Saturday, March 5, 2011

Abandoning the Wood Pile

Last fall we put up several piles of firewood for the winter. Since we'd spent so much time battling the bizarre rain while still trying to get land cleared and a cabin built, we opted to purchase seasoned split wood from a local processor and he delivered it in mounds at a nearby cabin (uninhabited) that had road access. Throughout the winter we've been taking the truck up the trail about once a week, filling it up, bring about 2/3 a cord back and then splitting it down into even smaller pieces to fit into our little tent stove.

This system worked fairly well when 1) the snow on the trail wasn't past the truck running boards, 2) we still had birch in the pile, and 3) the piles weren't buried beneath 4 feet of snow and ice.

Unfortunately, starting mid-January, the only pile we had left was a bunch of unsplit spruce rounds. These suckers were heavy and not exactly very seasoned. They were a bitch to transport (chucking frozen 50 lb logs up into a raised truck bed when it's below freezing and windy sucks), a bitch to split (even with our new electric splitter), and they honestly did not burn. Seriously, we're talking completely fire retardant wood. Even when we split it down into almost kindling size they never really made flame or produced any heat, anything larger just sat in the firebox and smoldered away to nothing. Besides leaving us cold and waiting 3+ hours for the kettle to boil, it also left us having to sweep the chimney every week because cool fires from mostly unseasoned softwoods is a recipe for creosote build-up, backdrafting and chimney fires.

A combination of things finally occurred that made us decide to abandon the 2 cords of that spruce we still have left up there...

First, we had a major backdraft in the middle of the night when it was -20F and the wind was blowing about 30 mph, and we had to go out and sweep the chimney with a friggin' headlamp while freezing our 'nads off.

Second, we got the truck buried in the snow not once but THREE times in the DRIVEWAY trying to get a load of wood that we had just spent 2 hours attempting to dig out of the snow and break free from the ice block. We had to resort to winching twice and were lucky enough to get the plow to tug us off when we finally got stuck at the top of the drive. We also lost a shovel... when digging yourself out of 4+ feet of snow, when you're done digging around the wheels and are ready to try driving again put the shovel back in the truck because there is no such thing as a safe place out of the way once the wheels start spinning!

Third, we realized that we were using two firestarter logs a day AND still having to run the propane heater just to keep it tolerable in the tent. That was getting just a little too expensive.

So, the snow may be knee deep with chest-high drifts, but the temperatures are starting to warm up... well, they're staying within 10 degrees of zero at least... so we can run the chainsaws again. Thus, we decided to abandon the bought wood and return to our deadite foraging schedule from last winter. (Deadites being 40 year old dry standing fire-kill spruce for those of you who have just joined us).

Boy! What a difference!! Deadites will burn if you just give them an angry glare and they burn really hot. Ok, they also burn really fast, so you have to control the draft carefully; but since they burn really really clean you have almost no ash or creosote so you can turn down the draft and damper without worrying about backdrafting or chimney fires. You also don't have to worry about much messy bark or sap... although you may find a few ant nests (dormant for the winter) toward the stump end.

Other than the one day when we were really sick and it was pretty cold and windy (and we thought we were going to die from oxygen deprivation because of massive head and chest snot!) foraging for deadites only takes about an hour every 3 days (or a couple minutes a day) and you get a really good thigh workout trudging through the snow drifts. We must be getting used to that, because it's a lot easier this year than it was last year :)

Figure we'll go up and get those last 2 cords of spruce rounds after break-up, split it all up and stack it to season over the summer so we can hopefully burn it next winter (or the winter after!)... and maybe even find that shovel!!

Now, if things would just pan out so we can get back to work on the cabin...


Dan Lynch said...

PC, I enjoyed hearing about your adventures with firewood. Reminded me of my adventures with firewood the first couple of years at my homestead.

Eventually you'll have a woodshed full of dry wood and it'll seem like the most precious thing in the world. Happiness is having a 3 year supply of firewood under a roof. :)

Anonymous said...

You didn't want that sill old shovel anyway. ;~) So, have y'all been sick all week? Hope you are both feeling better.

Plickety Cat said...

"Happiness is having a 3 year supply of firewood under a roof. :)"

From your lips to God's ears!!

We're probably going to end up harvesting a few cords of deadites for the coming winter and then drop two years of green wood this fall to season up... and we will definitely figure some sort of covered wood shed out this summer because that ice crap is for the birds!

Yes, we've been sick for the past week+. Some days we feel almost human, other days it's snotsville again. :(

Anonymous said...

The ice is worse at 50 below than it is here at 20 above. Those wet spruce are horrid. I can usually get them some what dried out if I leave them cut up in the house for a few days while having a fire. My indoor wood pile for the woodstove is right next to it.


Faith said...

Wood heat is a blessing and a curse. My biggest pet peeve is the dust ashes and wood debris that I have to sweep up several times a day. I refuse to split wood. I grew up with wood heat, no running water or no electricity. Someday I'll have a forced air heater. Not in the forseeable future!

geneva said...

Haven't had a chance to check out your blog for a while. You guys have made amazing progress!!!! I admire you both for following through on your dreams. Inspires me to keep trying on mine. Stay safe and warm (as warm as possible, that is)...!

*g in Missouri

Anonymous said...

"Yes, we've been sick for the past week+. Some days we feel almost human, other days it's snotsville again."

My sympathies to you both. I sure don't know how those nasty bugs survive in that cold long enough to infect you. They must have been thrilled when two human hosts came along to give them warmth and shelter!

Bushrat John said...

Just a little suggestion, take some screening and wrap around your China cap and it will let the smoke out out and keep the back draft down. Nice blog, come visit mine