When maple leaves are glowing red and gold, Canada geese are honking overhead, and patches of white frost accent the path to the barn, it is time for homesteaders to turn their attention to seasonal matters.
The rhythms of those who heat their homes with wood vary from person to person. Some stay a full year or more ahead on their firewood, cutting and splitting all their wood for the winter of 2016-17 during the year 2015. Others get the current season’s wood done just in time to chuck it into the woodstove as the snow starts flying. Most of us hit it somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
No matter how far ahead you may or may not be, you probably like to take advantage of the cooler autumn temperatures to split firewood. And now that wood-splitting season is upon us, it is time to get serious and get ready. If a weekend set aside for firewood processing is in your future, make sure you have all you need to keep things running smoothly from start to finish. Here are some things you may have forgotten – things that will make the day’s task much easier.
First, make sure your wood splitter is tuned up and running well. Assuming you use power equipment to aid in splitting your wood — be it powered by electricity, gas or a tractor — you will want to have it in the best working condition possible. Having a malfunction which slows or stops progress can be frustrating, so be proactive about having it ready. Take it to a shop or do the work yourself, but take care of whatever is necessary to prevent breakdowns and sluggish operation.
Have a supply of fuel ready. Keep in mind that some small-engine mechanics warn that gas older than 60 days ought not be used in small engines, and make sure you have the gas cans topped off so you will not have to interrupt the flow of work to go for a fuel run. If your splitter is PTO-driven, make sure you have enough diesel fuel for the job.
Do not forget lubricant for the log table. This is a small item but one which ought not be overlooked. I am fastidious about spraying my splitter table every time I start it up, and the occasions when I used up the last can and forgot to replace it or it got misplaced have resulted in delays. If you live out in the country where stores are a long drive away, little things like this are even more crucial to gather up ahead of time.
Have an axe or hatchet handy. Having at least one piece of wood put up a fight is almost guaranteed. Bucked-up firewood has a mind of its own, and will sometimes twist around a knot or pull apart in sinewy portions that are difficult to master. A quick chop with an axe is a great remedy.
If you live in an area where snakes pose a threat or if you have an aversion to them, you will want to keep something within easy reach for possible encounters. Firewood piles make excellent snake habitat, and you will want to have a way to deal with them if needed. A long handled axe or hoe close by is good insurance.
A pulp hook is often useful for moving and lifting firewood. Using a hook gives the user better control, more leverage, increased arm length, and creates a little more space between him-or-herself and potentially dangerous moving logs.
Ear protection is advisable. Gas-powered wood splitters are loud, and muffling the sound is a good idea. While it may be tempting to go without ear defenders when splitting with other people so as to convey information, it is useful to consider that you probably cannot hear them well enough to communicate verbally anyway. Instead, consider developing a plan that includes a few unmistakable nonverbal signals when working with others, for the sake of safety and ease of operation.
Make sure your gloves are the right ones for the job. Many people prefer leather gloves, but my experience has found them to be slippery — which is very dangerous when handling wood, as it can result in less control of the wood and possible foot injuries — and they tend to wear out quickly. I inherited a pair of knit fabric gloves with rubbery palms and fingers one year when a farm hand left them behind, and I have since thrown away every other pair I had and begun purchasing the fabric-and-rubber types by the dozen. I find them to grip wood well, fit comfortably, and last longer than leather.
One final thing to make sure you have ready to go on firewood-splitting day is a collection of good friends. Not only do many hands make for light work, and particularly with firewood processing projects which easily lend themselves to being done assembly-line style, but they make for fun as well.
If you do have friends and family show up to help, be sure to have plenty of cold drinks and snacks available for the whole crew. You might even need to consider a barbecue after the work is done if you want to make sure they return next year.
As with any tasks involving power equipment, make safety a priority. If goggles, chaps, steel-toed footwear, and a helmet seem like a good choice for you and your work team, do not hesitate to use them.
Splitting and stacking firewood for the winter are some of my favorite homesteading activities. I cannot promise that by following the above steps will transform it from a detestable chore into a fun time, but being prepared can often alleviate some of the stress and aggravation that can go along with any big job. And when you are enjoying the warmth of a cozy wood fire while the snow is falling outside in winter, you will know that your wood-splitting work was worth the trouble.
What wood-splitting advice would you add? Share it in the section below: