This past winter I accomplished a life goal that I didn’t even know could be a life goal. I can start fires in the woodstove without small pieces of wood for kindling. This pinnacle of personal achievement, which I enjoyed performing every day, dropped accidentally into my lap through a combination of hard work and laziness.
Our summers are short, so getting firewood dry is a long-term process. We generally try to let our wood dry for at least two summers before burning it, meaning that we have to have about two winters’ worth of it on hand. We burn 3-4 cords each winter, and we cut and stack it in the round at 16-inch lengths—which we have termed “heat candies.” This is hard work. I enjoy splitting wood all winter, which is why we stack it in the round and why it takes two years to get it really dry.
I’ve noted elsewhere that we’ve seen fairly rapid forest change on the hill above the house (the Boombah), with quite a few trees dying. Over the past several years I’ve been a busy little beaver up there dicing up and stacking the dead and dying, then hauling the wood out on a growing network of footpaths. But the yield has slowed, so this year we got a woodcutting permit and went back out to the state forest nearby to load up.
Going out for firewood in spring is a nice change. We chose workdays (we’re off contract once spring semester is over), and the woods were largely free of humans. Birds were singing, and flowers were blooming, and all was well with the world—as long as you weren’t one of the few live trees we took down. As we hunted for good firewood trees close enough to the road to minimize hauling distances, we came across a majestic old white spruce that someone had begun to fell but then had left, leaving a large cut in the tree’s side. This tree was much bigger than anything we’d ever taken down before, with a diameter well over the 16-inch chainsaw bar length. But it was a lot of good wood and was going to be blown over soon, so we rose to the challenge. Above the carpenter ant damage inside the base, it made prime heat candies—and over half a truckload of them.
With two-winters’ worth of firewood being juggled in limited firewood-drying space, I move a fair amount of wood each year. In fact, I just realized that I move effectively all of it each year, and half of it twice. It dries for one summer outside (sometimes two), then gets loaded into the wood shed for the final summer, and then gets emptied out of there during the winter. It’s the finishing off in the wood shed that has yielded the really dry stuff that requires no kindling to light. Why, if I’ve had the wood shed for years, has it taken me so long to figure this out?
Making kindling and making separate trips to haul it inside is a pain in the butt. It lacks the larger-scale kinetic satisfaction of firewood—big pieces of wood flying around with each mighty swing of the splitting maul, and the satisfying thump of a carrier load hitting the hallway floor. It’s a bit of a letdown to instead have a “here’s-a-little-bucket-of-wood-chips” moment at the end of that process. So, out of laziness, one day when I’d run out of kindling I omitted the rote fire-starting technique of laying down some of it and instead just chucked full-sized split logs on a little newspaper. Imagine my surprise and delight at having that lazy trick work. And I have to admit that I got way too much pleasure out of it for most of the rest of the winter. It only failed when I tapped into a stack outside the shed that had some wood in it that had been out in the wet summer’s rain a little longer (you can’t tell this in winter).
This reminds me that I have adopted another form of laziness that also works well. Cutting and loading a truckload of wood, especially when it’s fresh and heavy, is a lot of work. And bending over and running the chain saw is hard on the back. I’ve found that once a tree’s diameter is down to, oh, 6-8 inches, I can cut four-foot lengths and load those on the truck and make the final two cuts on them at home. In a good truckload this saves about 20-25 cuts, and it’s pleasant to peck away at the four-foot pile later at home on a slow afternoon (using, of course, the sawbuck for a chainsaw).
We’re all loaded up now and deep into the real lazy phase: just spending each day drying.