Chopping and stacking wood is a pastime where the world makes sense once more. Because our relationship to fire is so ancient, so universal, in learning about wood, you also learn about life. And beyond the philosophy, are a host of practical issues.
Assuming you have access to a source of wood – your own or someone else’s – some basic questions you should ask yourself before cutting are:
. Which trees should I cut?
. When is a good time to cut the trees?
. Should I dry, then split, or split the wood first?
. Will I ruin my woods/lot by cutting out trees for firewood?
Before you begin the firewood process, think about all you want from your woods/lot. Cutting firewood works for most owners, but where some trees might be good choices to cut for firewood, others might be left for use by wildlife, or to keep for landscaping or property value reasons.
When you inspect your trees for firewood, you should look for trees with evidence of disease, like cankers, bleeding lesions, and dieback in the crown. Crooked or densely arranged hardwoods often benefit by thinning, and make good firewood.
The trees selected to remain standing, should be clearly marked as “keepers” to help you monitor your progress as a property owner. You might want to take a closer look at trees that are acting as a wind-break, or as a stream or hillside soil retainer. Consult with a forester or arborist to determine if certain trees have a greater value left standing than as firewood.
Plan your firewood removal process to maximize chainsaw safety by planning out which trees to cut first, and to provide room to fell other trees afterward. If you decide to do this yourself, you should work with a partner and keep each other in clear communication and visual contact, to prevent accidents.
Trees with crown dieback may drop major limbs during the cutting process. It is also advised to check and mark trees in the late spring where you can easily see the dead branches against the green emerging leaves.
Also, before you start, you should consult with the city, county or subdivision codes/regulations to make sure that you are not on a variance or there is some other restriction. Checking with utility companies if any poles or lines are in the area is also a highly advisable.
Remember to look up first before you cut. Many trees grown close to, or may fall on electrical or telephone wires and cause serious damage to your property or neighbors. Along these same lines, check and make sure a tree will not fall on fences, water tanks/troughs, outbuildings, etc. before you cut. If any of these situations are present, you should consult or hire a professional.
Indoor wood stoves/fireplaces should be supplied with only fully seasoned hardwoods like sugar and red maples, hickory, oak, ash, beech, hornbeam, locust and pecan. Softer trees like birch, willow, silver maple and pines should be burned only sparingly, if at all. Thus, your firewood tree scouting efforts should focus only on those species that burn hot and long.
For campfires, there are no restrictions on which species of trees can be burned as campfire wood. However, using fully seasoned wood will reduce the smoke generated. Avoid fresh wood of any kind, as it will have too much water embedded in the wood to burn well. Again, avoid burning diseased trees, or trees that have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals.
Once a tree is felled and cut into pieces sized to fit the wood stove or fireplace, it should be split as soon as possible. Green wood splits more easily than dried wood, and the smaller pieces will dry out faster than intact round logs. Cut out notches and burls that will be difficult to split.
For household use, an 8-pound splitting maul or borrowed/rented log splitter are usually more economical than purchasing a log splitter. It will take practice to learn to read the grain, cracks, and knots that make firewood splitting easier. Use a splitting block to stabilize logs you are striking with a maul and always wear eye or other safety protection
A full cord of wood is a 4-foot-by-8-foot-by-4-foot stack. Keep firewood dry, off the ground, and stacked so air can circulate. In the Piney Woods, it is also a good idea to be able to check your stack for snakes and other “critters” that might be using your stack as a home or resting place.
Also, avoid stacking wood on your porch or close to the side of a house or cabin, as this invites ants, termites, other insects. As well mice can be a problem if firewood is stored too close to the house. To keep insects and ‘critters’ out of your firewood, it should be stored outdoors away from the house and under a shelter or tarp. Also avoid storing the wood in the forest or wooded area where wood-eating insects could nest in your firewood.
Firewood that is fully dried yields the most heat, and is the safest to burn. Firewood should be seasoned to complete dryness under a shelter for at least one full year. Trees that were cut for firewood this summer will be ready to burn now only if fully dried. Dry wood burns efficiently, has fewer insect problems, and will minimize creosote accumulation in your chimney.
Only bring in enough firewood for a day or two. Before bringing wood inside, remove the loose bark flaps and inspect the wood for insects or signs of insects (holes that have been bored), and check hollow logs for mouse nests. Wood infested with insects should be split into thin segments to remove the insects, and then used for kindling. Any insects accidentally brought indoors should be swept up or removed with a vacuum and insecticides should never be used to kill insects on your firewood.
Who better to impart this wisdom than a Scandinavian wood-head, where the extreme climate has obliged generations to hone and share their skills with tools, wood and heat production.
Lars Mytting has distilled the wisdom of enthusiasts, from experienced lifelong growers, stackers and burners to researchers and professionals of combustion and tree culture. Part guide to the best practice in every aspect of working with this renewable energy source, part meditation on the human instinct for survival, this definitive handbook on the art of chopping, stacking and drying wood in the Scandinavian way has resonated across the world.
Chopping and stacking wood, Mytting believes, “is a very healthy thing to do for a modern person”. “So much of our life is based on a digital lifestyle. Chopping wood is so extremely different,” he said. “It’s a hands-on experience, which is only you, with simple tools, and very organic material – old trees that have spent up to 200 years growing, that are heavy and stout and really give you resistance when you chop them. It gives you a reward that is exactly equal to the effort you put into it.” Whether you are a seasoned woodcutter, or your passion is yet to be kindled, Norwegian Wood is a great fireside read.
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