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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 www.valleyforestry.co.uk and Steve at
www.elcombefirewood.co.uk

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

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