Efficient Fire-wood Harvesting

                      by Richard R. Doucet

WANT a good supply of quality firewood with low cash expenditure? 
Want more time to get other homestead chores done? Want some good 
exercise, but not endless hours of backbreaking work? Care  about 
the  area  you're going to harvest and don't want to scar  it  up 
with heavy equipment?

   You  can accomplish all of these aims in one stroke -  if  you 
know the "magic word". That word? Efficiency!

   A firewood harvesting foray can yield a far greater amount  of 
product  than  would normally be expected in the same  amount  of 
time when you use efficient planning, preparation and execution.

 There is really no problem in locating stands or areas of poten
tial  firewood. They are usually too small to warrant  commercial 
attention  or  too difficult to reach  without  heavy  equipment. 
Perfect  for you to obtain, for no cash cost and perhaps only  an 
exchange of "logging rights", a small share of the wood. For this 
reason I wont go into where to find wood.

  I have a 15-acre homestead abutting a 47-acre lot. My neighbor, 
who  has just built a log home on the front of that lot,  allowed 
beavers  to set up housekeeping about 3 years ago. The pond  they 
created effectively cut access to the back 80 percent of the lot, 
making it impossible for her to cut firewood without crossing  my 
property,  and  even then only with a great  deal  of  difficulty 
because of the terrain.

  The  beavers,  on the other hand, had no trouble  reaching  and 
cutting trees at all. Given the taste beavers have for the better 
quality  trees,  it was not long before an amazing  abundance  of 
large  oaks, birches, poplar and beech trees lay in  disarray  in 
the  area. Even more trees stood, dead, from having been  girdled 
by the beavers or drowned by the rising water.

 We both wanted the estimated 10 to 12 cord of wood that could be 
extracted from the area, but we also know the devastation loggers 
would cause if we had them do it. And, of course, it would not be 
cheap. Therefore, we settled on a simple exchange of part of  the 
harvest for her if I could get it out.

 With  the  aforementioned  in mind, I hasten to  add  that  this 
article  is  not a review of proper safety  procedures  for  wood 
cutting.  Anyone planning to do any work with a chain saw,  power 
splitter  or any hand tool such as an axe or buck saw  should  be 
completely  knowledgeable in the safe use and operation of  these 
tools.  Extensive instruction and safety tips are  included  with 
any  power  or hand tool you purchase. I can give you  no  better 
advice than to tell you to study and understand the  instructions 
for any equipment you intend to use.

  However, I will make these few points. By our very nature those 
of  us who seek the more self-sufficient way of life, often  tend 
to  work  alone.  Sometimes because we want to  and  other  times 
because we have to. While it is never a good idea to work in  the 
woods alone, especially with power tools, if you decide to,  then 
I strongly suggest you do the following:

 -  If there is any chance of having someone around for a  period 
of time get as much power tool work done as possible,  especially 
chain saw work.

  -  Have a first aid kit with you. Even a simple one  with  com-
press bandages can save your life.

  -  Have a CB radio, whistle or "fog horn" (the kind carried  on 
small boats and powered by a can of compressed air) as a means of 
signaling for help.

 - Last, but not least, THINK SAFETY AT ALL TIMES.

 Frugal is a word we do not hear much these days, but its meaning 
is  not lost on homesteaders. Keep it in mind as you choose  your 
tools for the task. When it come to large items, such as a  chain 
saw, borrow it if you do not need it for more than this one task. 
You  can easily be sold a lot of expensive doodads and  "need-to-
have"  stuff  that you can really do without. Some of it  can  be 
very expensive, such as a wood splitter; nice to look at and does 
a  fast  job, but considerable money to spend for  two  or  three 
day's worth of work, only to be stored for the rest of the year.

  You  can do a reasonably fast and "effort acceptable" job  with 
only  these items: safety glasses, gloves, ear protection,  small 
hatchet or machete, splitting wedge, maul, chain saw with  acces-
sories, and a "measuring stick." you can quickly and easily  make 
yourself a measuring stick. It will save you time and maybe  some 

  Cut  a  pole about four feet long and about an inch  or  so  in 
diameter and clean it up by taking all the branches and bark off. 
Then decide how long your split wood has to be to fit your stove, 
its "stove length".

  For example, my stove takes 24 inch logs so I cut my logs to 20 
inches... just to make sure they fit. I marked off my stick at 20 
inches  and 40 inches, making sure the handle end was  indicated. 
Use  bright yellow or orange paint or tape for this.  Using  this 
stick,  you  can quickly measure off multiples of  correct  stove 
lengths and mark them on the logs with your hatchet.

When  To  Cut - Pick your season for wood cutting.  In  my  area, 
southern  New Hampshire, the best times of year  are  mid-to-late 
spring and mid-to-late autumn. During these times of the year the 
weather may still be unpredictable, but usually it's good. In the 
spring,  the leaves and fast growing ferns and grasses  have  not 
yet  sprung  up to make work difficult. In the  fall,  especially
after the first good frost, grasses and ferns have died back  and 
many leaves are off the trees. But, best of all, there are almost 
no insects around!

  By  the time one of these two seasons rolls around, you  should 
have already accomplished the next step - reconnaissance

 Whether the areas you will "log" is on or near your property  or 
further away, this is a step that is most important. By  choosing 
the area in the first place, you have already decided that it  is 
worth the time and effort to travel the distance involved to  get 
the wood.

 On your reconnaissance you should make the following notes:

 -  How  far from your transportation do you want to  walk  to  a 
logging area?

  - In that area, how much "dry" wood is available (including cut 
and left by loggers, standing dead or hangers)?

 - How much green wood is there?

 Make  a sketch of where and how you will set up your work  site, 
Mark the various stations. Setting up the work site is next.  You 
may  elect to do it days before you start to cut or do  it  first 
day  of cutting. The important thing to remember is that next  to 
safety, efficiency is most important; so take the time to set up

  The  logging  area and the work site are set up  so  that  wood 
flows  in one direction and is handled as few times as  possible. 
Clear your work sits of grass, ferns, loose stones, and dead wood 
that  is  in the way. The same is true for your walkways  in  the 
work  site and throughout the logging area. You will be  carrying 
some  good  sized logs and the painful consequences  of  tripping 
over something will be greatly increased with the weight of a log 
in  your  arms or on your shoulder. Pay particular  attention  to 
special dangers.

  Closest to the transport should be the splitting area. When the 
wood is split, it can be tossed directly into the transport. This 
is  also the best place to leave items such as fuel,  tools,  bar 
oil, lunch and refreshments. A note here: alcoholic beverages  of 
any kind have no place when you are doing this type of work.

  Next  to the splitting area, set up two "bucking stands".  Both 
stands  serve the same purpose: to produce multiple stove  length 
pieces in a single cut and thus making the most efficient use  of 
time and energy.

  Though each stand is made differently, there is one thing about 
their  construction they have in common that is  very  important. 
The  width  of the stands MUST be a few inches shorter  than  the 
length of the bar on your chain saw.

  If  this  width is greater than the bar length,  the  saw  will 
"tip"  on the log farthest out and cause the saw to kick back  at 
you.  Both  stands are used at the same time. The  pre-built  one 
holds smaller logs or branches, and you can put as many in as the 
stand  will  hold. However, with the field-built  stand  relative 
diameters  are important. Putting a much smaller log on the  out
side, or farthest from you, with a larger log closer is not safe, 
because  the chain of the saw can pull the smaller one  over  the 
larger one, hitting you quite hard. Basically, use the  pre-built 
stand  for  logs and branches less than 4 inches and  the  field-
built one for over 4 inches in diameter.

  On  the opposite side of the splitting area, find a  space  for 
"uglies."  Uglies are what I call short leftovers and pieces  too 
hard to split, such as knots and forks. As I measure up logs  for 
cutting,  I usually cut around these and leave them behind.  This 
way, when it is time to split, I do not have a fight on my hands. 
I  save  the uglies to burn during the day when I  can  tend  the 
fire... "Waste knot, want knot."

  The last areas to set up are the stacking areas. This is  noth
ing more than a cleared area. As you bring your wood in, you fill 
the  bucking  stands first, then stack up the rest. Now  you  are 
ready  to  start. You arrive early on a nice sunny  day  and  are 
ready  to  go. Stop! Take time to finish your coffee Now  is  the 
time to answer the most important question of the day: "How  much 
can  I really get done in the time I have set aside?"  Your  goal 
should  be to get everything you cut home at the end of the  time 
you have

  Now  you are ready to start cutting. Cut the trees in the  fol
lowing order:

  - Downed trees, green and dead.
  - Hangers and leaners (be careful).
  - Standing dead trees.
  - Standing green trees.

  Work  from  a point closest to your work site  outward  to  the 
farthest point you will want to go. Do all the like work at once. 
Cut  down  trees. Limb all the trees. Mark off all the  trees  in 
stove lengths with the help of your measuring stick. Cut all  the 
logs to carrying length.

 If you can lift 100 pounds, do not try to carry logs any heavier 
than  about 50 pounds. Not only will you get tired faster  trying 
to carry your best load and risk a lifting injury, but the chance 
of  a serious injury is much greater if you fall with 100  pounds 
on your shoulder.

  When  cutting  the logs, cut in multiples of the  stove  length 
marks you made. The shortest log will be one of one stove length. 
If this is still too heavy, you will have to split it in half. As 
you work up the trunk of the tree, the diameter will get  smaller 
and  you will be able to carry logs of two and then  three  stove

  The  maximum length you should carry is not more than  about  8 
feet.  Beyond this length, they became very clumsy to handle  and 
difficult to walk with through the woods. When you get to  diame
ters  of about 4 inches and less there is no need to  mark  them. 
Your 2 x 4 bucking stand will do that for you.

 Splitting  - Once all the cutting is done, the next chore is  to 
get them to the work site. Just as with the other work, there  is 
a best order to work in:

 - The heaviest and farthest away.
 - The farthest away for like sizes.
 - The uglies.

 By working from the farthest point with the heaviest ones first, 
you achieve several goals. First, the heaviest are most likely to 
be  the  single stove lengths and these can go  straight  to  the 
splitting  area.  They will be out of your way from  the  logging 
area  first  and ready to be split at the work site  first.  More 
important,  you will move the heaviest the farthest when you  are 
still rested and strongest. As the day goes on you will begin  to 
tire,  but  the difficulty of the work will lessen with  the  de
crease  in your energy level... a definite  psychological  advan
tage.  Last to be brought in and loaded are the uglies. They  are 
the  smallest  and represent the least valuable of the  wood.  If 
some one shows up to help, like the children after school,  these 
small pieces will be easy for them to handle and give them  some
thing  useful  to  do. However, should time run  short,  you  can 
always leave the uglies behind.

  Now, all the work will be done in the work site. What you  have 
accomplished  so far should have taken about 2/3 of the time  you 
have to complete the task.

  Continuing  the  theory of getting the  most  energy  consuming 
tasks finished first, the next step is to split the stove  length 
logs,  and load them as you split. Use the field-build  stand  to 
cut the multiple length logs and split and load them. Lastly, cut 
the smallest diameter logs in the 2 x 4 stand. Each cut here will 
give you armloads of smaller diameter lengths that will not  need 
splitting. Once these are loaded, just throw on the uglies.

 Before  you leave though, you may want to consider one of  those 
nice, straight, tall, but very dead pines. Cut into rounds  about 
a  foot  long, they split very nicely into  kindling.  Load  your 
tools and any trash in the area... even if it is not yours.

 You have gotten your wood home in the time you set aside.  Done? 
Not yet! Follow through on the last task storage.

  You went through a lot of trouble and work to get this wood  so 
take  care  of  it until you use it. There are  many  methods  of 
storing wood, but keep these characteristics in mind as you  plan
to store:

 - Try to store it out of the weather.
 - Separate the green from the seasoned and the bone dry.
 - Don't store it too far from the house... remember, you have to 
      get to it in the dead of winter.

  Use the bone dry early in the season. It will burn faster,  but 
chances  are you will need it mostly for getting "the chill  out" 
more  than  serious heating. Stone the green wood  in  ricks  one 
stove length wide, about four feet high as long as you like.  Run 
the  ricks  east and west. Wrap the sides and ends  in  clear  or 
black plastic, but not the top.

 Put scrap boards or plywood on top, held down by rocks or  logs. 
On sunny, winter days the plastic will cause a greenhouse  effect 
and  help  dry  the wood. The moisture will  be  able  to  escape 
through the top. By early spring it should be ready to use.

  Now  you  can sit back and have that cup of herbal tea  or  dip 
into that cider barrel.

  You have efficiently, at little cash expense, brought  yourself 
closer  to self sufficiency using what others did not  want.  You 
have not harmed the environment in the process, and have gotten a 
good physical workout that others pay big money for at a spa. Not 
bad  for  a day's work! Be proud of yourself and sleep  well  to

(This article was optically scanned from : ASG, January 1992
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