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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Firewood in the Winter


What! You start cutting firewood in the winter time when there is 3 feet of snow on the ground? Why would you do that? These are typical thoughts or comments I get for starting to cut firewood in March when we still have 2-3 feet of snow on the ground. I’d like to say I’m proactive but the reasons I cut this time of year are much more basic. Even though I have to shovel out an area to work in to cut the firewood it is worth the extra effort. Last year I cut firewood to double or triple the length which we store for just this time of year when we can get an early start on next winters firewood. It may sound like a lot of extra work and trouble to cut it this time of year but the end rewards make that extra effort worth while

Here are some considerations for getting an early start on getting our firewood in. It is cool out and I don’t work up a sweat in the heat of the summer or fall. I’m not bothered by insects. There really isn’t much else that can be done outside this time of year except sit around and wait until the snow melts so it is essentially a non productive time. We get a lot of snow so sometimes it doesn’t melt away very quickly. If I slip on ice and break an ankle again or some other incapacitating injury I won’t have to catch up on firewood after I am able to get around again. We don’t plan to have those accidents but they can happen and playing catch up with firewood is hot sweaty labor intensive labor intensive later in the year. Summer and fall at our elevation are very short so a lot has to be done when the weather is nice and planning ahead and cutting firewood when it is still cold outside with snow still on the ground gives us more time to tackle other activities and recreation. Cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking firewood is time consuming and getting it done early when I can’t accomplish other things outside is satisfying and puts our biggest project each year behind us. I have also found that the longer I wait the greater likely hood that I’ll put it off until I have to really hustle to get it done.

My personal method is to run an extension cord out to the cutting area behind the wood shed and use an electric chain saw to cut the logs to length. I use a tree marking crayon and marking stick when I cut them earlier so all I need to do now is place the logs in the saw buck and cut where marked. The crayon works well as it doesn’t wear off over the winter. I then stack the cut logs to be split when I can get the log splitter to them after the snow does finally melt. Splitting goes pretty fast when I have a helper to hand me the logs to split. It is then just a matter of splitting them and tossing them over next to the wood shed for stacking later. When your primary source of heat is a wood stove there is one thing you want to avoid at all costs and that is running out of firewood part way through the winter. By pre cutting them to double/triple length it also gives me an accessible reserve supply in case of a particularly brutally cold winter. I would still have to shovel an area to work to cut them to proper length but it is better than having to snowshoe through the woods to cut trees and then haul the logs back.

I have used several different electric chain saws over the years but the one I prefer is the Makita. It has plenty of power to cut larger logs, I like the design, I don’t need tools to adjust the chain tension and it has enough power to not over heat while cutting logs to proper length. I also like the safety features with the emergency brake in case of a kick back and the delay start coupled with the blade stopping when I release the trigger. Since the logs are dry inside and not frozen this saw cuts through them with ease. I store previous trees that were previously standing dead so I won’t have frozen logs. Other electric chain saws I have used in the past had a tendency to over heat and the chain would loosen and require tools to tighten it again. When it is cooler outside I don’t like to stop working and fumble with tools to re-tension a chain if I don‘t have to.

While it may sound crazy to start cutting firewood when snow is still on the ground it actually gives me more time in the summer months to take walks, fish, work in the garden or lay in the hammock with a good book. It does require more effort as stated earlier because I first have to shovel out an area to work in but that only takes a few minutes at most. Over the years I have found the advantages of starting early out weighs waiting until later in the year. There is an added sense of satisfaction in having the most time consuming and sweaty job completed and behind me.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their off beat projects go to their website.

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