Saturday, May 9, 2015

Firewood: it warms you twice

wood pile and my workshop building
It is early May and spring is finally here in Maine and we are getting some warm days with temperatures peaking as high as 80°F already.  I spend much of the day in my home office sitting in front of a computer or my electronics workbench where I design and develop electronic products so my days are relatively sedentary and I look forward to outdoor activities at this time of year where I can use my big muscles. 

Each year I set a goal of cutting 1 cord of firewood from our 2 acre woodlot behind our house.  This is just enough to augment the solar/propane heating system for my super insulated workshop,and it is great exercise.  As they say; "Firewood warms you twice, first when you cut and split it, and then when you burn it".
woods behind our house in Maine
The woods behind our house are relatively young - the land had been clear-cut 50 to 60 years ago so we have a lot of small young trees competing for the canopy.  Many of them do not make it and I find them dead or dying.  My strategy for responsible forestry management is to start by harvesting these dead trees or blow downs from the winter storms first.  Very often I will find trees that have been dead for a while and are already debarked and quite dry.  I place this on my pile closest to my workshop door because it will be the driest wood.  Ideally, wood cut from living trees needs to season for a minimum of 6 to 9 months, so my next step is to seek out trees that are crowding each other out and cull them to allow nearby trees to grow to maturity.  

As a sustainable guy, I cannot countenance using smelly fossil fuel powered chainsaws so I have two electric chainsaws.  One is a 14" lithium battery powered cordless saw made by Oregon:
Oregon CS250 cordless chainsaw
I use this to fell and de-branch trees back in the woods and then cut them into lengths that I can carry to my cutting station.  I am extremely pleased with this chainsaw, it cuts really briskly and the battery lasts for 20 minutes or so which is plenty of time to fell several small to medium-sized trees and cut them up.  By the time the battery needs recharging, I am usually ready for a break and charging takes about an hour or so.  It also has an unique feature in that it has a built in sharpener.  Best of all, it is relatively quiet and there is no stench of gasoline fumes.  It is also completely carbon neutral since the power for the both chainsaws comes entirely from our solar array.

I also have a Poulan 3.5 hp electric chainsaw that I run on a long extension cord:
Poulan PLN3516F 3.5 hp chainsaw
This is the saw that I use at my cutting station to buck the logs to 16 inch lengths:
bucking logs in to 16 inch lengths
photo: Rebekah Younger
Finally, I split the larger logs:
splitting a log 
photo: Rebekah Younger
I have spent about three afternoons so far and have prepared about a half cord of wood:
about 1/2 cord cut and stacked
For the uninitiated, a cord measures 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 8 ft. and has a volume of 128 cubic feet. The amount of solid wood in a cord varies depending on the size of the pieces, but for firewood it averages about 85 cubic feet.  Firewood needs to be stacked and left to dry, so I cover the top with a tarp to keep the rain off but leave the sides open until the winter.   Before the first snow I typically cover the entire wood pile with a large tarp.   Last winter we had over 3 feet of snow on the ground and it is important to keep the snow off and the wood dry.

Fortunately, the weather on the days I have been working has been pleasant and in the 60s.  As the weather gets warmer it becomes less enjoyable to work, so I try to get as much cut as I can before the warm weather.  When the heating season starts in late September, I enjoy reminiscing about the specific trees that I cut and split as I put them in the wood stove.  There is also a layer of satisfaction of knowing that I harvested all of the wood myself.  For the house where we use 2 to 3 cords of wood a year, I capitulate and purchase pre-cut firewood that we have delivered.  There is still some sweat equity involved in stacking this wood though! 

From a sustainability standpoint modest use of responsibly harvested firewood is essentially carbon neutral since I am simply shortening the carbon cycle of trees that would naturally fall and decay thus releasing their carbon.  By giving precedence to dead or dying trees, I'm reducing my impact on the natural cycle.


  1. One of my strategies is to de-bark (a few inches all the way around the tree is sufficient) any standing timber that I want to eventually cut for firewood, but aren't going to get to today. This reduces the amount of insect damage they get. Also, I girdle any live trees that aren't going to make it (topped, too close to others, severe leaning, etc). This lets them die, and dry out for a year or two, on the stump as it were.

  2. Interesting strategy Topher. I'll keep that in mind, but I rarely plan that far ahead.


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