Friday, October 16, 2009

the wood pile

The wood pile has become one of my favorite corners of this homestead. It's located right outside the kitchen window, in a small inlet of space created when the original owners of this small camp cabin built an additional bedroom. It's a perfect, roof-covered, nook for my firewood. It's where I stack, chop, swear, laugh and heckle chickens. It's where Chuck Klosterman stalks me and scratches me with his spurs. It's where the occasional hen will hop up onto and look into the kitchen when I'm cooking breakfast.

I can thank my neighbor Lynn for pointing this grotto out to me. He's not only a coworker at the office, but a logger here in Sandgate. He delivered this locally harvested wood with his old truck. Every few days he stops by my desk and we catch up on each other's gardens and what's going on in the Hollow. When he delivered my first cord he asked me where I was going to stack it. I shrugged. I figured I'd stack it near the house, sure, but had no blue prints. He pointed to the natural bend in the wall and said "That's perfect. Stack it there." So I did. Some stories really are that short.

My neighbor Roy watched me split wood the other night and miss, twice, right in a row. He was walking his dog Champ and as he headed back up to his home I heard him yell "Three strikes you're out!" The next day we ran into each other when we were walking our dogs and we got to talking. He explained the proper way to chop. He told me I needed a stump, something to elevate the wood so my wrists weren't dropping too low. He told me stories of accidents from poor form and dull blades and things he learned growing up in the 40's. I listened, nodded, and thanked him. The next day a stump was next to my woodpile—a gift from Roy.

The axe was here when I moved in. It was one of the few things waiting for me, propped up against the porch. I've used it so much it's starting to splinter. It's served me two winters now, and I can't help but feel a sincere loyalty for it. I like seeing the roosters perch on its handle and crow in the mornings. I like knowing it could split birch in half or protect me from a mildly-retarded bear. (A bear with full mental capacity, let's be honest, I don't stand a chance.) I'll buy a new axe and leave it here when I move on. It'll be an unspoken cabin tradition.

So folks, that's my wood pile: a combination of neighbors, favors, friends, and stories. It's where I turn after a stressful day to stack until my back hurts or swing until my arms ache. It's what's causing the crackling fire next to me right now, keeping me warm as the temperature drops below thirty. The snow never did come here last night, but it sure was cold. Thanks to that wood pile I have a little extra insurance.

Which, incidentally, also makes this home a little warmer.


Blogger Keeper of Little Sweetie said...

Loved your piece tonight...

October 16, 2009 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger BJ Gingles said...

I had wondered if you did all your own splitting. I am a wimp and have mine delivered split. I am probably missing out on a lot of stress relief, exercise and toned arms. Kuddos to you for "manning up" and splitting your own. Maybe I'll just buy an ax and learn how to split wood someday.

October 16, 2009 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Oh, BJ, it comes split! But it comes big, usually nearly half a round. To start a fire or keep it going I chop it into quarters.

October 16, 2009 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I haven't had a woodpile since I was a little girl (and then it wasn't truly mine, but rather my parents'). We're having a full cord of wood delivered tomorrow, and I couldn't be happier. I noticed the recessed spot where your wood is stacked in some previous photo and remember thinking how great that was!

October 16, 2009 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Tony C. said...

I heated my home for 8 years with wood alone and began by cutting and splittin my own wood just chainsaw and maul.

I always favored the big red maul over an axe, especially because I was splitting from the rounds.

I graduated to a log splitter and bought a dump truck to sell some wood to pay for mine.

Later sold the dump truck and had 10 cords in trees brought to my home and my neighbor and I cut them up, split them and then each took 5 chords to season in our sheds.

One day after going through countless chainsaw sharpenings the dump truck driver asked why I didn't buy the trees already cut up since they were the same price.


If I had known.

So for several years I bought them cut up and used the log splitter to make what my friend once called it "perfect firewood."

I sold that home years ago but now with several years break I plan to go back to firewood in the next winter at the homestead we are creating.

Jenna, I can totally understand your appreciation both for the process of making firewood, providing it a nice dry location to season near the house and the pleasure of watching your labor heat your home.

Tony in Asheville

October 16, 2009 at 11:37 PM  
Blogger Sarah Sanders said...

I can't wait to have sore arms and back from splitting our wood to heat our someday-country-home! :o) Yes, I'm a little wierd about stuff like that...nothing beats the satisfaction of labor well done! Makes me smile to think of you sitting all warm and cozy (thanks to your hard work of splitting all the wood!) in your cabin with your dogs tonight...

October 16, 2009 at 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds as though you have some wonderful neighbors and friends.
We have a fire place and there is just nothing like looking at a fire on a cold winter's day.

October 16, 2009 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger kandy said...

my parents heat their home with wood. when i was a teen (this may sound weird) if i had cramps, instead of Midol, mom would send me out to chop wood. it worked, can you believe it? 10 minutes of chopping wood and you dont feel the cramps anymore! i miss the wood pile some times.

October 17, 2009 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

loved the story. love your neighbor Roy.

i don't heat my home with wood (they frown on those things in the city), but sometimes I swing a sledgehammer and I have to say it feels really great to slam that thing down on something hard :)

October 17, 2009 at 12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can easily replace the splintering handle on that axe and save yourself some coin...a new handle, couple quick licks with a coarse sharpening stone and you'll have a brand new axe!

October 17, 2009 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

That's true! The business end, if it was halfway decent to begin with, should last purt' near forever!

October 17, 2009 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Great post.

"to stack until my back hurts or swing until my arms ache"

A caution here though. I know you're young enough that your body can take this abuse and recover pretty quickly. But it sounds like you're in this for the long haul. So you may want to find ways of doing things that will not tax your body this way for year after year. You'll want to be doing this at 55 and 75, I take it. Wear and tear is cumulative. Take care of yourself by working smart. You're a non-renewable resource, and your rotary cuffs especially so.

October 17, 2009 at 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, I'm new to your blog, I have a friend who recommended it and I love it.
We heat with wood and we always have at least ten cords. My dh always says you never know if you won't be able to get wood one year because of the weather or maybe you might be sick. What can I say....he was a boyscout, lol.

October 17, 2009 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Karen Sue said...

I have to admit, one of the things that gives security as the leaves start to turn, is seeing the wood stacked and waiting. The bigger the better. The more of it you do yourself, the better. We have always bought it cut and split, but the last time it was from my brother..he could use the extra generator we had, so we made a trade. We have usually just hauled and stacked it in a couple of days activities..yes, I'm a bit of a procrastinator, but the steady rhythm of accomplishing something is soothing, so bit by bit would be OK with me...Whether it is seeing the jars of canning for your efforts, or other homey projects in process that I have around. Picked up some more flannel today for a project I want to do for 3 girlfriends. They will appreciate the warmth that comes from it, and the warmth that went into making it. That make it all worth it...

October 17, 2009 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger KateAnn said...

We used to live by the high school (when my daughter was attending) and one winter had several cords of wood delivered and dumped in the driveway. It took me a while to get it split and put away. One day my daughter came home from school and said the wood pile was becoming a local land mark. Kids would say to her, "oh, you live in the house with the woodpile." I guess there are worse ways of being identified in a neighborhood!

October 17, 2009 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger E said...

Are you sure you have a splitting (and not a chopping) axe?
A splitting axe should be dull - you want to split the wood with a wedge not drive a sharp edge into it.

A good axe is surely a great investment. Or rather a hatchet, an axe, a maul, and perhaps a splitting wedge and a sledge hammer depending on our wood size and kind.

October 17, 2009 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Not to be snooty, but do you realize that Henry David Thoreau had the same love affair with his woodpile? (I can only say this because my 10th grade son is studying him in English and we watched a killer play about him from Netflix. I personally don't remember reading him in high school.)
Anyway, us back to nature 'weirdos' (my 13 year old son's words), can learn alot from reading the old masters.

October 17, 2009 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Gail said...

About the bears, whatever their mental capacity, carry a small can of pepper spray (stream not wide angle) in your pocket. Aim for the eyes! Black bears are notorious chickens and will mostly run away, so make noise and carry pepper spray! That's what I learned at the International Center for the study of the American Black Bear in Ely, MN I'm sure they have a web site--check it out!

October 17, 2009 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

My neighbor's dog enjoys watching me split wood. Our wood pile is directly across the road from their backyard, and whenever I split wood (missing a lot even though I use a stump), here comes Bob to watch me in his goofy, amused Lab way.

October 17, 2009 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Hi Jenna,
Great post. You've got me missing my old life again, dang it! Vermont neighbors are the best. They don't butt in, but they're there if you need them.

I agree with Theresa Sue. When you get ahead moneywise, try to be working on next years woodpile. That way it can sit and "season" for a year. (Less creosote, etc.)

All the best!

October 17, 2009 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

god bless you Jenna for splitting by hand - I'm impressed! And what a great story about your neighbors and friends...

We invested in a gas-powered splitter several years ago, and considering we burn about 14 full cords a season, it has so paid for itself (and we did have a dusting of snow the other night)! I'd also like to second what both Kate and Teresa Sue said - good advice!

October 17, 2009 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Hi... Steve from PA here. A splitting block is fine, but if it is higher than 10" or so, i think it impedes the splitting. So if you use one, i think lower is better.

Also, something that will help a lot is to use a small car tire to help hold the log upright, and also cushion the handle of your tool. You just put the tire on the ground (or fasten it on top of your splitting block). This really helps on the misses.

Regarding tools--if you want to be a stickler about it--Jenna, you seem to be using a splitting maul, which is right right way to go. So, you're splitting wood, not chopping it. An axe can be used for chopping or felling a tree, but only if you're really good, or don't really want all your toes.


October 17, 2009 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Robj98168 said...

I wonder what the hens think when they jump up and see making an omelet with their eggs????

October 18, 2009 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

Oh, I second Tony's opinion--I liked my maul very much. It was single edged, with a weighted back end. I also had a twist maul that I used with a sledge for large and unwieldy pieces.

I'm a small person, and the mauls were always a little easier and more accurate for me to handle than a two-edged splitting axe. Plus, great word: "maul".

October 19, 2009 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, you can definitely replace that handle--I just did mine this season for the first time and it's so beautiful sometimes I stop splitting just to look at it. (My maul head belonged to my grandfather and father before me, but its only with the new handle that I really feel its mine:) )

@ Steve -- I use a block that's about 18-20" which, with the height of the log, puts the end of my swing just before I have to bend, saving wear on my back. Especially important as a woman--slightly less upper body strength. Splitting's so much better since I started letting the maul do all the work!

October 20, 2009 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger Renee said...

We have an electric wood splitter, it was inexpensive and really works well but it's nowhere near as satisfying or therapeutic as using an axe... You can get a replacement handle and these little wedge thingies to pound into it after you get the axehead on the handle... They sell them at the feed store here.

October 20, 2009 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

That was a beautiful story of your experieces.

A fire must be more appreciated as well,when there is more to the wood,than just a piece that was split for you.

A beautiful article,and nice blog too..:)

Elizabeth in Minnesota

April 7, 2010 at 6:05 PM  
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