Country Living Series

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cutting firewood

One of the neglected chores we need to get done before the snow flies is to get our firewood in.  We need about six cords of wood to get us through the winter.  Here in north Idaho we don't have the option of cutting hardwoods like oak or maple - we only have conifers, so conifers are what we cut.

We never cut live trees.  No reason to.  We cut only trees that are dead and standing, or down but elevated.  Logs that are lying directly on the ground rot very quickly and are no good as firewood.  But logs that are propped on other logs or rocks retain their integrity, dry thoroughly, and make excellent firewood.

In our case, there's a piece of property about half a mile away that was partially logged a few years ago.  We received permission from the property owner to harvest wood from the slash pile.

A slash pile is the leftover unusable wood from a logging operation.  This can include tree branches, tree tops, knarly trunk sections, wood with a rotten core, or other things that won't work in a sawmill.  The usual procedure for commercial logging operations is to pile it all in a slash pile, wait for wet weather, then burn it.  For some reason this pile never got burned, and there's a lot of usable firewood in it.

So I took the truck and Don took the tractor, and we made our way to the slash pile.  It was a cloudy day but not particularly cold, a good day for cutting.

Here's the slash pile.  A couple years ago we got some of the "surface" pieces cut up, but much of the slash was packed with dirt and debris, and it was hard to get to.  Now a lot of the dirt and debris has been washed away with rain, and we realize there's a LOT more wood here than we originally thought. Much of the slash pile spills down the slope and is hard to see until you're actually climbing on the pile itself.

I noticed these little fluorescent-orange fungi on the ground.  Okay all you mushroom experts out there, what kind are these?

Since Don's the expert on the tractor, I was the "choker."  This means I take the chain, scramble down the pile, and fasten it to whatever log I choose to get yanked out.  It's hard work, and between the two jobs (choking or operating the tractor) my task was the more physically demanding.

It's a giant game up pickup sticks.  Without the power of the tractor, harvesting this wood would be impossible.

Don swung each log piece clear, then yarded them in one spot to be cut up.


After about an hour and a half of this I was exhausted, so we stopped pulling logs and turned to cutting instead.  This is where we switch the levels of difficulty - Don's wielding the chainsaw, I'm tossing log pieces.  His job is much harder.

As he moved around the pile, cutting, I removed the log sections and heaved them into a pile.  Gradually we whittled the log pile down.

Here's a tip: when cutting logs that are resting directly on the ground, don't cut all the way through because you don't want the chain coming in contact with the ground.  Besides dulling the chain, you don't want to take a chance it could hit a rock and kick back, causing horrible injury.  Instead, cut about 3/4 of the way through the log...

...turn the log...

...and finish cutting it from the bottom up.

After about two hours' work, this is what we had:

The wood we had yarded was greatly diminshed, but not gone.  We'll come back another day to yard and cut some more.

But we got about 3/4 or more of a cord cut.  This is the first load.  We offloaded the truck at home and came back for the rest of the cut wood.

As Don points out, cutting your own wood does NOT warm you twice.  Properly done, cutting your own wood warms you at least five or six times.

Something to think about next time you adjust a thermostat to get heat this winter.


  1. Hi Patrice,
    I've got a quick tip for anyone who is looking for a place to get firewood.

    When I was a boy, my Dad had a friend who was a 'tree removal specialist,' as he put it, and he always had a huge pile of wood on his property. He gave my Dad permission to go cut whatever he wanted from the pile and he would burn the rest at the end of the season.

    Anyway, if you want free firewood, ask around at your local tree cutters' place and see what happens.

  2. Hi, Patrice,
    I'm no wild mushroom expert, but the mushrooms in your picture look like "jack-O-lanterns." They're poisonous and sometimes mistaken for chanterelles, which are edible. Both are bright orange and appear at the same time of the year and it's really hard to tell 'em apart, so beware!

  3. Hi Patrice,
    I enjoyed your post for so many reminded me of going out on my dad's logging jobs and seeing the slash piles and decks, it shows how much you guys are willing to work to be good stewards of your live trees while using all available resources, it definitely shows what a great team the two of you are, AND (my fave) it reminded me of a wonderful article your hubby wrote a while back about cutting firewood. I laughed so hard reading that piece because it was SO true for my husband and me. I often joke that we should not be allowed to own a chainsaw, much less operate one, because of all the stupid mistakes we've made!
    Here's to a winter filled with wood stove warmth!

  4. My comment is I am sure glad they got the Tractor back from the shop! You would have found away but the right tool makes the job MUCH easier. And yes the heat kicked on while I was reading this and I was drawn off into a what if scenario in my head.


  5. Ahhhh the glamor of it all!

    Y'all are ahead of us in this chore. We still need to add a cord to our supply.

    We've been cutting some of our stuff into rounds, or wafers as they're sometimes called. It really saves on time and effort, and we find they burn longer than split wood. Have you ever tried this?


  6. Although I don't miss the job of mending fences, I do miss the job of cutting firewood. Now that I live in town, I have no fireplace and no woodstove. I miss a warm, cozy fire. Oh well, I'll go camping soon and build a campfire to compensate.

    Happy woodcutting, Patrice. Be safe.

    Anonymous Patriot

  7. Amen to that Don! The first year I heated strictly by woodstove,I would burn almost anything for heat. That was in the winter of 82 which was the coldest most terrible Dec. and Jan. on recent record in my part of the world. I remember breaking up trash in bitter conditions. By trash I mean whatever wood I could get my hands on. I was reasonably young then so I remember it fondly.

  8. That's some mighty nice chain work you did there Patrice! I can really relate to this because I have rigged( that would be what we call it) every shape,form weight and what have you. Figuring out how to chain something for a safe and successful lift usually takes years of experience to aquire.

  9. the motherlode of firewood! you will be toasty warm this winter.

  10. Of all of our "seasonal chores", cutting wood is by far my favorite. I love getting out into the timber. Here in Eastern Iowa however, we have many different varieties of hardwoods that burn very well. I cut up several dead oaks and one HUGE red elm. Red elm burns great, but is very difficult to split.

    We had a large cherry blow down last year and I pulled it out this spring with the intention of cutting it up for firewood, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Everytime I get the saw close, I keep seeing a pile of lumber! Guess I'll have to cut it into 8' sections and haul it to a buddy of mine that has a small saw mill. Will have to do it this fall though - cherry rots quickly.

  11. A.P. come on up...I've got your rooms ready. You can read by the fire and listen to the river.


  12. A.McSp - don't tempt me. I'm willing, but the flesh isn't anymore.


  13. LOL

    I hear ya, A.P.

    I frequently am qualified to be labeled an inert ingredient.


  14. After you get it home and need to split it, check out my post on some quick ways to do that. #2 should be of particular interest to you seeings how you have a tractor.


  15. I looked up your mushrooms (since I'm not familiar with them) and they look like Burn Site Ochre Cups. Were they growing on burned ground? If so these may be them. If so, they are neither edible, nor poisonous.

    I can understand why you need so much wood if you are burning conifers. Don's right, that it doesn't warm you twice but six times. It's not that wood burning is cheaper (unless your time is worthless) nor easier, but it is sustainable and you can't lose it. But you can't beat the way it feels to walk into a wood-heated house from a cold winter day (or even a brisk autumn day, for that matter). There is nothing like it. I always appreciated, too that if it gets too hot, you can open a window or door and it feels awesome and you're not wasting money doing that.

    Hope you get it all in before the snow flies!

  16. P.S. - the last comment was by, me ~

    Gracie Wray

  17. Tsk, tsk...we had our firewood done in September. lol And this drafty old barn we live in takes 9 cords to heat for the winter. LOL...shame on you procrastinators.

    Seriously, though, I absolutely despise having to cut wood in the cold and the snow/rain. If it was up to DH, we'd still be cutting. I have to push him out the door, sometimes. Although, it has gotten a lot easier/faster since we got me my own Stihl.