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 use wood.

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 day's wood.

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.

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