Wood Chopper: Part One
Graham R. Cooper
Over summer, late afternoon on alternate days, the woodstove’s fired up. The oven will be up to 180 Celsius in time to cook the evening meal; after another hour or so the fire will have pushed the water in the cylinder to near boiling point and I can stop feeding it wood. And the water will stay plenty hot enough to last till I light the fire again a couple of days later.
It sure puts the brake on the wood chopping. But it’s now late autumn, snow down to 600 metres on the mountains the other day, and frosts in the -3 to -5 Celsius range. Time to up my game. Every day now, the woodstove’s lit by mid-afternoon and the firebox regularly topped up till we go to bed around ten.
If you recall last autumn’s firewood post, (https://grahamrcooper.com/2020/04/20/2852/), I play the game differently from most Kiwi do-it-yourselfers who split their own firewood. I guess, give or take the degree of skill, derring-do or sheer hell-bent risk taking, we’re all playing the chainsaw game.
I’d rate my skill at mid-level, my derring-do I’d rate not at all. The risks I take are mostly calculated, except when skills I thought I had desert me and I end up using desperate measures – sweating over snagged trees, or ones that sway back and trap the saw bar, or topple askew over a fence line. There’s no tractor here to pull me and the tree out of trouble’s way.
After us Kiwi girl and guy blokes have got the logs ringed into slabs, at whatever depth fits our firebox, that’s when we part company. The fair dinkum Kiwi DIYer falls back on the company of a mechanical block splitter, a formidable machine that, push yourself and the machine hard, can do you for a year’s supply of firewood in a day or two (give or take the usual provisos). I know, because I’ve done just that – but not for years, and even then, no more than four or five years of the three decades we’ve been here.
I cut myself some slack by getting to the ringed stage in the company of a big (20 inch bar), heavy saw (over 7kg). I’m surprised later at how hard I’ve been working – the breathing heavier than expected, and how often I break out in a sweat.
The saw stays inside my guard – infighting – the fumes from the 2-stroke mix of petrol and oil, and the hot chain bar oil bite deep into the sinuses. The high-pitched angry whines and growls as its teeth bite deep into the wood, and, despite ears in cuffs, bite deep into the muffled recesses of my brain.
The chainsaw’s made fast work of tree felling. How do you muffle a silent scream in the face of deforestation on the scale, aided by chainsaw, that we now witness? You can’t. Like all leaps forward in technology, you can’t help but wonder if the gains have been worth such earth-shattering loss.
But I use a chainsaw, and Craig, a mechanic, and a specialist in all things Husqvarna, said when he sold it to me, that it was a reliable, powerful saw and up to the job of forestry scale use.
The saw, with our year-round reliance on firewood from big gum, poplar, willow and other sundry trees, has become a need not a want. Necessary evil would be putting too much of a spin on it – just necessary, with all of that statement’s implied burden of responsibility.
Our taking root happening in concert with the taking root of hundreds of trees we planted. Not utterly a bare block of land to begin: in the gully, several ancient willows, plums, pears, two oaks and two old man pines; there’s a clump of towering firs just to the south of the house, and silver birches lining the winding drive.
We put in mostly exotics in the early years – fruit trees, and fast-growing gums and poplars for shelter and firewood. Felled: shoots growing from the stumps thinned to anything from two to four strong poles, and growing into fine trees once more.
“The place with the trees,” we’ve heard it called. Still is. Sure, we’ve done our share of ‘cut, slash and burn’. But we’ve also planted heaps. Like the recent plantings of native ribbonwoods and lacebarks in a long stretch of shelterbelt that straddles the middle of our land. (See: https://grahamrcooper.com/2021/05/10/the-establishment-of-a-ribbonwood-and-mountain-lacebark-shelterbelt/
That’s how I make my peace with the chainsaw – by having faith in the balancing act game I play: destroying but also creating.
Saw work over, I can leave the company of ‘other blokes’ and play the game my way. I put the slab of wood on the chopping block, grasp the hickory handle of my splitting maul and chop wood.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Next Monday I’ll give you the inside story on how I use a maul to provide us with a year round supply of firewood.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.