Depleting the Woodpile

The time has come to admit that the woodpile is effectively depleted.

I’m one of those people who looks for patterns in life a little too often. The woodpile is a classic example of this. We had the woodshed fully loaded by the end of May last year. I’d stuffed it completely, so I was anxious to see how long the pile would last.

This immediately led to complications. After all these years I still forget from time to time that the wood stove is not a luxury, an auxiliary home heating option, as it was in Juneau. It’s our only heat source. That means that every time the house gets too cold, I need to give up some of my precious wood to heat it.

Last autumn, that meant making a few fires in August, and the Drawing Down of the Woodpile officially commenced. With it began my monitoring. I watched as the pile inevitably, inexhorably diminished over autumn, winter, and early spring.

the woodpile in March

This is what was left on March 1. 14 days later, it was gone (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I know this is foolish. Other than ensuring there’s enough wood, and maybe getting a general idea of overall usage patterns, the wood must be used as needed, and that need changes from year to year, depending on the weather. Even so, I can’t keep from doing it.

At a certain point, December, perhaps, we hit upon the idea of taking a photo of the woodpile on the first day of each month, to track usage. This led to a desire to let the pile dwindle completely, to mark the date it gave out.

I managed to use enough common sense to declare that end date as March 14th, even though we still had about a wood box full of wood left in the pile.

The problem is that the remaining wood, being at the bottom of the pile, is the worst quality wood. It was the “bad stuff” that got tossed to the pile bottom to begin with, where it soaked up available moisture as the area drained more or less effectively through the winter weather. To add to the problem, the most recent snows blew in and soaked the remaining wood a little more at the last minute.

On the 14th I gave up, and started burning some of the drier wood I’d brought into the shed in the last week along with the last of the “official” pile. With the drier wood supporting it, the wetter stuff can be burned a little at a time, while the fire stays hot enough to cut down on creosote build up, something that had been growing worse as I doggedly used what was in the woodshed to begin with.

As it happens (and adding to the futility of my monitoring) we still have a lot of wood left that I cut last spring, but couldn’t fit into the woodshed. We stacked some under the eaves outside our bedroom, and in the space underneath it. I cut and stacked a half a cord or more up in the forest, where it has remained, well tarped and quietly drying even further, all winter long. And, there’s most of a whole tree in dry 2- and 3-round lengths tucked up under the treehouse, waiting to be bucked up and split. So, even if I did burn down to the last stick, I hadn’t really proved anything more than that the capacity of the woodshed held only enough wood to take us from about mid-August last year to mid-March this year.

I’ve been a bit slow about getting back to cutting firewood this year, although looking at last year’s blog posts and journal entries, we had a much earlier spring last year, all in all. But, with the remainder of last year’s wood to start the pile off, I’m probably further ahead on the coming winter’s wood than I was last year.

And, dollars to donuts, by the time we start using that wood this coming autumn, I’ll be monitoring again. I suppose I could pick up worse habits.

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2 Responses to Depleting the Woodpile

  1. Brian says:

    I remember your pride at having a stuffed wood shed early in the year and your pondering how long it would last.

    Living in a much warmer drier climate than you do, I have the luxury of not having to cut all of my wood in the Spring and Summer although I do have to gather it all in the Summer. I typically bring wood home from the forest by cutting downed trees into segments I can barely load into my truck. They sit in a pile on my property, mostly drying in the sun, until I cut it into firewood. I cut and stack about 1/2 cord under the protection of my porch roof at a time. When that stack gets low I cut and stack some more on a warm dry day.

    This winter was especially warm and dry. Consequently I only burned 3/4 of a cord of wood (and I heat entirely with wood). That is about half of normal. Part of this is because early in the heating season I was stingy with the stack because I was afraid I didn’t have enough due to a shorter than usual gathering period. This is because I spent a month in Alaska last summer. A worthwhile trade in my opinion!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for remembering my speculation, but forgetting the other times when I suggested that half a woodshed full would see me through!

    I like your system, and have thought about whether or not I could do the same thing. Part of feeling secure for me involves seeing all that wood cut, stacked and waiting. It may not be truly necessary, but perhaps vital to my sense of well being? Although, I like having the option of ducking outside for a quick armload when the weather’s severe. It’s nice to keep enough of a buffer that I’m usually not forced to cut wood in the cold or wet. But, it’s mostly psychological.


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