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Old 10-16-11, 07:53 PM   #1
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Default On Splitting Firewood

Today, I split wood.

This is not something new to me.

My wife and I have been in our house for about seven years now. Right in the middle of our living room is a small, cast-iron, parlor wood stove. Ever since being in the house, I have become an amateur woodsman and log-splitter.

Even before that, in the house I grew up in, we had a pretty good sized woodstove in the workshop off the back of the garage, and my father has a lovely Vermont Castings wood stove in his back sun-room. My parent's property is roughly three acres in total, with half of that being wooded.

A couple years ago, I even splurged, and spent some good money on a splitting maul, imported from Sweden. I do have to say that I LOVE my Gransfors Bruks splitting maul. It's solid, if feels right in my hands. It's exactly what a tool should be.

And it got absolutely no use this year.

No, indeed. I had spoken with my father a few weeks back, and we had arranged a time to do some work together, spitting wood, and dividing it among ourselves. Also new this year, my brother-in-law was with, as he and my sister recently purchased a house with not JUST a fireplace, but also a wood stove AND an outdoor wood-fired sauna. So, he was also going to help out in return for a share of firewood.

Usually, it had been working on fallen trees in the back of my Dad's property. My Dad also owns a cabinet shop down the street from the house. There's also a plumbing business out of the same building. The town is small enough that pretty much everyone knows everyone else. It's also small enough that there's no Municipal Yard Waste facility. After a big storm this spring, the one village employee asked my Dad if he wanted some of the downed trees, already in cut pieces that had to be removed from the roads. My Dad said yes, and the rounds of wood were dropped off behind the cabinet shop.

I met my father this morning, and he said that he would get the splitter and meet me down at the shop. "The Splitter? Some big mechanical thing?" Yep. The next-door neighbor has a good-sized hydraulic log splitter, which can run in horizontal or vertical mode, and is powered by a nine horsepower gasoline engine. The pile of wood behind the shop was pretty big. And it really wasn't straight-grained, ideal hand-splitting type wood. Nope, it was in whatever size municipal chain saws make 'em, and a mix of Box Elder, Cherry, and a few other odd species. Plenty of forks and knots in there too. So when we started splitting by machine, I was at least comforted by the thought of how tough some of those pieces would have been to split by hand.

One of the things I enjoy about splitting wood with someone else is the shared sense of comradery. You can chit chat, talk about the ball game, or ponder the meaning of life, or as one guy set's 'em up, and the other guy splits 'em down. But you can't do that over the noise of a gas engine. Usually, I would be the guy actually swinging the maul. I'm really not that bad at it. I once won the "Test o' Strength" at the country fair, where you now have to ring the bell THREE TIME IN A ROW to win. I'm pretty sure I only won from all my practice swinging a maul.

But I wasn't swinging a maul. Instead, I simply pulled up or down on a handle which allowed hydraulic oil to pump into a piston slowly driving a steel wedge into the yielding logs. Somehow, I felt more like I was serving the machine, rather than the other way around. When it was my turn to roll logs over and get them onto the splitter, my back quickly tired and knees were hurting.

When splitting by hand my back would also hurt. No, that's not quite right. It would ache. But it would ache different. I would ache the way muscles do when they are used. When they are stretched in a way that they aren't every day, but they remember. They remember what it is they should do, and they return to it.

After a couple hours work, the whole big pile was done. My share of the wood was always tossed to the side. My stove can only take very small pieces. My father's can take huge chunks, and my brother-in-law's somewhere in the middle. We are the Three Bears of firewood, but I always feel like it turns out "just right".

We ended up with two loads in the big construction trailer, and a full load in my compact pickup truck.

While the actual splitting of the wood was loud, yet silent. (A noisy engine, but no talking.) STACKING the wood returned to the traditional ways of manual labor. With three people, stacking the first load at my Dad's was actually pretty quick. Then, it was back to split more, this time the trailer would be going over to my brother-in-law's. When that load was done, we split up, with the other two men off to unload the trailer, and me, home alone to unload my share.

I keep some wood on my back porch. I have a recycled coal box that I use to help contain and better stack the wood. It's just right out the kitchen door, so it's in close reach for me to bring inside to the wood stove. I turned on my radio. On Sunday nights, they play folk music in the early evening. Before, I couldn't hear anything over a gas engine, chugging away mechanical power. Now, as the sun set, it was the quiet solitude of the clunk wood makes when stacked, with banjos and violins playing softly in the background.

The old sense of accomplishment was coming back. Using a hydraulic log splitter did not completely loose the Zen of Woodsplitting for me. But it took me on my back porch, preparing for winter, stacking the wood, for it to return.

Each day draws shorter than the last. Indian Summer means sunny days, but the nights quickly chill - a harbinger of the winter that quietly stalks us.

At least in some small way, I am more ready than before. It's not as though I'm completely "off-grid" with my heating. But a wood fire warms the soulů. and the living room, in a way that a natural gas furnace never will.

Even in the worst winter storm, with the power out, we'll still be safe and warm. I never really look forward to winter. I enjoy the fall. No bugs, not too hot or too cool. But it's a hurried time. A time to prepare while one can. But also to be able to take pride in that preparation...
and keep practicing for the "Test 'o Strength" at the country fair.


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Old 10-16-11, 10:45 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by bennelson View Post
Today, I split wood...
Sometimes it takes more than fuel to stay warm through the winter.

Thanks bennelson, very nicely written.

I'm not an HVAC technician. In fact, I'm barely even a hacker...
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Old 10-17-11, 11:28 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by bennelson View Post
Today, I split wood.

I call it redneck psychotherapy and do a little by hand with various axes, mauls and wedges each weekend.

In the winter the wood warms you twice (once splitting, once burning.)
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Old 10-18-11, 08:34 AM   #4
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Remember the days when we were told to get "fresh air and sunshine"?

Now all the kids don't, and are diagnosed with A.D.D.!

I think it is good therapy. Redneck or not.

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Old 10-18-11, 09:07 AM   #5
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I'm also doing some preparing.. Today, I've got both of the Sanyo ASHPs running at 22C.
Just to keep the cobwebs away.

But, there is the old Honey-Do list on the fridge, which still has some serious items left on it.
Items that may become targets of my procrastination, since I have gotten to like doing only, the interesting work..
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Old 10-28-11, 07:16 PM   #6
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nice maul.

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firewood, heat, maul, splitter, winter

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