“Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.”
—Henry David Thoreau
The quotation above always makes me laugh, then retort, “only if you’re doing it wrong, Hank!”
To be fair, Thoreau’s comment was limited to chopping, not the whole process of cutting, hauling and stacking firewood. Even so, by my count, chopping my own wood warms me at least six times:
1. Initial splitting
3. restacking; (often more than once)
4. final splitting for use;
5. stacking inside;
Add to it the hours spent felling, bucking, and hauling, and I’m a pretty toasty fellow most of the time.
As I move toward completing this winter’s wood supply I’m thinking a lot about the process. Also, my sisters just rented a place with a wood heat option, so I won’t resist an opportunity to be pedantic. If we’re all lucky, I might pass on something useful about storing firewood in rain country, where weather can complicate things considerably.
This process involves two distinct subjects, chopping and stacking. I’ve chosen not to separate the two, because they are intimately entwined. Instead, I’ll present my recommendations over several articles.
As I’ve stated before, dryness is key to good firewood. This is especially important when using today’s airtight woodstoves. These stoves heat in a two-step combustion process: the wood itself burns, and gases given off by the burning wood also burn. If you put wet wood in your airtight stove, the steam it creates can extinguish the secondary burn, literally cutting the warming power of the wood in half! This makes the time and effort expended on drying wood very worthwhile.
The importance of dry firewood makes gathering it a year ’round job (see Round and Round Again and Seasoning Firewood: A Scientific Approach). Ideally, we have a winter’s worth of wood cut, stacked and curing a year ahead of time, so that nothing goes into the wood stove before it has been cured for a whole year at least. This is a bit of overkill, since most of our available wood is softwood, which can cure in six months. The more we err on the side of caution, the cleaner and hotter our fires will be.
The first step in cutting wood is to know your wood stove. I reread the manual that came with our stove at least once a year (see Make Your Belongings Last—Read The Instructions Often!). Important information is easily forgotten; periodic review improves my stove’s operation.
Particularly, become familiar with the proper length of wood. My standard length is the firebox depth, minus about three inches. The closer you adhere to the maximum length, the less sawing you’ll do in the long run. However, loading wood in a stove becomes difficult the closer the pieces are to the maximum length. A little bit shorter lengths can help make a tricky process easier. I mark my preferred length with electrical tape on the handles of all my bow saws, so that rounds can be measured out quickly before cutting.