any fallen tree. Tripping with a running chainsaw is not a pretty sight. Safety is always our first priority.

We were making wood on Sunday when I saw that a fallen log was blocking access for the tractor. I gave it a shove, to see if I could move it. It was already quite rotten, and the top of it, loose. I grabbed it and started to pull it out of the way. Only after the top of it had cleared its bottom did I see it. There, nestled in the center of the rotting log was a large paper wasp nest. I dropped the log and began waving my arms to get Rick’s attention on the tractor. With the drone of the tractor, or the chainsaw, most of our wood-making communications are via hand signals. Mine went wild. Rick looked at me, quizzically, as I pointed. Just about then, the first of the wasps reached me, and I turned and fled. At some point, it’s every man for himself. Rick figured it out, in short order.

Men chop. Women carry. Everyone runs when they need to.

One day’s wood.

There are things that must be done, before the day can start. Whoever rolls out of bed first gets it going. It’s nice that chores integrate seamlessly, and without comment or rancor. It just rolls. There are occasional discussions about priorities. Cats must be fed and the cat-door opened for the day. Coffee water must be put on to boil. If I’m up first, I see to the cats first, because otherwise they get underfoot. For Rick, there is no priority greater than coffee in the morning. (And the cats seem to know it and, with him, they don’t interfere.)

Then, while waiting for the water, the coffee is ground and put in the filter. These discreet steps can be done by either of us, and we frequently just step in, ad hoc, to keep the flow of it going. Once there’s a steaming mug of coffee for each of us, we may just read the paper for a bit. Depending upon the plan for the day, I’ll often do the set up for the fire–clean the glass on the wood stove and carry up several armloads of firewood from the wood-crib outside the downstairs door, to load the copper boiler behind the stove. In “normal winter weather” we use what’s in the boiler each day. The house is small, and well-insulated.

We’re abnormally picky about keeping the glass clean, because we enjoy the aesthetic aspects of the fire. It’s a big part of our version of winter cozy. We don’t light the fire until later, sometime in the afternoon. When the house hits 62 degrees, it’s time for the fire. (16.6 C) Again, whoever feels chilled first usually takes on the fire-building task. It’s amazing how dead-on we are to that temperature threshold. We don’t live in the world of thermostat controls. There’s an overhead fan to circulate the heat. It’s surprisingly effective, keeping the entire house balanced within a couple of degrees.

Usually, one or the other of us will clean up around the wood stove, after the wood is brought up, and before we get on to other tasks. One of the things they don’t tell you about heating with wood, is that it can be very messy–with bits of bark and ash flying all over. It helps to make tidying up part of a regular routine. Otherwise, you wake up one day and realize the house is a disaster–covered in dust and ash and wood bits. Once a week or so, we have to ‘muck out the stove,’ shoveling out the ash and charcoal bits. Most of that goes into the composter. All these steps are a small price to pay for winter warmth, under our own control. We do it without much thought, that is, until things like Texas happen. Then we remember to be grateful.

These things done, we get on with the rest of the day.

I go through this every year. At some point, hopefully, I’ll learn to trust the numbers and relax. Thus far this year, we’ve been burning firewood from last year. That means we heated October and November without touching this year’s wood. The other day we exhausted that supply, and I loaded up the wood crib from the new wood for this year.

This will be our fourth winter here. We have learned from experience that we burn just over three cords of wood in a heating season. Behind the house, in two big stacks, is the pre-measured wood, stacked neatly, ready for this season. There’s a certain confidence, looking out the window to see those two big piles of split wood–each of these piles is four feet wide, twelve feet long and four to five feet high. It’s a generous three cords.

The wood crib, our storage area just outside the back door, holds between a third and a half cord. And that’s a good thing. But it means I’ve just pulled a significant chunk of firewood from the winter’s stores. It’s a big bite, and it shows. (Though we’ve only just moved it to a more convenient location…it’s not like I ate it or anything.) Of course, I panic. Will we have enough?

You know, some of the forecasters are predicting a particularly cold winter. (Though so far, they’ve been wildly off the mark.) And, this year, a percentage of that wood is beech, instead of ash. Ash is denser and has significantly more heating heft than beech. I look at that woodpile and wonder if there’s enough.

I do it every year.

It doesn’t even seem to help that we have already cut and brought in most of the wood needed for the following year. Because, poaching on next year’s wood would be robbing Peter to pay Paul, wouldn’t it?

I seem to have invented a whole new category of seasonal anxiety. The woods from which we harvest is directly behind us. It’s unlikely that, in any given year, we’d be able to exhaust the supply. When I purchased the property, some 30 years ago, I specifically selected it, in part, because the hardwoods section was big enough for our needs, without ever cutting a live tree. For this year, we can continue to bring in more wood, until the snow is too deep for the Kubota. Beyond that, we have an ice-fishing sled with which we could continue to haul in more if needed (and it’s all downhill). But that’s not really the issue. Needless anxiety is the issue.

The weather has turned colder, and we have our first real snow that “sticks.” To work through my needless anxiety, I asked Rick for his outdoor priorities with what’s left of the outdoor work season. Without hesitation he answered that there’s a couple more trees that have fallen and he’d like to cut them and bring them in.

I guess it’s contagious. Sigh. We do enjoy harvesting firewood–so it’s not a problem. At some point, we’ll be able to relax, knowing that there’s enough. We should be there, now. We won’t run out.

Maybe fraught elections aren’t enough. Pandemics aren’t enough. We’re humans and we find reasons to worry.

This has been hanging over us for some time. But, the time comes where you have to make up your mind to just do it.

And after all, winter is coming.


As a teen, at my parents’ home, my least favorite task was to have to get wood from the woodpile, at night. In the snow. In the dark. We’ve set it up here so that this is never the case.

Sure, the woodpile is out back, at stone’s throw from the house. But by the basement door we put in a wood ‘crib,’ enough to hold two or three week’s worth of fuel, depending on the temperature. And, just inside the basement door is a woodbox, that we fill everyday, so that the wood for the day is dry, and warm.

A couple of times each month I refill the woodcrib. I use a sled–the kind they make for ice-fishing, unless there’s no snow, in which case, I use a wheel barrow. It takes eleven or twelve full wheelbarrow loads to fill the crib–but only five or six sled loads. I prefer the sled.


You cannot turn your back on that sled though. If the ground is uneven, it’ll do what sleds do. Just before the holidays, the sled got away from me and whacked me square in the knee–knocking me over. I hobbled for a couple of weeks after that. That was my stupid-tax–it was my fault. I need to be more careful about observing how the sled is positioned on any slope–especially if I’m going to get out in front of it.


Just enough of a slope to cause trouble!

Unlike my sister, further north, we don’t burn 24/7. We start a fire when the temperature falls below 62, usually mid-day, and keep it going until we go to bed. Any more than that and the house would be too hot. In my parents’ house, the fire burned non-stop from October to April. I’m not sure if our difference in burn time is because of latitude, or the fact that we stuffed every nook and cranny of this house with insulation.

All the wood we burn comes from deadfall here on the property. It’s free, unless you count the hours we spend cutting, hauling and splitting. It’s heavy work, but it’s outdoors  in the woods and lovely. It’s one of our favorite tasks.


And ready for next time–sled or wheel barrow.

I was the one who insisted that we heat with wood. Not only had I grown up with it, but I learned a lesson in a rental once, that made me insist on having some measure of control when it came to heat. We lost power at the farm where I rented–and it was out for nearly a week. The furnace, though propane fueled, required electric power to operate. It was a very long, cold, week. After that, even though it was a rental, I installed a small wood stove. I never again wanted to be at the mercy of a public utility.

We have back-up heat, propane stoves and some electric baseboard units–enough to keep the house from freezing if we go out of town in the winter. But for day to day use, we burn wood.

We’re having a winter storm today. Not much of a storm really, there was some wind last night and by tomorrow morning we expect to add a foot of fresh snow. It’s beautiful. We won’t shovel until tomorrow–no point in doing it twice. In the meantime, it’s toasty inside by the fire.


North By Degrees

kindling cracker

It’s winter. Though we’re not yet through with summer business, when I look out the window, that blanket of white is pretty convincing. Though temperatures have been pretty mild, there’s no doubt that the season is upon us.

We don’t mind winter. It slows things down. And we love the cozy-evenings-with-a-fire-in-the-woodstove part. We’ve not yet reached the coldest part of winter, where a fire is needed round the clock.

I’m largely responsible for keeping the woodbin stocked from the woodpile. And I chop most of the kindling. That’s the only part I don’t much like. Admittedly, I’m not what anyone would call graceful or coordinated. Swinging a sharp hatchet near my fingers and thumbs makes me nervous.

I’ve been eyeing those ads for a “kindling cracker,” a handy device for holding firewood whilst splitting it in a near-effortless, and finger-safe, procedure. They’re ingenious, and elegant, but not cheap. I’ve been considering it for a couple of years; it’s a woodburning accessory that I could almost convince myself is a safety necessity. As is often the case when it comes to Northern living, I thought I’d ask my sister—who’s several hundred miles north of me—and has heated with wood for her entire adult life.

My sister had never heard of it. “Kindling? Why are you cutting so much kindling?”

“To start fires, of course.”

“Well, how many fires do you need to start?” (I could tell that she wasn’t going to be much help with my rationalizing.)

“At this time of year, we start a fire every day.”

“Really?” (What? Is she just showing off?)

“Don’t you need to cut kindling for the season?”

She laughed. “Not ‘for the season.’ We start a fire in October. Then it burns until May, 24/7. And you?

“It’s not cold enough to burn round the clock. We’d roast.”


And that, was that. Surely she’ll be of no help in my consumer decision. I’m not entirely sure if it was as cut and dried as all that. I could be the victim of Northern snobbery. But I’ll never know.