Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
“Have all your firewood cut and split by the Fourth of July,” the old-timers say. That sounds good in theory, but in actual practice, we are doing well to get the wood cut and split a week before we need it. Fortunately, we have a plethora of seasoned sawmill slabs to mix with the green firewood when we need a good fire. In past years, I scoffed at anyone who cheated by using a hydraulic log splitter, but now that I’m pushing 60, it is the preferred way to make little chunks out of big ones. I figure ten gallons of gas for the saw, tractor and splitter is a fair trade-off for a year’s worth of fuel, when my neighbors are paying $800 a month to stay warm. Even though our southwest Missouri home is passive solar, we still burn two or three cords per year, and I’m always on the lookout for better (easier) ways of getting it done.
The slabs that come off my portable sawmill are a great way to get a lot of firewood in a hurry, and they are easy to split. Many years, we burn only slabs, though the bark makes a lot of ash. If you have a trailer with a wood bed and don’t mind a few chain saw marks, it is a quick and easy matter to stack the firewood on it, and just cut down through the stack to the length you want. With a 40” bar, I can cut from both sides of the trailer, and split it as I offload. To save time and work, the whole process takes place next to the firewood storage, so the wood goes straight from the splitter to the pile. This year, however, I sold so much slab firewood that we found ourselves in need of a way to cut and split round wood.
Home-Brew Firewood Processing
While I am a firm believer that firewood never did me any harm, there is no sense of taking chances. The $10,000 price tag of the cheapest firewood processors puts them well beyond my reach, so I borrowed some ideas from my sawmill log deck to build a firewood deck that eliminates all hand lifting, and reduces the cutting and splitting time to less than half. The processing station consists of a log deck that I can load the old Ford tractor. It is similar to the log deck I use on my Norwood sawmill, but instead of rolling onto the sawmill bed, I roll them onto a cutting platform, so that I can cut them at a comfortable height, well away from the rocks and dirt. Using this system, I pick up the chain saw one time to cut the entire log to the desired lengths, then roll the individual cut pieces along the platform to the splitter without having to pick them up. A trailer made out of the bed of an old Toyota pickup truck waits nearby, so the firewood never touches the ground until we stack it in the yard.
The Log Deck
The log deck consists of two twelve-foot segments, placed at right angles to each other, all resting on stumps cut to 14” high. Fortunately, the one thing that we’re not short on around here is stumps! I used 6x6 beams, placed 4’ apart for the main log deck, though you could use old railroad ties, or even logs. The four-foot spacing is just wide enough for the front end loader on the tractor to set them in place, and lets me deck up firewood logs between 5’ and 12’ long. The deck is at a slight incline—about three inches over its twelve-foot length, to help the logs roll a little easier (but not too easily!) onto the platform. Once the logs are decked up, I roll them one at a time onto the cutting platform, which is arranged crosswise to the deck—again, supported by stumps. I used a couple of 8” diameter poles for the cutting platform, spaced a couple of inches apart. The firewood log nests between the poles and has no tendency to roll when I cut it to firewood length. When I have to replace those poles, they too will become firewood. Once the logs are decked up, my wife and I can process a full cord of wood in a couple of hours.
Firewood Splitter Modifications
The splitter is a home-made unit that its owner swapped for a load of lumber. Never satisfied to leave a piece of equipment alone, I put a two-stage hydraulic pump on it so that it can muscle its way through the tough stuff, and a removable cross head for the splitter so that it will quarter a piece in one pass, if the log has reasonably straight grain. I’m still looking for better ways, though. I think the next step will be a conveyor from the splitter to the trailer, then a containerized system for handling the split wood. Then maybe a remote control with a video camera so that I can run the whole process while my feet are propped up in front of the wood stove while I enjoy a hot cup of tea…