Have you got wood?

Wood is an important part of my life now, more than I ever thought it would be. My other half, as part of his job looks after a rare oak collection, so that’s pretty important, but also because it is our main, if only source of heat in the cottage. Oh and I also have a dog called Woody, but that’s a separate topic!

It seems daft but I don’t think I ever realised how much effort went into obtaining, chopping and seasoning wood in order to effectively run a log fire. So we took advice from a knowledgeable Norwegian, because well, they know their wood.

Wood burning stoves/log burners are very fashionable at the moment. Their popularity means that seasoned logs are pretty easy to get hold of, even if you haven’t got a local supplier, most people can just pop down to their local supermarket, hardware store or petrol station to stock up on a bag of logs for the fire. They don’t come cheap though. Mostly they’re used for ambiance in a room or to top up the heat on a cold winters night, but the majority of people still rely heavily on their super efficient and convenient central heating for warmth (and why not, you lucky buggers).

Here in rural Devon, in order to keep costs down and to assist us in becoming a step closer to being self sufficient, our aim is to use wood that has naturally been felled or cut down as part of the maintenance in the surrounding woodland and gardens. This means we get a lot of free wood, hooray! But the downside is that it doesn’t come nicely packaged in red netting, perfectly sized and ready for burning. When a tree is cut down, the moisture levels in the wood are usually too high to burn straight away, which is why it goes through the seasoning process of being stacked and left to dry. Usually this occurs over the spring and summer months. 

So when we moved into the cottage in the middle of winter, we did not have a stack of freshly seasoned logs to help keep us warm. However, we are now working on rectifying that situation by seasoning our own wood. There is plenty of it available where we live, but it’s about obtaining the right wood at the right time. Most arborists or the forestry commission will give you some good tips on where to source a regular supply of good wood from. Some will even deliver it. But we’re lucky and able to locate the wood ourselves, but transporting it back to the cottage can sometimes be a bit tricky. 

Most trees are pretty big, so unless you’ve managed to find a small one to carry yourself or have recruited the help of a friend, you’re probably going to need some machinery to lift it. My other half used the front loader on the tractor to get this lovely log specimen into the van.

Once you’ve got your wood, you need to chop it up into pieces that will fit into your fireplace/burner. Biggest isn’t always best here. Now if you’re feeling particularly fit you could use a hand-saw to portion up your wood. But seeing as this method takes a lot of time and energy and with us having to do this regularly, a chainsaw is the tool of choice. I am by no means skilled in this area (I’m accident prone at the best of times) so we thought it best for my other half to take charge of this bit. He has also just been on a chainsaw course, so I am confident in his ability to complete the task with minimal effort/injury. He also makes it look so easy. I’m glad he’s on my zombie apocalypse team!

Once you have a neat pile of logs, you then need to split them. Even if the length is the right size, you don’t want to try and set light to something that’s the width of a tree trunk or branch, you’d struggle for a start! Depending on the size of your wood, you can split it into thirds or quarters and this is the stuff that now begins to resemble the bags of wood neatly piled up at your local shops. Not as easy as you thought huh?

Then you need to stack your wood in a dry area, preferably out of the rain to get optimal dry logs for burning. Our pile is just getting started.

Oak, Ash and Beech are probably the top three best types of wood to burn if you’re looking at obtaining a supply yourself. But it’s worth investing in a moisture meter to test the percentage of water in your wood. Most of the time freshly cut wood will read off the scale, but optimal moisture levels are below about 20%.

You will also need to prepare some kindling to get your fire started, unless you’re happy to go out and buy fire-lighters. Always useful to have on standby, but an added expense and also we want to avoid using chemicals where we can. Splitting the wood into kindling is something that my other half is hopefully going to teach me to do effectively with a hatchet, without chopping any of my fingers off, so I will keep you posted on my progress! Once again, zombie apocalypse weapons are in abundance at our place now!

I hope that’s helped any budding wood enthusiasts, or anyone who fancies obtaining and looking after their very own wood. I’m glad this post is over now, because I can stop sniggering about typing the words ‘wood’ and ‘log’ like an immature teenage boy. Look, I tried giving up innuendos but it’s hard, so hard.