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Harvesting Firewood: Why Conventional Wisdom May Be Wrong

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If you’re living off the grid or in any area that requires you to heat the house in the winter, chances are you use firewood as one of your heat sources, if it’s not the main source. Heating with wood is a great way to stay warm and add some ambiance to your home. But it can also be a ton of work.

Now, you can always buy cut and split wood, but that gets pretty expensive pretty quickly. In the Adirondacks of New York, a face cord cut, split and delivered can run about $85 bucks. And when your only (or main) source of heat is wood, you can easily burn upwards of 30 face cords each winter, meaning your heating bill could be as high as $2,500.

I was fortunate enough that my cabin was on 52 acres of land, much of it hardwood. So I was able to avoid the cost of all that wood, but only by putting in the work to get it all myself. There were few trails on my land, so I couldn’t skid the logs out when I cut them back in the woods.

This meant that to get my 36 face cords of wood for the winter, I had to do most of the work by hand. Sure, I had a chainsaw, and when the temperamental four-wheeler wanted to start, I could use that to drag some logs. But the four-wheeler was small, and couldn’t haul big logs, and in the winter it didn’t stand a chance of making it through the five or six feet of snow that we’d have on the ground.

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So for three years, I busted my butt getting firewood (the woodstove was the sole source of heat in my cabin), working on it year-round. Needless to say, I learned a few things along the way that made the work easier.

If you’re in a situation where you have access to good standing timber, then you’re in luck. But stockpiling an entire winter’s worth of firewood is easier said than done. So here are a few tips to help you along in your quest to be as self-sufficient as possible.

First, while you may only think of firewood in the winter, it should really be a year-round project. By spreading it out over the course of the year, it makes the work a lot less monotonous, and therefore, much more endurable.

chores homestead winter fallWinter is often full of down time, and you should take advantage of this. As Henry Ford said, “Cut your own wood and it warms you twice.” However, I’ve found that cutting your own wood can warm you far more than that.

I used the winters to drop trees. It was good exercise, an excuse to get outside, and with all the leaves off the trees, it is far easier to read the tree and see which way is the best way to drop it.  You can drop the tree and limb it, then leave it until spring. And everyone who has cut timber knows that just dropping a few trees and limbing them is more than enough work to warm you once.

Then once the snow started to melt, I would bring logs into the yard to buck them up.  Sometimes I could haul them with the four-wheeler, but other times I had to cut the logs into smaller lengths and carry them by hand. It was crazy to do it this way, but with no machinery to help, it was the way it had to be done. Obviously, this was the second warming. And just a note if you are going to have to do this the hard way: Try to only carry logs that are uphill from your yard. This way, at least you’re carrying them downhill all the way.

Once the logs are in the yard, it’s time for bucking and splitting. Cutting your trees in the winter has the added benefit of the trees being much lower in moisture than they are at any other time of year. Trees that I cut in January were plenty seasoned by the time the fall rolled around. And I needed less storage space for the wood to season in.

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Once the logs are in the yard, you can decide how to split up the work that is left to do. Bucking them to length, splitting the short logs, and then stacking the wood in a dry area to season are really the three tasks that are left. If you’ve been in your home for a while, then you probably know about how much wood you’ll need, which takes a lot of the guess work out.

Try splitting the three chores up, though, to help break up the work. You could buck one day, split the next, and stack the day after that. Much of the tediousness of doing all your own firewood comes from working on the same thing day after day after day, so breaking it up is a good idea. And again, you’re warming yourself everyday this way, although in the summer you may wish that the wood actually cooled you.

Since you cut all the logs in the winter when moisture was low, splitting and stacking will be a little easier. The wood will split more easily, and the logs will be lighter, making it easier on your back, and the chain on your chainsaw will last longer between sharpenings.

There are obvious benefits to felling trees during the winter, but the rest can be done whenever. I found that rather than being a burden, having a pile of logs to work on all the time was actually really beneficial. I could work for a half hour or a couple of hours or for however long I had, and make significant progress on the pile. Plus, I was never bored because I always had firewood to work on.

Regardless of how much firewood you need to set aside each year, you can stretch the tasks out over the course of a year while still ensuring that you’ll have plenty of wood to keep you warm. And, Henry Ford was wrong. A man who cuts his own firewood will warm himself far more than two times.

Do you cut your wood in the winter – or during other months? Which is best? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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