Nov 02 2012

Preparing Wood for Winter

Thankfully, for the moment, the threat of winter has relented. Actually, it can come back any time but I needed the last three days to better prepare for it. In short, that meant splitting and stacking the wood supply for the winter.

Knotty wood – natural art.

Before you get your green horses all in a tizzy, burning wood is about the only way we can save a little money on the energy it costs to heat a house in the winter in Truckee. If we owned our home we could and would do a lot of things differently to be more energy efficient, but we don’t so the only real option at out disposal is to burn wood. In doing that we are as efficient as possible, leaving nothing to waste. We even collect the splinters and bark into paper grocery bags that we’ve dubbed “bark bombs” for how combustible these scraps are. We add ‘em midway through an evening burn cycle to stoke the heat up a notch before adding the final pieces for the night.

It is true, wood heats you more than once. It makes you hot and sweaty cutting it and hauling it home, then again when you split it, and stack it, even when you retrieve it and finally, yes, when you burn it. There’s nothing quite like relaxing in front of a hot stove after a day of skiing, or more likely, after several hours clearing the driveway, back deck and walkways in and out of our little house in the midst of a classic Sierran three-footer.

A zone of wood rich in sap where two trees blended into one.

Knockin’ one down for the winter.

Chainsaws & 2-stroke smoke
That’s the final reward but it wouldn’t be worth it if the rest of the process weren’t rewarding as well. Of all the steps in collecting wood for heat, getting to be Paul Bunyan a few times a year is the best. First there’s the simple man pleasure of running a chainsaw. It’s noisy, stinks of two-stroke smoke, and dangerous. When you’re holding a cutting machine like that in your hand you know you’ve got a solid grip on raw power. That’s only the half of it.

The real power thrill is standing next to a good sized tree when she comes down. It starts with a lean, hopefully in the direction you predicted and made your cuts to enhance ‘er coming down. As the massive trunk leans the cuts you made conspire to weaken it, and before it tilts more than a few degrees the core creaks and groans, then snaps with a deep crack and it timbers over, crashing to the ground with a thud that shakes the earth.

No, those are not nails, those are pine needles preserved when two trees merged.

Rounding & hauling
Limbing and rounding up a tree is mostly fun, and loading the wood into a truck, van or trailer isn’t exactly fun, but it’s solid, gritty work and after a day of logging you know you’ve accomplished something, unlike diddling around with computers and attention sucking apps on “smart” phones.

It isn’t all two-stroke smoke and sweat either. When you’re cutting rounds on a good Lodgepole or Ponderosa tree the smell of sap is strong, the natural source of the clean smell of Pine Sol. This is even more noticeable when you’re splitting the wood, especially knotty pieces.

More sap zone images. Perhaps if you smell this you’d appreciate it more. Think Pine Sol.

Splitting ‘er
This year I managed to find a downed lodgepole that was unusually dense and was oozing with sap on the barkless skin. Not only was the pine smell super strong, there were a lot of branches that make for one of the other exciting moments in preparing a wood heat supply for the winter – the explosive release of energy when the splitter forces a log to break apart around a limb. It strains to hold together, then finally lets go with a loud pop. Sometimes the pieces are ejected to the side with enough force that, if you’re in the way you’ll at least suffer a bruise, maybe worse.

Got wood?

I find the patterns in the grain and the smell of these sap rich zones fascinating, especially in gnarled and twisted sections created by who knows what. What caused those twists in the grain? Were those two saplings once upon a time that, because of their close proximity, were forced to merge and become one?

About the only thing I don’t like about preparing the wood supply is stacking it. But now that it’s done Deb and I can rest knowing we have three or four cords of dry, well seasoned, sappy, pungent wood for the Twelve-13 season. We’re ready, so let it snow!

© 2012
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