Firewood preparation made easier

Removing some of the pain from preparing firewood for your stove.
I have a very large room to heat with only a 4Kw multi-fuel stove to do so. My
choice is to use wood as I have space outside to both store and process quite a lot, which I have done over the 6 years I’ve lived here. But, my age and arthritic-i-ness have forced me to review my firewood cutting and splitting methods to reduce aches and pains. So, here is my process and methods I’d like to share with all those who have aching backs.

In the spring I buy in 4 cubic metres of green ash billets (a billet being the
term for a split length of log), and stack them to dry through the summer months. The picture below shows the last of the stack for the winter of 2012/2013. At roughly weekly intervals through the winter I spend an hour or two to prepare at least a week and a half supply, and the clamp in the picture below has been my aid. This prevents me having to do the whole job in one exhausting go, at the beginning of the year, and allows me to regularly enjoy the satisfaction of that out-in-the-woods feeling.


Working on the Coppicer’s principle of minimal movement of timber, I built
the billet clamp as close to the stack as possible and for the most part was able to slide billets into it, reducing lifting. That and the chainsaw cutting could be done within waist to shoulder heights.

The billet clamp uses six posts stuck into the ground, with cross bracing on
each side at the suitable height for me not to have to do any bending. The distance between front to back relates to the length of chain blade on my small chainsaw, allowing me to slice right through the billets in one go without the chain end catching.

Sacrificial timbers were placed across the braces to support the billets, fixed at
one end only allowing movement of the poles to clamp the billets tightly, and as clear of the chain cut point as possible so as not to damage the saw chain. The paired posts are pulled tight using three bicycle inner tubes.

The distance between the poles determines the length of firewood piece you
need for your fire, and mine takes 6-7 inches, too small for suppliers to like making.
So, you need to set the poles according to the size you require.
Slice through the outer sections of billets first and then slice between the posts.
The clamp effect, for the most part, holds the firewood pieces firm, but also allows enough play for the chain not to catch on the loose pieces. For some reason of physics the pieces move away from each other rather than towards each other, and prevents clamping on the chainsaw blade.

Three clamp fills, and four ‘slicings’ each time, are all that are required for a
weeks and a half’s firewood. This saves a great deal on fuel and chain oil over the
year, I have found, and the smaller the section of the billet the greater the physical economy achieved by the reduction in splitting the firewood lumps as well – if you have a small fire like mine.
Each morning I make a little kindling and bring in the evenings firewood to
dry any residual dampness. This gives me a quick start to the fire and no need for
firelighters. Wood shavings and dried bark work just as well.
This year I am redesigning the clamp with the aim of the firewood lumps
falling straight into my wheelbarrow to reduce the need for bending my back, even more so. It will be a smaller clamp as Elcombe Firewood supplied me with shorter length billets this year.
Below shows this years stacking method (after the German conical stack
system). Recycled plastic sheet topping rather than thatching, I’m afraid, qualifying as sustainability rather than traditionalism, and that’s good enough for me.

Using Ash: You need to ask suppliers specifically for billets. Green Ash is
useable in one season. Other woods need more years to season, so you need quite a lot of space. In terms of the swings and the roundabouts: Ash plantations are traditional in this area (even Laurie Lee helped his uncle plant an ash and beech woodland in the Horsley valley, according to my Mum), and despite diseases we ought to encourage even more plantations to be planted for future fuel use, in my opinion. Fast grown ash gives a hot fire, so if you already have other forms of heating, you may favour a different wood. However, the greater consumer demand will spur a desire on woodland owners to supply it or an alternative with similar characteristics. I’m sure
the disease issue will be a hiccup rather than a long-term extinction. I’m hoping so anyway.
Suppliers I have used: Simon at and Steve at

I wish you happy firewood chopping.
Liz Child. [Oct/2013]

Apple Tree Protest, Abercairn, Belle Vue Road, Stroud 1st October onwards, 2013

Selsley Harvest and Apple Tree Belle Vue Oct 2013 082

There is plenty to follow-up with regards to the historic protest in Stroud involving the occupation of a large Bramley apple tree (Malus domestica) and trying simultaneously to save a significant badger sett on the same grounds. The occupation of the tree involved principally two or three people with several supporters and perhaps up to one hundred visitors during the six days when it was happening. A visitors’ book included messages of support, drawings and two lovely poems. It was therefore significant and to some degree placed Stroud’s credentials as part of the ‘environmental movement’ more squarely upfront once again. This, we should be proud of. There were reports in the Daily Mail, on BBC Points West, ITV West, Stroud TV, and Stroud FM, and in the Stroud News and Journal, Stroud Life and Citizen local newspapers. By the time that you are reading this, the immediate impact of the event may just be fading a little. However, the week also included some heated debate in the Transition Stroud online ‘Discuss Forum’, as well as a wide range of discussions on Facebook and Twitter. Nearly 400 comments were left on the Mail online site, and amongst these were, to some people’s surprise, many well-thought out messages of support and solidarity for the protest to save the tree.
The ‘direct action’ of the protest took place for several reasons and analysis can show how such explicit dissent and resistance in the face of developers, contract workers, some neighbours and the police became necessary. This was about protecting a special tree. The trees were planted as part of an orchard area between seventy-five and one hundred and fifty years ago. This was about protecting an irreplaceable badger sett. A sett with 22 entrances that has been developed over decades. This was about saying “no” to relentless and inappropriate housing development on green spaces within urban settings. This was an old market garden for the town, and-following rejection of a proposed requirement by Stroud District Council-the development will involve no social or affordable housing.
This was a protest involving the coming together of individuals. The desire to succeed grew but this particular battle became increasingly arduous over the six days, especially as the police presence increased and the contractors began to strategically organize themselves to pounce on a small number of peaceful protesters. Gerard Walsh, the developer, agreed on television to speak with the protesters. However, he arrived at short notice when only two were present, refused to genuinely engage, and instructed his contractors to undertake unacceptable actions.
We were involved on the day when contractors organised themselves to physically overcome the protestors, the police arrested three people and at the same time the tree was cut down to a stump (two of the protestors were ‘de-arrested’ immediately after the felling, one was held overnight in Gloucester and has been charged). The lead-up to this moment involved the use of power strimmers, gradually surrounding the protestors and surreptitiously running towards them. These moments of heightened tension are difficult to bear and they demonstrate the tenacity and determination of the developers to press ahead with in this case a development based on a planning application that was rejected in the past and which neighbours campaigned to stop for nearly three years, with more than 100 letters of objection received by the Council.
The weighing and estimations are still taking place but already cider is being made from the apples left strewn all over the ground once the main branches were sawn off in the middle of the night with a bow-saw! Furthermore, Down To Earth have collected several kilograms to make into dried apple rings. We are planning on setting up a cheerful competition to name the apple rings, especially after the messages of support from as far away as India and Australia.
James Beecher, a neighbour and local campaigner, wrote: “There was a very sad end to this story, but I hope it is a good reminder of what we can do, and what may be needed in some of the battles over local development and our environment in the near future.”

Nick James, 14th October, 2013

Stroud News and Journal

Cresby, StroudFM/TV

Peter Richardson, Stroud TV

Points West

ITV ‘Westcountry Tonight’

Daily Mail article

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