Saturday 7 January 2017

Chop chop

The Beloved gave me a couple of garrrdening books for Christmas. I will be sure to dress up as Mellors with baler-twine round the leg below the knee to stop rats running up my corduroy trouser legs. We’ve had a wood-burning stove in the living room for as long as we’ve had a floor to stand it on, but I’ve never bought fire-wood. Everything that’s gone up the chimney has been from fallen-branches, wind-throw, and a certain amount of tree thinning and clearance to make room for something else. Almost every storm seems to deliver some fire wood, sometimes in catastrophic amounts. I’ve cut and split and stacked 20 winters of wood fuel, so it might seems as if a book on the subject is too little. too late. Then again, I’m humble enough and know enough to know that I don’t know it all. Vincent Thurkettle is wonderfully English-rustic name and he’s the author of the wood fire handbook: the complete guide to the perfect fire. I’ve been romping through the book sitting beside the wood-burning stove and periodically nipping out to split a few more logs.

Thurkettle is not interested in felling, although he can do that, and his description of this key woodsman process is only two pages and 3 wholly confusing diagrams long. Better stick to youtube for your instruction. But he’s a lot to say about wood-stacks and splitting logs to fill them. Some of his advice will be obvious to you, although I’d not seen it articulated before, and I was gratified to see that, in my seat-of-the-corduroy-pants practice. I had been “speaking prose all my life” as M. Jourdain has it.

  • The physics of driving a 2kg maul head at immovable chopping block means that the force is transmitted to the earth below: you will soon compress the dirt below the block so that nothing with grow there afterwards. 
    • You can also shatter a concrete driveway under the block 
    • . . . and make sure there are no pipes below ground: you don’t want to be cracking a sewer pipe just there.
  • Never strike the back-face of the axe with a hammer to force the blade deeper – it distorts the hole which holds the handle in place.
  • If the top face of your splitting stump is slightly off-horizontal then you can balance logs which have been cut slightly off right-angles.

One reason to split all logs is that the bark of many tree species is water-proof.  A log still fully coated in such bark is going to take a long time to dry out. Un-round logs stack better, firmer and safer than rolly ones. And the same goes for the open fire-place. Flaming round logs could roll off the heap of embers, across your Persian carpet and burn down the house; a split log less so. Happy splitting.

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