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Essay Logs For Sale

So, let us assume that you have either moved to the country or have been there for a while. In your new/old haven/hovel is either a log-burning stove or an open fire. Since it needs fuel in order to work, there are a couple of options available. Either you can buy a big bag of damp logs from the local garage that will smoulder and pop, or you can buy an axe. Striding confidently into the local ironmongers, you ask for their finest, sharpest blade. They offer up something slim with an American hickory haft. You stride out again, feeling somehow that the mere possession of this perfectly weighted prize has made all your atoms flow in more vivid order.

Three days later, having spent the intervening time rolling around a sawdust-covered floor with half a tree attached to your left foot, you return to the ironmongers and ask humbly for something that works. This time, they sell you something with a much fatter wedge-shape, like a slice of steel cake. This time, it’s heavy, and this time it doesn’t look like a murder weapon but a proper working tool.

Back in the shed, you select a log about the same diameter as your wrist. When you place it on the chopping block and swing the axe, it cleaves like a slit envelope. You pick something slightly larger. That too opens as if it had been waiting for the instruction to do so. At the end of an hour, you have a pile of perfect triangles, their heartwood pale in the winter light. Your back aches like it does after gardening, but you feel three times the being you were before.

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There is something so simple about chopping logs that it feels like a form of mending. You find that if you yourself are balanced, it needs neither great physical strength nor limitless energy. If you swing it in the right measure and trust it to do the job for which it was made, then the axe, rather than you, will split almost anything you set it to.

Perhaps the most elusive thing to learn is how to stop making life difficult for yourself. Pick the right wood, don’t be over-ambitious, pace yourself. Certainly you can make it more complicated — the secrets of branches, the crosswise chop, the challenge of burs — but there’s no need to. Instead, it’s lovely just being there, standing straight, swinging slowly. After a while, you build up a rhythm: place the log on the block, stand, breathe, swing, cut, place, stand, breathe, swing, cut.

Skip-diving has its charms. There’s a kind of melancholic fin-de-siècle splendour in torching your neighbour’s kitchen

If necessary, you can use chopping logs as a vent: it’s the phone company, or it’s the British weather, or the pillock from work. It doesn’t much matter, since taking out rage on a lump of elm is undoubtedly better than taking it out on the pillock from work. A Canadian friend has a corporate solution: he would set up chopping ranges for rurally frustrated executives in New York or London. They could arrive after work, rent a cord of wood and an axe, find their block along the numbered line, and start swinging. They’d be free to keep going either until their cord ran out or the muscles in their jaw stopped twitching. If they wanted to buy them, the chopped logs would be theirs; if not, they’d be bundled up and sold on.

Personally, I just like chopping for its own sake. There’s something warming about the ritual of it and the sense of provision. Place, stand, breathe, swing, cut. Watching the wood. Watching the radial splits out from the centre, marking the place to bring the axe down, waiting for the faint exhalation of scent from the wood as it falls. Like cooking, it provides a sense of sufficiency and delight but, unlike cooking, log-chopping has a particular rhythm to it, like a form of active meditation. You do, very literally, get into the swing of it.

Occasionally, splitting elm or beech, patterns emerge. Spalted logs have black lines like the lines that divide sea from land on maps, so when they open it’s like a whole world offered up for burning. Ash cuts white. Pine glows red in the centre. Oak (should you be lucky or crazy enough to be chopping it up for firewood) feels like substance itself, while elm seems almost supernatural. It behaves like some other element — as if it’s got no grain, as if it’s paper or stone.

If you’re lucky, the logs you’re splitting are already dry. Or dryish. If they’ve been lying outside getting dripped on, they’re probably so saturated they’re treble their dry weight and, even after the 10 years it will take to dry them out, they’ll almost certainly burn with the same vigour as mouldy towels. Only ash burns straight off the tree; everything else has to be seasoned. One of the downsides of a damp country is that wood takes many times longer to dry out here than it does in, for instance, somewhere nice. Rule of thumb is about a year from felled tree to fire for hardwood and six months for softwoods.

On the other hand, such awkward odds encourage ingenuity. Once you’ve satisfied the immediate need for something to keep you warm, you start building a log pile. This too has its craftsmanship: a place to put them where the wind can get them but the rain can’t, a question of balance and, when it’s done right, a thing of beauty. It takes patience and a feel for the way things weigh and join.

In Scotland, where there is a constant year-round need for heat, people take pride in their log-piles. They become not just fuel-caches, but interesting clues to character. Like squirrels, some people prepare for winter months in advance, building long free-standing log walls. Some neighbours have gone the full Paul Nash and constructed beautiful free-standing beehives. Others sling a heap from the local sawmill into the garage, or stockpile like it’s the Siege of Leningrad. Most don’t really care how it’s done as long as it stands up and stays dry.

For the dedicated accumulator, there’s also the stuff you can get out of skips — old fence-posts, knackered studwork, abandoned flooring. As long as you don’t mind wandering down the local high street with half a door under each arm, then skip-diving has its charms. The wood’s usually dry and there’s a kind of melancholic fin-de-siècle splendour in torching your neighbour’s kitchen. The downside is that you’re probably going to have to spend three weeks sawing it into grate-sized pieces; the upside is that you’ll get warm while doing it.

It’s the final stage of log-chopping that stops me. In theory, it would be possible to get a chainsaw certificate and progress to whole trees. In practice, I don’t want to. Not because it wouldn’t be interesting or useful, but because a chainsaw just seems a bit too butch. I like being female, and somehow the idea of staggering around the forests of Scotland brandishing a smoking Stihl seems a little overcompensatory.

The point and the pleasure of chopping logs is that it is just me and a stone-age tool. Standing there in the shed in a deep layer of sawdust and chippings, I can hear the birds and the river and the changing note of the blade as it strikes different ages and sizes of timber. I can sense the rhythm of my own work and the difference between old wood and new. A really good chainsaw user can probably tell beech from chestnut and sitka from larch while blindfold, but somehow there’s no fun in that fretful roar and the reasonable fear of decapitation.

In the end, it doesn’t much matter. All that matters is that when it’s January and blowing a gale out there, I can walk through the darkness, stack up a scented armful, and make true fire.

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Rituals & CelebrationsWellbeingAll topics →

Bella Bathurst

is a writer and photographer. Her latest book is The Bicycle Book. She lives in Scotland.

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For the album by Witchcraft, see Firewood (album). For the military operation, see Operation Firewood.

"Fuel wood" redirects here. For wood as a fuel in general, see wood fuel.

Firewood is any wooden material that is gathered and used for fuel. Generally, firewood is not highly processed and is in some sort of recognizable log or branch form, compared to other forms of wood fuel like pellets or chips. Firewood can be seasoned (dry) or unseasoned (fresh/wet). It can be classed as hardwood or softwood.

Firewood is a renewable resource. However, demand for this fuel can outpace its ability to regenerate on a local or regional level. Good forestry practices and improvements in devices that use firewood can improve local wood supplies.

Harvesting[edit]

Harvesting or collecting firewood varies by the region and culture. Some places have specific areas for firewood collection. Other places may integrate the collection of firewood in the cycle of preparing a plot of land to grow food as part of a field rotation process. Collection can be a group, family or an individual activity. The tools and methods for harvesting firewood are diverse.

North America[edit]

Some firewood is harvested in "woodlots" managed for that purpose,[1] but in heavily wooded areas it is more usually harvested as a byproduct of natural forests. Deadfall that has not started to rot is preferred, since it is already partly seasoned. Standing dead timber is considered better still, for it has less dirt on the trunk, allowing tools to stay sharper longer, as well as being both seasoned and less rotten. Harvesting this form of timber reduces the speed and intensity of bushfires, but it also reduces habitat for snag-nesting animals such as owls and some rodents.

Harvesting timber for firewood is normally carried out by hand with chainsaws. Thus, longer pieces – requiring less manual labour, and less chainsaw fuel – are less expensive and only limited by the size of the firebox. In most of the United States, the standard measure of firewood is a cord or 128 cubic feet (3.6 m3), however, firewood can also be sold by weight. The BTU value can affect the price. Prices also vary considerably with the distance from wood lots, and quality of the wood.

Buying and burning firewood that was cut only a short distance from its final destination prevents the accidental spread of invasive tree-killing insects and diseases.[2][3]

Preparing[edit]

In most parts of the world, firewood is only prepared for transport at the time it is harvested. Then it is moved closer to the place it will be used as fuel and prepared there. The process of making charcoal from firewood can take place at the place the firewood is harvested.

Most firewood also requires splitting, which also allows for faster seasoning by exposing more surface area. Today most splitting is done with a hydraulic splitting machine, but it can also be split with a splitting maul. More unusual, and dangerous, is a tapered screw-style design, that augers into the wood, splitting it, and can be powered by either a power take-off drive, a dedicated internal combustion engine, or a rugged electric pipe-threading machine, which is safer than the other power sources because the power can be shut off more easily if necessary. Another method is to use a kinetic log splitter, which uses a rack and pinion system powered by a small motor and a large flywheel used for energy storage.

Storing[edit]

There are many ways to store firewood. These range from simple piles to free-standing stacks, to specialized structures. Usually the goal of storing wood is to keep water away from it and to continue the drying process.

Stacks: The simplest stack is where logs are placed next to and on top of each other, forming a line the width of the logs. The height of the stack can vary, generally depending upon how the ends are constructed. Without constructing ends, the length of the log and length of the pile help determine the height of a free-standing stack.

There is debate about whether wood will dry more quickly when covered. There is a trade-off between the surface of the wood getting wet vs. allowing as much wind and sun as possible to access the stack. A cover can be almost any material that sheds water – a large piece of plywood, sheet metal, terracotta tiles, or an oiled canvas cloth, even cheap plastic sheeting may also be used. Wood will not dry when completely covered. Ideally pallets or scrap wood should be used to raise the wood from the ground, reducing rot and increasing air flow.

There are many ways to create the ends of a stack. In some areas, a crib end is created by alternating pairs of logs to help stabilize the end. A stake or pole placed in the ground is another way to end the pile. A series of stacked logs at the end, each with a cord tied to it and the free end of the cord wrapped to log in the middle of the pile, is another way.

Under a roof: Under a roof, there are no concerns about the wood being subjected to rain, snow or run-off, but ventilation needs to be provided if the wood is stored green so that moisture released from the wood does not recondense inside. The methods for stacking depend on the structure and layout desired. Whether split, or in 'rounds' (flush-cut and unsplit segments of logs), the wood should be stacked lengthwise, which is the most stable and practical method. Again though, if the wood needs further seasoning there should be adequate air flow through the stack.

Storing outdoors: Firewood should be stacked with the bark facing upwards. This allows the water to drain off, and standing frost, ice, or snow to be kept from the wood.

Round stacks can be made many ways. Some are piles of wood with a stacked circular wall around them. Others like the American Holz Hausen are more complicated.

A Holz hausen, or "wood house", is a circular method of stacking wood; proponents say it speeds up drying on a relatively small footprint. A traditional holz hausen has a 10-foot diameter, stands 10 feet high, and holds about 6 cords of wood. The walls are made of pieces arranged radially, and tilted slightly inward for stability. The inside pieces are stacked on end to form a chimney for air flow. The top pieces are tilted slightly outward to shed rain and are placed bark side up.[4]

Heating value[edit]

The moisture content of firewood determines how it burns and how much heat is released. Unseasoned (green) wood moisture content varies by the species; green wood may weigh 70 to 100 percent more than seasoned wood due to water content. Typically, seasoned (dry) wood has 20% to 25% moisture content. Use of the lower heating value is advised[5] as a reasonable standard way of reporting this data.

The energy content of a measure of wood depends on the tree species.[6] For example, it can range from 15.5 to 32 million British thermal units (16.4 to 33.8 GJ) per cord.[7] The higher the moisture content, the more energy that must be used to evaporate (boil) the water in the wood before it will burn. Dry wood delivers more energy for heating than green wood of the same species.

The Sustainable Energy Development Office (SEDO), part of the Government of Western Australia states that the energy content of wood is 4.5 kWh/kg or 16.2 gigajoules/tonne (GJ/t).[8]

Here are some examples of energy content of several species of wood:

Wood SpeciesHeat Value per Cord
Tamarack22.3 MMBtu (23.5 GJ)
Birch21.3 MMBtu (22.5 GJ)
Red Fir20.6 MMBtu (21.7 GJ)
White Fir16.7 MMBtu (17.6 GJ)

Kiln dried firewood[edit]

The process of kiln drying firewood was invented by Anthony Cutara, for which a successful US patent was filed in 1983.[9] In 1987 the US Department of Agriculture replicated the method and published a detailed procedure for the production of kiln dried firewood, citing the higher heat output and increased combustion efficiency as a key benefit of the process [10]

Measurement[edit]

Usually firewood is sold by volume. While a specific volume term may be used, there can be a wide variation in what this means and what the measure can produce as a fuel. For example, a cord which is made from 4-foot (1.22 m) logs, will not be a cord when it is cut into 1 foot logs and these split so each piece will fit through a 3-inch (7.6 cm) circle. A measure of green unseasoned wood with 65% moisture contains less usable energy than when it has been dried to 20%. Regardless of the term, firewood measurement is best thought of as an estimate.

Metric[edit]

In the metric system, firewood is usually sold by the stère, equivalent to a volume of 1 cubic meter (1 cubic meter or 0.276 cords). The most common firewood piece length are 33 cm and 50 cm. Wood can also be sold by the kilogram or by the metric tonne, as in Australia.

North America[edit]

In the United States and Canada, firewood is usually sold by the full cord, face cord or bag.

  • A full cord or bush cord has a volume of 128 cubic feet (3.6 m3), including wood, bark, and air space in a neatly stacked pile.[11] The actual wood volume of a cord may be in the range of 80 to 100 cubic feet (2.3 to 2.8 m3) as stacked wood takes up more space than a piece of solid wood. The most common firewood piece length is 16 inches (41 cm).[12]
  • A face cord is one third of a full or bush cord stack of wood that is 4 by 8 ft (1.22 by 2.44 m) by 16 in (41 cm) and has a volume of 42.6 cubic feet (1.21 m3).[12]

In popular culture[edit]

In Norway, the non-fiction book Hel Ved (In English: Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning) by Lars Mytting became a bestseller in 2011/2012, selling 150,000 copies. A version of the book has also been published in Sweden, selling 50,000 copies.[13]

In February 2013, the Norwegian state broadcast NRK sent a 12-hour live program on the topic of woodfire, where a large part of the program consisted of showing firewood burning in a fireplace. More than one million people, 20% of Norway's population, saw part of the program.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^"Where does firewood come from?". 
  2. ^"Don't Move Firewood - Trees and forests are threatened by invasive foreign insects and diseases". dontmovefirewood.org. 
  3. ^"Firewood". www.inspection.gc.ca. Government of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Plant Health and Biosecurity Directorate. 
  4. ^"Seasoning Firewood How and When". thechimneysweep.ca. 
  5. ^"Firewood Storage Racks - Wood Covers". Firewood Rack. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  6. ^"Northidahofirewood.com". northidahofirewood.com. Archived from the original on 2009-02-06. 
  7. ^John Gulland. "A non-commercial service in support of responsible home heating with wood - Firewood". woodheat.org. 
  8. ^"Office of Energy - Clean Energy". Sedo.energy.wa.gov.au. 2010-01-01. Archived from the original on October 13, 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  9. ^"Packaged kiln dried firewood". 
  10. ^Simpson, William T.; Boone, R. Sidney; Chern, Joseph; Mace, Terry (August 1987). "Kiln-Drying Time of Split Oak Firewood"(PDF). Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. 
  11. ^"Buying Firewood? Don't Get Burned!". Measurement Canada. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  12. ^ ab"What is a Cord? And How to Avoid Paying Too Much for One". Woodheat.org. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  13. ^Norsk ved-TV vekker oppsikt i USA Aftenposten, February 20, 2013
  14. ^Sarah Lyall: Bark Up or Down? Firewood Splits NorwegiansNew York Times, February 19, 2013

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Firewood.
Stack of firewood next to a building
Stack of split firewood and a maul for splitting, Czech Republic
Firewood collector in Mozambique

Firewood axe or maul

Hydraulic splitting machine

Methods of splitting firewood

Stacked with crib end, in eastern France, covered by terracotta tiles.
Stacking firewood in a shed
Firewood carrier, Seoul, Korea 1945
Firewood on the way to market
Firewood at a local market ready for sale

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