Wood Chopper: Part Two
Graham R. Cooper
I enjoy using a maul to chop wood. There you have it.
If I didn’t, would I be prepared to grind away at it through all seasons? No. I’d go back to using a mechanical block splitter; it’d be “just another chore” and I’d get it out the way in a weekend or two.
I don’t go at it like a man obsessed – in the past I’ve been guilty, sometimes, of just that.
It’s a good fifteen years since my last obsessive wood chopping bout. You could say that’s one compulsion I’ve rid myself of for good.
Once, I split by hand so many massive rings of gum, seasoned to an unforgiving hardness, that I thought I’d destroyed my elbows. Dr Google saved me from despair: of all the joints, elbows are the ones most likely to repair themselves.
Going at it for hours over several days, I’d pretty much split all the gum by the time my elbows packed in. I had enough firewood for many months, so I took a long break from chopping wood, and six months later my elbows came right.
I came right too – well, at least as far as wood chopping goes. Yesterday typical of the way I go about things these days: I split, in under half an hour, enough seasoned poplar to fill three large wicker baskets. Lighting the woodstove mid-afternoon and keeping the firebox topped up till we went to bed at ten, I burnt the equivalent of a couple of baskets full of poplar.
Getting the maul out for anything from half, to an hour each day, is all that’s needed for three seasons, and I can get away with every second day in summer.
I’ll split some hot, slow burning gum to add to the mix over winter. And on bitter winter days, I’ll have the log fire in the lounge going as well. It’s got a big firebox and most logs go on without needing to be split – so it’s pretty undemanding when it comes to getting out the maul.
Residual heat from the night before keeps the kitchen-cum-living room area warm enough over breakfast. June’s then off milking her goats – all year round – no matter the weather. It has to be really foul to keep her inside for most of the rest of the day.
After breakfast I set the woodstove fire, make sure there’s plenty of kindling, and bring in two or three big wicker baskets full of wood and stack them in the old fireplace. I’ll let out the hens, often I’ll check on the cows and their water trough as well. Circulation by now not so sluggish, and muscles warmer, I’ll step up my pace and walk through some of our small paddocks, usually finishing with the short but steep slope that goes up to the 15,000 litre concrete water tank that supplies the house.
Now I’m ready for bum on seat. I’ve warmed up and I keep it that way with the help of an electric heat panel (only 400W) that sits close to the wall; it’s a small room and that’s all I need to take the chill off – even on the coldest mornings.
I aim to be in my study by nine, although sometimes it’s closer to nine-thirty. I’ll emerge at midday: replete with two cups of strong black coffee and a dose of writing. Time to get back to the real life of the homesteader!
Why light the fire before mid to late afternoon? We’re not around to need it till then.
We’ve had several male visitors keen to chop wood. I guess, underpinning it all, there’s a twitch of primal survival needs: eat (cook meat), keep warm, see in the dark, inflict a mortal blow, keep predators at bay. Are we so modern after all?
Leaving aside such subterranean considerations, there are more obvious reasons why I like using a maul most days to chop wood.
Over and above all else, it’s part of the fabric of a life lived day-to-day. Like three substantial and nutritious meals, firewood supplies daily fuel needs. In a pair of willing hands, splitting wood with a maul for half an hour maintains that fine balance between demand and supply.
There’s the physicality of the task. The workout smooth, flowing, as the 6lb wedge makes short, deft work of the straight, easy splitting grains of poplar, and the mostly clean- grained gum.
Attempting to vanquish gnarly, knot-ridden exceptions is left till the blood’s coursing and the muscles warm. You’re not lashing out in anger: there’s deadly calm in the strike that inflicts maximum damage. Just like in any combat, you’re the real enemy – get over yourself and win the fight!
But sometimes you have to admit defeat – slamming down only to have the maul bounce back. Remind yourself that you’ve got to stay intact to chop wood again tomorrow. Remind yourself that brute logs win battles, but lose the war – they’ll be cut down by a powerful beast of a chainsaw.
But I don’t want you to go away with the impression that it’s all blood, sweat and tears out there on the wood chopping front! In fact, much of the appeal comes down to the appreciation of much gentler sensations. Sensations that cocoon you.
For starters, and giving autumn her dues, I’ve paid attention to: the jinking flight and cheepy cheek of a couple of fantails; the clarion call melody of a bellbird; the wood grain feel of the maul’s hickory handle; red berry clusters on the holly spilling over the top of the firewood drums; the conspiring of late afternoon sunlight and eye to paint a yellow gold glow on big green cones atop an old man pine as, resting between blows, I gaze upward.
Cocooned by the feel and smell of the trampled earth in autumn; there’s the faintest of fungal scents from damp, decaying leaves, sawdust and wood chips, triggering thoughts of tramps through forests of mountain beech.
Is it any wonder I enjoy using a maul to chop wood?
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. Next Monday I’ll tell you about the 200 metre plus pipeline we put in so that Chappie (our billy goat) and his companion have water on tap down at their housing.
As always, thanks very much for your company. Bye for now.