Tuesday, August 12, 2008

OOPSIE- September's HERE!

Regardless where you live in this country, there will be a point in time when you need some heat in the house.
And regardless what Nancy Pelosi, Barack Hussein Obama and the Sierra Club tell us, there won't be many homes heated with solar energy, geo-thermal or wind power- neither is feasible for the average John Q. If your income is hundreds of thousands a year and you're building new, yes, it's a good idea to include at least one of those sources into the plan. But in an older home, on an income under hundreds of thousands and a life-expectancy long enough to pay it off? Doubtful to say the least.
And that brings us to the current energy situation in this country.
Fuel prices are sky-rocketing, if I can believe what my siblings and friends are telling me, as well as my own wallet. For me, and for quite a few living in rural areas, the best alternative is wood heat.
Living in northern Minnesota, winters can get damn nasty at times, and last winter was mild, very few days of twenty below and high winds. But that was unusual. Still, it was a colder than average winter due to its time span. The winter before last, 2005, was cold for weeks on end at twenty below. In February 1998 we set a record of sixty below- this is our springtime. My point being, cold is something we deal with on an annual basis and are prepared for. But this preparation takes place all year long, especially for those who heat with wood.
In it's most simplest form, such as seventy years or more ago, heating with wood required few tools: a saw of some sort and an axe. Grampa used a bowsaw for a lot of his firewood cutting. (Well, we kids did- Grampa was the kind to teach by doing, not telling.) So we had arms developed during summer months by felling trees, making hay, splitting wood, making hay...unending in its rhythm. For relief, we got to go fishing or work in the garden. But, again, I digress from the topic.

There are basically two kinds of axes- single and double bit. Both have handles near the same length and weights that are comparable. So, intrinsically, there is little difference between them but one having a sharp blade in case of nicks/dulling. Quite often, especially in movies, we see people using an axe to split wood. If they do, that axe more than likely is not one used for chopping because the blade is purposely flattened. In splitting wood, the object is to follow the grain to split, not make a fresh cut. There are splitting mauls on the market that vary in weight from six to 18 pounds weight. These have rounded 'blades' that split rather than cut, and the weight is extremely useful in driving force necessary to split many kinds of wood. The biggest drawback to these 'monster mauls' is the manpower requirement. Boys and children need not apply cuz they just don't have the beef required, so the best bet is something between six and eight pounds. IMNASHO (InMyNotAlwaysSoHumbleOpinion) the six pound maul is the best bet for anyone under 16 years since their muscle development can handle that weight fairly easily and even better as muscle is gained. My son, now 17, likes the maul, but recently visited a friend who was using a double bit axe to split his wood, and now he has to use a double bit. (It's in the first picture. Oh- about the pictures: notice the tape wrapping: beneath that is wound three layers of tie-wire, sometimes called 'form wire', to act as a cushion for the handle. Unless you want to replace handles often. It works, but only so long before needing replacing. Too, on the single bit pictured, you can see where the head is splayed/flattened: it's been used as a wedge on large, stubborn pieces of wood and had a sledge hammer applied as encouragement.)
Best of all worlds, though, is the gas operated splitter. The new one, pictured, is a replacement for the home-made rig that served well many years but was constantly breaking down, needing new parts or just being temperamental. This is operated by a five horse Honda (I know- buy American...sorry, but it was the best design in splitters and came with the Honda) and has 20 ton splitting capacity, which means it barely revs no matter what kind of wood I put on it.
Speaking of wood: 'quality' firewood is based on the heat capacity put out. Oak is high in heat, as are ash, birch, maple, and tamarack (extremely hot burning). To a lesser degree, aspen/cottonwood/balm of Gilead are light-weight heat producers but adequate even up here though expect some chilly nights when the thermometer drops way below zero. Tamarack, AKA larch, is an extremely hot burner- use it only in stoves in excellent condition, then sleep with both eyes open. (Wood burners usually sleep with only one eye open, even if they do have fire alarms and extinguishers.)
For gathering your wood, lots of tools are not 'mandatory', but do make the job a lot more simple and easy, albeit not always quite so safe. Whenever you're dropping a tree, there is extreme danger of injury to anyone within shouting distance. (Ever hear a logger yell "TIMBER"? there's a reason for it.) Rule number one is never log alone. Well...ahem...don't be pointing fingers, OK? Oh, yes- tools. Sorry.
For myself and most people I know who roll their own, the tools are simple: 4WD truck to get there, load and haul back; a chainsaw (I have two, one old, one newer and a newer one yet coming), you can see the Husky in the picture (I like Huskvarnas cuz they have a 'mellow' sound compared to most, and Poulon for the same reason- and they have power, but Jensrud and Stihl are good brands as well...loggers tend to shy away from Macs and Home-alots, though). A length of chain somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 feet is usually adequate up here, but sometimes more is needed, so another 25 feet of 3/8 inch chain is carried as well, used for 'skidding' logs to a landing area for blocking and loading. For manhandling the wood both on the ground and in the truck, and at the yard/home area, a 'pickaroon' is a very handy tool. (It's the green handled bird-beak thing on the log with the saw.) It's used by chucking into the wood and dragging or lifting or rolling the piece- I really like using it to lift pieces off the ground to get chains under or to make a cut and keep the chain clear of the dirt/rocks/whatever underneath. Some people may opt for such tools as 'can't hooks', but for firewood they're rather extravagant- they're best used in building and big-timber jobs when a log needs rolling over. For firewood, a huge expensive tool little used. Too, a 'peavey' is a tool unnecessary in the woodyard, but some people just like tools, so go with your heart's content.
One word (sure, like I can stick to that!) about saws...if you are buying new, check for vibration dampening handles, some even come with hand-warmer handles (for a reason you'll see in a minute). For situations as we're thinking (SHTF), that saw will be getting lots of use and carpal tunnel is something no one needs, so go with dampening every time, and always wear gloves as well. Okay- safety gear: if you're smart, you'll wear Kevlar chaps or pants- mine are pants made by Husky- which will stop a saw chain right NOW if it hits your leg/thigh/calf area. I was teaching a class for loggers one year and the chaps saved a student's leg, though he immediately quit the course and took up a safer hobby like sky diving. Otherwise, that's the only time I've seen them used, but it was well worth $45 to the student. Not to mention the school. Feel sorry for the Dr's, though- they lost out. NOT! Additional safety gear, which I do not use but should, is a helmet with screen visor and earmuffs. You can find these made by Husky, Jonsred and others. Again, stick with name-brands: you get whatcha pay for. As mentioned, gloves are important for several reasons. Protection being first, then vibration, then cold.
Some old time loggers laughed when Husky came out with its hand-warmer handle. Then they used it. The 'normal' time of year for firewood gathering is winter- when the sap is down, the wood has less moisture content and dries faster; plus it's the cold season and there isn't a lot of farming going on. Also, wood splits soooo much more easily when it's frozen. Another benefit is snow on the ground keeps a lot of dirt out of the wood- dirt that will dull blades, end up in the stove and cause nothing but added work.
And one thing no one will need in the coming SHTF scenario is added work- so use the KISS principle: think the job through like a lazy person: do it the easiest and fastest way possible while preventing injuries. And always always always pay attention to where that axe or saw blade is- you're going to hurt yourself badly if your head isn't in the game but off somewhere wishing you was fishing or that it was 1998 again. Or in my case, 1898. Hmmm...I think if TSHTF, we'll all be in 1898...
Be safe, people- the life you endanger could be one you love.
Oh, yes- if anyone needs pictures of more equipment, leave a note, I'll post them.


  1. KISS, I'm partial to that one! Ha ha. I also like "work smarter, not harder". Good post. Now if I only had trees down here......

  2. Mayberry- I do like that "workin smarter, not harder", too. Makes a lotta sense to my lazy bones!
    You folks don't have trees in the Big Thicket? hmmm...well, cowboys musta burned a lotta sagebrush- and got free sage spice on their meals. (Or ain't sage good for heating?) :-D
    Just outta curiosity, what ARE you folks going to burn? I know you get some pretty cold winter weather at times there, too. Golly- I wonder if I can get a semi or two and haul wood...?

  3. I'm a little ways from the Big Thicket.... On the lower coast we have huisatch brush, scrub oak, and some mesquite. Mesquite is too prescious to burn in the stove! Ha ha.


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