Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

heating with wood

In N. Calif. I heated exclusively with wood for 19 years in a 1900-sq-ft home I had built with no alternative to wood heat (and passive solar). I was always able to find places to cut. I burned 1-2–year-old oak primarily, but also other local wood with excellent heat value.

Fir was bottom-end stuff there, and pine not worth the bother. Those did not put out enough heat, burned up too fast and left a lot of ash.

I didn’t understand the value of splitting mauls. I bought one to see it magically split wood with a single stroke like everyone who loved them talked about. But they had to be driven through each round with the sledgehammer. That was hard on the maul, and not as good as plain wedges without the counter-productive long handle.

An axe to make a notch, a couple of wedges and a sledgehammer to drive them through the rounds were THE TOOLS for splitting … the hardwoods I had available. I hand-split about 3 cords a year that way for all the heat my home needed.

Fast-forward to The Bitterroot … Here I heat with wood where fir is top-end and lodgepole pine is the most commonly available, and popular firewood. I haven’t used my sledge and wedges once since moving here. I don’t even know if I could hit the wedge with the requisite 100% accuracy in an overhand stroke any more.

AHA! THAT is what splitting mauls are for.
Fir and pine. Got it.

One or two full-power overhead strokes splits almost any round. No need to drive a wedge through as with hardwoods.

Hydraulic log splitters are very popular around here. Sissies! ๐Ÿ˜‰

In hardwood country they made much more sense than here, yet I never had one. I had covered firewood storage that allowed overhand swings of my sledge in a dry wind-free work area. A little hand-splitting every few days gave me all the firewood my family needed… and an important winter workout for me.

In fir/pine country, I can’t justify the noisy, gasoline-powered, maintenance-demanding hydraulic tool. Operators still have to pick up the wood, place it in the splitter, run the ram through it, pick up the pieces, pile, stack… Physically, ALMOST everything I have to do. While they are watching their hydraulic ram run, I have made two or three splits with my maul. I really don’t get it.

As for chainsaws: Stihl. Pay extra up front. It will outlast five other saws … and work when you want it to, every time.

I was about to pay for my first professional tune-up of my Stihl, but decided instead to replace the one that heated my California home, pruned entire orchards and sundry other tasks since 1980! Somehow, after 36 years of service, two hundred bucks for a brand new Stihl that would run for the rest of my life seemed like a good deal.

Don’t get a bigger saw than you need. The lower expense, lower fuel consumption, easier to handle all day 18″ saw will cut 36″ diameter, while a 24″ or bigger will just make you work extra hard hauling the saw … energy that could be used elsewhere … like loading, unloading, splitting and stacking.

If you are at all thinking of disaster preparation, the weak link here is the chainsaw. If heat is important to your (family’s) survival, failure of the electronics or gasoline supply would be fatal. Unless you have an alternative.

Cutting trees down with an axe is no big deal. Cutting it into firewood lengths is insanely inefficient. This is why crosscut saws were invented. They are varied, versatile and quite efficient, but they require knowledge and need far more instruction than I can post here.

There are a number of manufacturers and a lot of information, books even, on the subject. Get tools and knowledge that you may consider your household heat covered if TSHTF.