Thursday, June 7, 2012

Firewood and the Science of Wood Stacking

Most helpers who visit our place get a turn at boosting our firewood stores, through collecting kindling, splitting logs or stacking firewood. It was not until we had to explain all the intricacies of the different processes involved in the various tasks, that we realized how much there is to learn to do these jobs well.
Valencia, Tia and Jodie unloading firewood

The first, and most important point we have to get across, is safety. For example we point out that boots and gloves are necessary for any jobs involving firewood if you want to avoid splinters, ant stings and crushed toes or fingers.
Mike putting the wood splitter to work

In the autumn we try to get our woodshed filled in readiness for winter and spring, so at this time of year visitors sometimes get to use our motorised log splitter. Although it is rated at 40 ton, logs don’t come with labels indicating the force necessary to split them. We give helpers hints to make the job easier for them, but much of the skill is intuitive and it just needs experience to master. There is a Utube video showing a man splitting wood with his new machine. When placing the log in position, it ended up on a slight angle and within seconds the base plate was bent out of shape by the force of the machine. We tell this story to helpers to ensure they understand that wood splitting is a skilled activity, and needs thought and care to be done safely and well.
Wood stacks can be "a work of art"

The wood splitter takes most of the hard work out of the job and lessens the need for a deep tissue back massage by Heather afterwards (although that is still nice). However there is no machine available to do the job of wood stacking. On several occasions we have left this job to helpers only to find that our wood supply falls over in the middle of winter – sometimes getting quite damp before we realise what has happened. Now we give helpers a quick Wood Stacking 101 “course” before they start, and supervise the operation until we know they can do the job well.
Or they can turn into a heap on the ground!

We don’t get too finicky about stacking but see this as an opportunity to show helpers that even tasks that seem very simple are more complex if you look at the detail. Wood stacking can be done well or poorly, and both methods take about the same amount of time. The first job is to place the wood into the correct stack- short (for stove) or long (for heater). This not only allows us to get the right sized wood needed at any particular time, but makes for a more solid stack; long wood on top of short wood is not very stable. The biggest challenge though, is developing stacking skills- for which the basic rule is; each placed log should be stable enough to hold those above. Any odd shaped logs can be left aside and go on the very top where they bear no weight. Other clues include placing slightly longer wood at the base, keeping logs roughly horizontal and making sure the front face of the stack is vertical (not sloping forward). These ideas might seem common sense, but many helpers have very little experience with this sort of work. After practising for half an hour or so most helpers get reasonably good at the job and our wood stacks no longer fall over!
Our old woodshed had lots of "character"

Our original woodshed was very rustic and made out of old sheets of tin and bush poles. Although it held a good supply of wood it had some drawbacks. It was too low to accommodate a swinging axe, and too small to provide cover for a barrow when getting wood. Its open nature allowed the wood to air dry, but windblown rain tended to wet wood just under the roofline. We are very conscious of the fact that dry wood generates more heat and it is burned more cleanly (good for the environment and the flue).
Our new woodshed is more practical

When we erected our steel garage, we used the opportunity to attach a wood shed area onto the side (making use of the existing wall). Although this structure lacks the character of the earlier woodshed, it has a much bigger capacity, is taller and offers better protection to stored wood. It is also opposite the house, just across the drive and on the same level which means barrows do not have to be wheeled uphill. The driveway also provides all weather access for unloading firewood when adding new wood.  However its biggest advantage is that we have been able to divide the space into four bays. Two of these are for short wood and two for longer wood. When the first bay is empty, we start using the second bay, and are free to fill the first bay again with new wood. As each bay holds around six months supply of wood this system provides a continual supply of very dry wood.
The whole family enjoys a cosy fire

We reckon all this makes a pretty good setup as a fire wood supply. After Black Saturday we have more than enough dead (and often partly burned) timber available. We had better get out and get some more wood under cover before the winter rains start again.
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