Notes from Windward: #59
Heating with Wood
Gina's caboose stove
The scene is cliche: a woodstove radiating heat, two mottled stripes of
fur sponging up the warmth, their mistress nearby reading. It evokes
feelings of peace, comfort -- "home". The reality is more involved.
This was my first winter at Windward. My stove is an old coal stove but I
This initial concern is safety, based on the theory that a woodstove is
like a pet rattlesnake. Keep it fed, clean and watched. Plan for an
accident. Then passing Walt's safety interview and going over the accident
plan. All this was done before a stick was gathered.
Then I began to gather wood. There was wood stacked between live trees and
Walt had chainsawed a few downed trees. Using a wheelbarrow Tamara and I
gathered the rounds and moved them to the woodshed. When we had a good pile
we thought we were finished. We were proud of our accomplishment; I was
feeling warm, already. However, there was more to think about.
Ready to split wood
Walt gave me a math problem. Fortunately, I've always liked math so I
wasn't intimidated. It went like this: How many days are there between
Nov and April? How many pieces of wood do you want to burn per day? The
lightbulbs were popping in my brain! I was excited because I could arrive
at an exact number. I was also trying to decide where I could store more
wood!! I've lived in some awfully cold places and know that I tend to
hibernate in winter.
Anyway, I immediately doubled by wood gathering
efforts. When I had a pile of wood-- 9' long, 6' wide, 6'tall--I thought I
might have enough. I also had a respectable pile of kindling, thanks to
Bob and the sawmill. Walt brought me a tree stump-- for a chopping block,
also a maul, axe and hatchet. Then he taught me to split wood. I found it
rather easy which was surprising. In 20 mins I could split enough wood for
my evening and morning fires.
Almost every day I've split wood for my heat. I enjoyed it for the most
part. I've gained skills, knowledge, experience and confidence. As
expected, the colder it was the more wood I burned. Learning to adjust the
flue and draft to keep the fire going well while keeping the room
temperature comfortable was sometimes a challenge.
Gina's wood pile
I also discovered that I could get kindling to burn very quickly at 3 degrees F but that it might
take an hour to get a good fire going when it was raining. The wind
affects the fire as well. The direction and the strength determine the
direction of the damper and the amount of draft. I learned this vividly
one evening as flames shot out the draft! Luckily, the cats weren't
sitting in front of the stove.
I learned some interesting tricks too. I saw a catalog selling waxed
pinecones for firestarters. I modified that by soaking pinecones in old
cooking oil. They burn well but stacking kindling around them is
difficult. I also had an old pillar candle that I shaved pieces from to
start the kindling quick. A novel I read had another idea, sawdust soaked
in diesel, I haven't tried it though.
A few other bits of trivia are: the
ducks and chickens are always farthest away when you split a round and find
a large fat worm squiggling in the wood; knots burn well but are painful to
hit with the maul; it will only start to rain when you decide to split the
I like wood heat but there are some disadvantages. It creates dust that
filters through everything. It's cheap in cash but expensive in labor, its
also slower than other forms of heat. But it heats more thoroughly, I think.
Spring is here, it's April. About half the woodpile is gone and it was a
mild winter for this area. If we'd had a hard winter I still would have
had enough wood. Now it's time to anticipate next winter.
Index for Notes Issue # 59
The Windward Home Page