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Garth Brown |

Despite the title of this post, no, I didn't go so far as to require all my food be cooked by wood. Modern stoves are convenient and time-saving and believe it or not, I do plan to do things other than feed myself this year. Yesterday, while chopping several lunches worth of roots to roast, I wondered how many hours I'm going to engage in that task during 2015. I think the answer is, "a lot". A lot of hours is a precise amount that means more than a little but less than a ton, at least in my vocabulary. I ate more root vegetables than most people before starting this project. Now I eat way, way more than anyone I know, except for Garth. He probably eats even more roots than I do since he is a little heavier. Cutting, splitting, stacking, and burning firewood is a mandatory task that also consumes a lot of hours here at Cairncrest Farm. I wonder whether I will spend more hours chopping roots or chopping firewood this year?

Cold winters impose heating demands on all but the newest and most perfectly designed buildings. The most logical source of heat for the rural house with an acre or more of land is wood, assuming one is willing to put in the labor to get said heat.

By far the most critical step to getting heat out of wood is to get it dry. I am by no means perfect on this front, but this year I'm resolved to get a full year ahead in my wood-cutting so I can have a good size stockpile of dry wood. Leaving wood cut and/or split in an uncovered pile will not dry it out very well in the northeast. So "seasoned wood" is not synonymous with "dry wood" though some people try to pass it off as such. It rains too much and too consistently to count on an outdoor pile of wood to actually dry out. Just as a guess, but I'd expect to have to get well west of the Mississippi river before that technique would work on a regular basis. Wood absorbs water almost as readily as it sheds it, so even if a good long hot spell dries out a pile, all it takes is a few weeks of high humidity with some rain showers to put most of the moisture back into the firewood. I still don't have a full stacking system/situation here that I'm proud of, but the photo below shows how I store a few cords each year - on the porch.

The porch posts make for really easy stacking too. When I terminate a stack without the luxury of a post, I make a cross-hatched pattern to buttress the end. Saving the squarer logs for the end stack makes for a more stable stack. Also, I like to build the end part and the whole wall upward at about the same rate. Going high with the cross-hatched end before there is a load of wood against it is weaker.

The best firewood I have on my land is sugar maple. Dense wood, as sugar maple is, has more BTUs per volume and thus more heat for each chunk I split out. This year I'm burning a lot of sugar maple because our neighbors gave us a huge tree in exchange for my labor removing it. I'm also burning a bunch of white ash, some willow, box alder, and black cherry.

Edmund Brown

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