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Monday, January 30, 2017

Fire! Putting up Firewood for Heat and More

There is just something about the experience of being near fire.  It is beyond the warmth and the cracking of sparks, almost something spiritual.

A campfire is welcome even during the heat of summer
I mentioned during the Introduction to Permaculture class this weekend, that I heard a great interview this week with Lars Mytting, author of the Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, a cult classic in Scandanavia. 
The latest Scandinavian publishing phenomenon is not a Stieg Larsson–like thriller; it’s a book about chopping, stacking, and burning wood that has sold more than 200,000 copies in Norway and Sweden and has been a fixture on the bestseller lists there for more than a year. Norwegian Wood provides useful advice on the rustic hows and whys of taking care of your heating needs, but it’s also a thoughtful attempt to understand man’s age-old predilection for stacking wood and passion for open fires. An intriguing window into the exoticism of Scandinavian culture, the book also features enough inherently interesting facts and anecdotes and inspired prose to make it universally appealing.  
You can listen to the interview here:

This really brought back memories and nostalgia, that has been growing in my mind a lot lately.  Not only nostalgia but the great qualities and uses of wood for heating, cooking and more.

Our Earth Stove
Growing up and into my young adult years we used wood heat almost exclusively.  The exception in the late Fall and early Spring when temperatures weren't cold enough to keep a fire going and we used supplemental electric heat.  Although we could have "stacked functions" better, we did keep a kettle of water going on it for humidity and it was a handy spot to hang drying laundry if guests were not expected.

After being outside for awhile a few minutes standing near "the stove" would warm you to the core.  It was a fairly efficient heater as well.  Two or three pieces of wood, almost always oak, in the morning, and two or three in the evening was all it would take.  Turn it up, open the damper to get a good draw on the chimney and you could load it without puffing smoke back into the house.  Give it a few minutes for the existing coals to get the fresh wood burning well and then turn it back to low.  Many times we would open a couple windows just a crack as it would get too warm.

"The nice thing about heating with wood is it'll warm you twice!" said Dad

Dad and I sawing up some limbs we dropped near the house
We usually waited past prime time for putting up wood due to other chores, so getting heat twice wasn't the most welcome experience in the heat of summer.  However with proper stacking in our wood shed that allowed plenty of airflow we did ok.  If we had any leftover from the year before that was moved to the front to use first, that gave the stacks in the back time to dry a bit longer and with drier winter air.

Settin' 'em up & Knockin' 'em Down
The Monster Maul was a beast, that could turn fully round logs to firewood in a couple whacks.  I still remember Dad smiling when he told us about buying it, even though I was pretty little when it was new.  It was a similar focus activity to shooting a bow and arrow.  Lose focus, and you miss, sometimes knocking over the log you were working on and the next couple you had staged.  But keep your focus and you will be amazed at the amount of wood you can split.  Hydraulic splitters are easy, but slow.  The maul can keep up easily if you maintain your focus, it gives you a great workout and uses no gasoline. 

I don't think they make the exact one we had, but here are a couple that are very close.  They even have a cushioned grip!  It is a little pricey, and I have friends that like others better, but from my experience these are great tools that will last several lifetimes if you keep them out of the rain.

Mom and I splitting firewood, our wood shed behind
If you can have someone setting the logs up for you, you can really fly.  After a bit, you can change up your activity by stacking the split logs.  By switching up your motions you can extend the time you can keep working.

Other hints for splitting firewood include starting from what was closer to the bottom of the tree working up.  The fibers come apart better that way, especially if you have a fork in the piece.

With pieces that fork or have a crotch work from the bottom as above, but also if they are thick enough, take a piece off from each branch and leave the middle part as one piece.  Alternatively you can split the crotch so that you are splitting both branches at the same time; so that you end up with two Y's.  You will not split a piece ending up with a branch on each piece.  Sometimes after a few whacks without progress, you may decide this would be a good "chair" in the woods, or mushroom growing log.

Also, splitting the really large ones from the base of the tree, you don't want to start right in the middle.  Take a slice off the edge, you will get to know how thick of a slice based on the size of the round with experience.  Each slice may be split into two or more pieces as well.

Staging firewood by the back door before heading to town 
For our stove the best pieces ended up ~5" in diameter (but squarish or triangular).  Bark is fine but it does hold moisture in better so exposing the split sides to air in the stack is best.  We had od bridge planks to keep the wood off the dirt in the shed, and stacked with good gaps between the logs to maximize airflow.  Newest wood went to the back, if possible, and having two "stalls" helped with this.  Also, we would bring a few days supply close to the house, protected from the elements, where it was handier to step out in the morning instead of making a trip up to the woodshed.

If we visit Living History Farms now I tend to linger in the 1900's farm kitchen with its wood cook stove, especially if we get there near lunchtime.  The smells of hearty real food cooking with a hint of smoke, delicious!  Modern wood cookstoves are still made, and you can check some of those out here.


I love what Ben Falk, author of The Resilient Farm and Homestead, has done with his wood stove arrangement, and you can see his set-up below.

The multiple functions of a well designed wood cookstove
For more about his setup, and resilient systems, listen to his interview (along with Iowa's own Grant Schultz) by Diego Footer at Permaculture Voices.  There are also video reviews of different wood cookstoves and so much more!

You can also follow this link for more information about Lars Mytting's book, to listen to the interview or subscribe to the Art of Manliness podcast.

Don't forget the deadline for Registering for the Permaculture Workshop Series is February 3rd!

Have a great week!

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